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Opinion & Analysis

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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Seth is an avid golfer playing year round in Florida.

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Opinion & Analysis

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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Opinion & Analysis

12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Valero Texas Open

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With one of the weakest fields of the year, TPC San Antonio hosts the Valero Texas Open this week. Only one player from the top-20 in the Official World Golf Rankings will tee it up here. That man is Sergio Garcia, who co-designed this course with Greg Norman.

Just like last week at the RBC Heritage, the wind can wreak havoc at TPC San Antonio. The course features an exposed layout, making the level of wind is often unpredictable. Expect it to be a factor yet again this year. Unlike last week, the longer hitters do have an advantage on this course, which measuring more than 7,400 yards with little rough off the tee.

Last year, Kevin Chappell held off a charging Brooks Koepka to post 12-under par and win his first title on the PGA Tour.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Sergio Garcia 14/1
  • Matt Kuchar 18/1
  • Charley Hoffman 18/1
  • Luke List 25/1
  • Ryan Moore 28/1
  • Kevin Chappell 28/1
  • Adam Scott 30/1

From the top of the market, it’s hard not to love Luke List (25/1, DK Price $10,000) this week. The big-hitting American is still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour, but he is knocking on the door relentlessly. In his last eight events, List has finished no worse than T-26.

He was so close once again last week, and he should take plenty of confidence from that performance onto a course that theoretically should suit him much better. On this long track, List will have a significant advantage as one of the longest hitters on Tour. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 1st in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. List is also flushing his irons. He was second in the field last week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, and over his previous 24 rounds he sits 3rd in the same category.

It’s not only his long game that is highly proficient right now, either. List’s short game has been stellar over this impressive stretch, too. He ranks 8th for Strokes Gained-Around the Green and 28th for Strokes Gained-Short Game over his last 24 rounds.

The one department holding the big man back is his putting, where he ranks 145th for the season. The rest of his game is so sharp at the moment that he’s in the enviable position of not needing that hot a week with the flat-stick to win. He only needs an average week on the greens to finally break through and claim his first PGA Tour event. There’s nothing to suggest List isn’t going to play well once more this week, and at 25/1 he seems undervalued.

Returning to a track that he adores, Brendan Steele (33/1, DK Price $8,900) is always a danger at this event. As well as winning the title here in 2011, Steele has finished in the top-20 three times since then. Whatever it is about TPC San Antonio, it’s a course that brings out the best in Steele’s game.

It’s been an excellent season for the West Coast native, too. He won his opening event of the season at the Safeway Open and has since finished in the top-30 six times. One of the main reasons for his strong run of form has been his work with the driver. Steele is ranked 1st in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee over his last 24 rounds, and he has only failed to post a positive Strokes Gained statistic in this category once since this event last year.

Recently, Steele’s game is showing trends that he may once more be close to hitting the form that saw him win at the back end of last year. In his previous 24 rounds, the Californian is ranked 10th in Ball Striking and 7th in Strokes Gained-Total. Always a threat at this event, Steele is coming into this week with all parts of his game in sync. He should be a live threat once more in San Antonio.

Another man who has played well all year is Xander Schauffele (35/1, DK Price $8,800). The Californian has made seven of eight cuts this year, and he has finished in the top-25 in four of those occasions. Excellent off the tee, TPC San Antonio should suit the 24-year-old this week, too. Schaufelle ranks 7th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 17th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds.

With wind likely to play a factor this week, pure ball striking will be necessary. That shouldn’t be an issue for Xander, who sits 7th in Strokes Gained-Ball Striking over his last 24 rounds. There is nothing off about Schauffele’s game right now. He ranks 21st in Strokes Gained-Putting over his previous 12 rounds and 5th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green over the same period. It’s only a matter of time before the two-time PGA Tour winner puts himself in the thick of contention again, and there’s no reason why it can’t be this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Luke List 25/1, DK Price $10,000
  • Brendan Steele 33/1, DK Price $8,900
  • Xander Schauffele 35/1, DK Price $8,800
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