Posted on: December 4, 2011 7:37 pm
Edited on: December 4, 2011 7:53 pm

Victory at last: Woods ends slump at 25 months

ORLANDO, Fla. – Forget the look of sheer relief, unbridled glee, steely vindication or whatever best describes Tiger Woods' first-blush reaction as it crossed his mug on the 18th green at Sherwood Country Club.

The more interesting expression flashed across the face of his final-round playing partner, Zach Johnson, who was stationed a few yards away.

As Woods cannily rolled in an eight-footer for birdie on the final hole to win the Chevron World Challenge, Johnson looked at caddie Damon Green with something close to a resigned smirk on his face, then shrugged.

Like most, Johnson figured Woods would come back and win at some point, and after 25 mostly brutal months, it finally happened Sunday night, at Johnson’s expense.

The circumstances – the last two seasons notwithstanding – looked all too familiar for anybody who has followed Woods’ career.

One stroke behind Johnson with two holes to play, Woods rolled in birdie putts on the last two holes to win for the first time in a career-long 749 days, signaling that to some degree, he's put his scandal, multiple injury issues and swing concerns behind him.

Sure, it was a no-cut boutique event with only 17 other players. It was unofficial and the money didn’t count. But at this point, winning a four-ball match at his home track would do wonders for his self-esteem and confidence, so the circumstances ought to make for a nervous off-season for his brethren. Has the party started again? In an uncharacteristic move, Woods' camp sent champagn to the media center afterward.

“Any different?” Woods said of the overdue victory vibe. “It feels great. It’s kind of hard for me to elaborate beyond that. I know it’s been awhile, but in some ways it feels like it hasn’t.”

By his standards, it had been forever.

Woods hasn’t won an official tournament since November, 2009, and while the Silly Season win won’t change his PGA Tour total, which still stands at 71, Woods said the best part was that Sunday's back nine felt like the proverbial riding of a bike. Though he has faltered numerous times over the two-year drought, including holding a share of the lead at the Masters on Sunday in April, he hadn’t completely forgotten how to deliver the goods when the familiar pressure mounted.

“It felt normal,” he said. “I felt very comfortable. I have been here so many times, I just feel very comfortable being in that position. Was I nervous? Absolutely. I am always nervous in that position, but I am comfortable in that position.”

Nobody is asserting that he’s all the way back – there were plenty of loose shots and signals on the weekend to insist otherwise -- but for the first time since before his celebrated crash, Woods made meaningful putts as the scrappy Johnson put all sorts of heat on him.

“If the man is healthy, that's paramount,” Johnson said. “I mean, he's the most experienced and the best player I've ever played with. In every situation, he knows how to execute and win.”

Never one to articulate his feelings, Woods had a hard time expressing what was at the fore of his emotions – be it satisfaction, relief or simple unmitigated joy.

“Whatever it is, it feels pretty good,” he said.

It ought to make Christmas, and his 36th birthday later this month, a bit more endurable. Otherwise, Woods would have faced two more months of scrutiny until his next start with growing doubts about his ability to produce under duress. Last year at the Chevron event, positioned to end his slump at 13 months, he blew a four-shot lead in the final round and lost in a playoff to Graeme McDowell.

McDowell knocked in a birdie on the final hole of regulation and another one on the first playoff hole at Sherwood and Woods couldn’t answer. This time, After Johnson birdied the 16th to take a one-shot lead, Woods was the one who poured in the birdies on the last two holes.

“I pulled it off, from one down with two to go, and to go birdie-birdie is as good as it gets,” he said.

After a season of scheduling fits and spurts because of injury and poor play, Woods seemed to gradually find some semblance of rhythm this fall, just in time to take an offseason seat. In other words, now that he’s won, the final sanctioned stroke-play event of the year in the States is in the books.

He was hardly wringing his hands about putting it in park for a while.

“Actually, I am not [disappointed], because I have pushed pretty hard,” he said. “I have taken very, very few days off. My mind and my body are wanting a little bit of a break. I wanna shut it down for a couple of weeks.”

The bounce from the win, unofficial or not, was more than just emotional. His stock had fallen so precipitously after starting the year at No. 2 in the world, he was in danger of not qualifying for the Chevron tournament – which he hosts -- by falling out of the top 50 at the eligibility deadline. But because the short-field Chevron event receives ranking points, the victory jumped him from 52nd to a projected 21st in this week’s rankings.

“When the pressure was on the most the last two holes,” Woods said, “I hit three of the best shots I hit all week and that’s very exciting for me.”

That was self-evident. When the winning putt rolled in on the 18th green, Woods screamed something the lip readers will have to decipher, conducted a familiar fist-pumping victory celebration, then shook Johnson’s hand.

“Immediate thoughts?” Woods said of the victorious putt. “I wasn’t really thinking. I think I was yelling.”

So was the crowd, which was at least as pumped as he was to have seen progress in his career reinvention, comeback, or whatever it ought to be called. Fans cheered “Tiger’s back” after the victory. Woods laughed when asked about it.

“One of my buddies texted me an old LL Cool J lyric: ‘Can’t call it a comeback, been here for years,’” Woods said.

