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Tiger and Phil: Where do they go from here?

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By Seth Kerr

GolfWRX Staff Writer

In 2006, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson won three of four major championships. Since then, they have won a total of three majors and had four total second place finishes. Interestingly, Phil has finished in second place four times to Tiger while Tiger has finished in second five times to Phil. But they have never finished in second place when the other won a major.

Part of that may be due to their competitive nature. They aren’t friends and have never pretended to be.

For years, they were our generation’s Jack and Arnie. Tiger was Jack, winning in dominating fashion and taking no prisoners. Phil was just like Arnie; not quite as dominant but we rooted harder for him. He was more of a “man of the people” than Tiger.

From 2004-2006, Phil won two green jackets and one PGA Championship, and he should have won aU.S. Open if not for his bone headed drive on the 72nd hole in 2006. It looked like there was only more to come with Phil winning eight times on tour from 2007-2009. But after his Masters win in 2010, he hit a wall.

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

Tiger was even more dominant in his prime. He won four majors from 2004-2006 and added two more in 2007-2008. From 2007-2009, Tiger won an incredible 17 times on Tour. In 2009, Tiger had a scoring average of 68.40 in the final round of tournaments, which was almost a shot better than his average of 69.25 for rounds before the cut that year. But after 2009, he failed to win for two years and won less than $1 million in 2011 for the first time since turning pro in 1996. While Tiger has shown steady improvement since then, he still isn’t close to where he was.

In 2012, Tiger had a scoring average of 69.24 for rounds before the cut, ranking him second behind Jason Duffner. However, Tiger’s Round 4 scoring average was more than a full stroke worse at 70.40 and his late fourth round scoring average was a mediocre 71.00, which tied him with the likes of Kevin Kisner, Bobby Gates, Gavin Coles, and Scott Dunlap. Can you picture those guys playing with Tiger on Sunday? Me neither.

There is no question Tiger had a good year in 2012, but he did not have a Tiger year. That’s why the player of the year trophy will go to Rory McIlroy in 2012, not El Tigre. Tiger isn’t driven by wins at Bay Hill, The Memorial or the AT&T National. He plays to win majors, and this year he wilted like an old, dried up flower in all four majors.

He finished in a distant 40th place at Augusta. He had a chance to win the British on the final day, but he fell out of contention with a 73. He also faded on the weekend again at the U.S. Open closing with 75-73. And Rory McIroy beat Tiger by a mind numbing 11 stokes at the PGA Championship.

Sadly for Tiger, that wasn’t his only 11 stroke beat down. His first came courtesy of Phil in the final round at Pebble Beach.

Think about what we know about Tiger and then think about any golfer beating him by 11 strokes in the final round of a tournament he had a chance to win. Would that have every happened from 2000-2009? Not a chance.

Then at the Ryder Cup, Tiger played so poorly he apologized to the Ryder Cup rookies for letting them down. But Phil was even worse this year.

He had a pedestrian scoring average before the cut of 70.62. He didn’t get any better in the final round, averaging a paltry 70.94. That was only good enough for 83rd in the rankings.

Remember, only the top 70 players and ties make the cut.

Phil played very few quality tournaments other than his dominant performance in the final round at Pebble Beach.

It looked like the start of a great year heading into the Masters. Instead, he shot himself in the foot early in the final round of the Masters and faded from contention. He missed the cut at the British Open and did no better than middle of the pack at either the U.S. Open or PGA Championship. While he showed some improvement at the Ryder Cup, there are real questions how much that had to do with him or getting caught up in the Keegan Bradley wave.

Of course, Phil had his own moments he may wish to take back from the Ryder Cup, whether it was telling Davis Love he didn’t want to play Saturday afternoon or smiling and giving Justin Rose a thumbs up as Rose stormed back to beat him in singles on Sunday.

The talent on tour is now younger, stronger and more invested than when Phil and Tiger joined the Tour. These days there are more short game gurus, personal trainers, nutritionists and anyone else you can imagine traveling with players.

