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Opinion & Analysis

Williams: The maturation of Tiger Woods

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By Michael WIlliams

GolfWRX Staff Writer

An interesting phenomenon is sports, is that the greats often have styles of play that match their personalities. In team sports it is more truism than truth; the example that comes to mind is Larry Bird. Off the court, the man had all the personality of a bowl of oatmeal. But on the court he was a brazen, daring star who carried his team to victory on the shoulders of his outsized alter ego, Larry Legend.

But on tournament golf’s individual stage, where there are no teammates to stand behind or in front of, the axiom is proven time and time again.  The player must not only craft a method for playing this devil of a game, he or she must also develop a personality to allow the method to function. If the swing is the lifeblood of a player’s success, it is the personality that provides the rock ribs necessary to attain success and the thick skin crucial surviving the stinging disappointments that are a part of the journey.

The way the player walks, talks, stands and even blinks are evidence of he player’s personality, and with no helmet or shoulder pads to provide confidence or camouflage the player’s character is on full display. Walter Hagen brought a sense of style and adventure to a gentleman’s game approaching his wardrobe and his approaches with equal flair. Ben Hogan practiced in a solitary world that he constructed for himself, locking others out while he searched for The Secret with OCD-like fervor. In the end, he found what he was looking for inside the perfectly controlled confines of his psyche. He drew millions close to him with the results his perfectionism; ironically, that same iron will created a wall that kept those adoring masses at a distance whether he truly wanted it or not. In sharp contrast is the unbridled charisma of Arnold Palmer. Win lose or draw, it was Arnie’s world and he knew it. The world bent to Palmer’s personal gravity in the same way that courses relented to his powerful draw. And is there any doubt that Seve Ballesteros was the original “Most Interesting Man in the World”? He smiled in the face of his self-made catastrophes and extricated himself from them with the same bootlegger’s grin.

Today’s tour provides more exhibits of the game/personality connection. Bubba Watson is a self-made man, simple and complex all at once. The same is true of his game; his holler-wallop swings producing parabolas seldom seen outside a NASA proving ground. Watson draws a unique path through the course, just as he does through life. Rory McIlroy is the baby-faced assassin, playing the game few in that prodigious style of someone who has never known anything except being exceptional. But his maturity at his tender age is what served him best, allowing him to shake off the disaster at Augusta and produce a gem at Congressional in the one tournament that requires equal part patience and performance.

Amid these constructions, Tiger Woods stands as a monument. For more than a decade he seemed to be a magical experiment that combined both the game and personality characteristics of golf’s greatest players into one anointed player. Nicklaus’ distance and ambition, Palmer’s strength and flair, Hogan’s determination and work ethic were all in display as Tiger’s star hurtled across the sky. He was even paid a king’s ransom to accept credit for characteristics that we weren’t even sure he possessed, all so that a corporate sponsor could apply those characteristics to their products by the transitive property (Tiger has integrity, we pay Tiger, therefore we have integrity).

The personal crash that Woods experienced led to exposition and seismic changes. The King was deposed, tried, convicted and publicly flayed. And then, there was change. We saw Tiger apologize. We saw him beaten. And a couple of inglorious times, it seemed as if we saw him surrender.

Entering the second act of his life and career, Tiger is piecing together a new way to play and a new way to live. At the Media Day for the AT&T National tournament that he will host at Congressional in late June, the talk was of Tiger’s calm and considered demeanor. The hubris was virtually gone. In its place was a quiet confidence and a genuine belief that the event was more about supporting the kids in his foundation than as a stepping stone to his return to the top. Tiger patiently sat for the media, spent time with kids form his foundation and had a 10-year old Down’s Syndrome boy he had befriended at a tournament last year sit next to him during the press conference. He even deigned to participate in a promotional chipping contest with local amateurs. We do not see or hear much about Tiger’s private life, but what we do know is that he has dived into role as a father with relish. He is still focused on Jack in the distance, but is not willing to leave his loved ones behind to reach him.

They say that getting chicken pox in adulthood is much worse that getting it as a child. In the same way, it is much harder to grow up when you’re an adult than it is to do it as a child. Tiger Woods maturation began at 34, in full view of half the planet. As the Memorial begins this week, Woods is also searching for a game to match a personality that is in flux. He needs to decide if he will be a cannon or a sniper rifle, a jazz riff or a metronome. But as he searches for the combination that works, he will be aided by one wonderful thing that is happening off the course; he is becoming more of a man. And the golf world is hoping that eventually it will lead to him becoming more of a golfer.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour talk” forum.

Michael Williams is the contributing editor of Newschannel8 Capital Golf Weekly and Bunkershot.com, as well as a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.

You can follow Michael on twitter — @Michaelontv

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Podcasts

Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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