No longer is Tiger Woods the peak physical athlete on Tour. He and Phil don’t intimidate anyone with their length. In fact, there are a number of players who bomb it past both of them off the tee.

Players embrace the chance to bring down the two biggest names in golf. They want to play in the final group and beat them. Tiger used to have a couple stroke advantage just by teeing off in the same group. Players used to collapse quicker than a cheap tent when Tiger was moving up leader boards, but lately he has been the one folding in pressure situations. The top players don’t quiver when they play Tiger and Phil anymore. Now they want a piece of them. They’ve seen the blood in the water and are circling.

But perhaps more troubling than the number of golfers joining the pack to defeat Tiger and Phil is their struggles with their own games. So where do Tiger and Phil fit on Tour going forward?

It is still uncertain whether Tiger’s swing changes with Sean Foley will stand up to the pressure of the final round of major championship golf. Will another year under Foley make him better, or just put more wear and tear on his body?

Tiger is an old 37. He has struggled frequently in recent years with injuries. He’s undergone multiple knee surgeries and still limped through certain rounds this year. You also wonder about his mental strength with his personal life becoming so public. His cheating scandal and injuries seemed to zap his invincibility. There is plenty of evidence to show he can get it back, but does he want to?

He struggled when he switched to Hank Haney and then went on one of the most dominant streaks the game has ever seen. But his prior swing changes didn’t come with being a single father and a punch line for public jokes. And he has already admitted he doesn’t spend as much time practicing as his used to due to his responsibilities as a father.

Phil, 42, has had his own swing and injury issues.  He famously said at the beginning of the year, “My swing is what it is. My chipping is what it is, and so is my putting. I’m done making changes to strokes. I’m done trying different putters.”

But later in the year, Phil changed his stroke by changing to the claw putting style. Not to mention, he can still hit some of the most shockingly wayward shots at the most inopportune times. The problem is, he doesn’t get it back in play and up and down like he did before.

He has psoriatic arthritis, which limits some of his practice time, not to mention the battles he and his family went through as his wife and mother both battled cancer. Because of that, Phil has taken more time off from playing and practicing. He has no problem missing tournaments that get in the way of family vacations as he did this year at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

While it is admirable to want to spend more time with your family, it doesn’t really make for great golf.  And now Phil has extended himself further as partial owner of the San Diego Padres. So how much does Phil really want to be the best on a week-to-week basis?

You get the feeling, for Phil, tournaments are his practice for the majors. You don’t see Phil fretting much over the weekly tournaments. He seems to worry about them as much as he does his well-known Tuesday foursome gambling matches during practice rounds. He may need to fret a little more in 2013; having had only seven top 10 finishes out of 22 tournaments in 2012.

Tiger, and to a lesser extent Phil, used to be able to plan the year and gear their games around the four majors. Now, there are players who have the same skill level and play more often. No longer is Tiger or Phil’s best a guaranteed victory.

And it isn’t likely either player is going to devote the time they did in their youth to reach the top. They can’t. They don’t have the time or the health.

The problem is, golfers don’t usually improve at 37 or 42. In fact, touch seems to leave with age and Tiger and Phil have both relied on their touch around the greens to save strokes.

But maybe this is the year they both go back to fighting for the top spot on leader boards. Or maybe they never win another major, and this is the beginning of seeing two of the games greats fade. We should all start preparing ourselves for that time. Because neither is going to continue to play to finish in the middle of the pack. Both have too much pride, money and other interests to stick around.

Soon enough, they will know how Greg Norman and Nick Faldo felt.

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

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Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole

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In this episode of the 19th Hole, Jason Goldsmith of FocusBand talks about how the breakthrough technology has helped PGA Tour stars Jason Day and Justin Rose to major wins. Also, host Michael Williams gives his take on Tiger Woods’ return to golf.

Click here to listen on iTunes!

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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