Well, that’s hardly the unvarnished truth – there had been far more L’s than W’s lately, not to mention some MC Hammers, as he calls missing the cut. Woods has mostly been a non-factor for months, missing tournaments for months at a time and rarely contending when he was able-bodied enough to play. But if the putts on the last two holes are any indication, the 72nd-hole look on Johnson’s face could soon be making a comeback, just like Woods himself.

For the first time in forever, nearly everybody had the feeling that Woods would bury the winning putt, just like old times. It seemed like that old sense of the inevitable end was back.

That certainly would explain the expression on Johnson's face.

“In this game, I'm never surprised with the way the guys are able to execute and hit shots,” Johnson said. “I think he would be the epitome of that example.”

Category: Golf
Posted on: September 18, 2011 10:41 am
Edited on: September 18, 2011 11:01 am

BMW's killer plot: Atlanta, Australia and Tiger?

LEMONT, Ill. -- Somehow, we're guessing that he's watching.

Among the myriad subplots in the final round of the BMW Championship, which includes identifying the eventual winner, the cementing of the 20 automatic berths on the two Presidents Cup rosters, and who advances to the FedEx Cup series finale next week in Atlanta, is one that's just as juicy.

Tiger Woods is on the cusp of being deemed ineligible to play in his fall tournament, according to its own rules.

Woods at the moment sits at No. 46 in the world rankings. If he falls outside the top 50 when the new list is issued late Sunday night after play at Cog Hill is completed, he's technically ineligible to play in his own event, the Chevron World Challenge, on Dec. 1-4.

It could be very, very close.

Woods isn't playing in the four-event FedEx Cup series because he wasn't among the top 125 in seasonal points, which means he has been falling steadily in the world ranking. Moreover, his last victory on the PGA Tour was two years ago in the BMW event, so it's fallen off his two-year ranking window.

We'll spare you the various projections and permutations of what needs to happen today for the players lined up immediately behind Woods in the current world ranking, because it's an absurd pursuit to track what might happen -- each move by a certain player affects the points of another. But here is where the principles stand:

No. 47 Bill Haas, on the bubble for a Presidents Cup berth and highly motivated, is T3 at the BMW and surely going to move up in the world rankings if he holds his position through the final round.

No. 48 Sergio Garcia, despite claiming he doesn’t care if he advances to Atlanta next week, is T7 on the BMW board and is also looking at jumping Woods in the world ranking if he retains his current spot.

No. 49 Jonathan Byrd is T36 and is the one guy who could be Woods' salvation unless he mounts a rally today. Most projections, based on the assumption the players between Nos. 47-50 hold their third-round positions through Sunday's play, posit Woods at No. 49. Byrd appears to be the key at this point.

No. 50 Geoff Ogilvy, another player highly motivated because of his uncertain Presidents Cup status, is T3 and looking at a big jump on several points lists tonight.

Beyond that, world No. 47 Robert Allenby is T17 and No. 62 Mark Wilson is T7. Each could make a massive leap in the world ranking with a big final round.

So, if Woods get bounced from the top 50, what happens next? Chevron tournament officials would have to ask the PGA Tour Policy Board to rewrite the status of the event so that Woods could play. As a condition of receiving world ranking points, the two sponsor exemptions at Chevron can be awarded to those ranked in the top 50 when the Sept. 19 world rankings are issued.

The tour Policy Board could eliminate that provision, and quite likely would, if Chevron wants to add Woods to the field and he falls outside the top 50. It was unclear whether the OWGR would need to administer any sort of waiver so Woods could play.

The world ranking means little to TV viewers and ticketholders, of course. You can bet that Chevron wants the show pony on hand -- the company has twice been forced to stage the big-money event without Woods after signing on as a sponsor, including in 2009, when the sex scandal was at a full boil and Woods declined to play, citing injuries sustained a few days earlier in his curious, one-car crash outside his Florida home. The tournament took a huge hit as the scandal brewed.

It's not so much the minutiae of the rankings that's interesting here, but the fact that Woods has had such a spectacular fall through the rankings that's so compelling -- he started the season at No. 2 -- and that rules might need to be changed just to include him in his own, unofficial event.

Already this year, he didn’t play in the AT&T National or Deutsche Bank events, which help benefit his charity, because he was injured or ineligible. Greg McLaughlin, who runs both Woods' charity and the Chevron event, has not indicated how they would proceed if Woods fails to remain in the top 50.

Category: Golf
Posted on: September 1, 2011 2:52 pm
Edited on: September 1, 2011 2:53 pm

McDowell plans Tiger flyover on way to Dubai

NORTON, Mass. -- Looks like it just got a little easier for Tiger Woods to win his annual year-ending tournament.

Assuming he qualifies for a spot.

Defending champion Graeme McDowell, who last fall at the Chevron World Challenge outdueled Woods is one of the most exciting finishes of the year, confirmed Thursday that it's going to be logistically impossible for him to return.

The Chevron event this year is set for Dec. 1-4, the week after McDowell will be paired with Irish teammate Rory McIlroy in the World Cup in China. The week after the Chevron event, staged in suburban Thousand Oaks, McDowell will play in the European Tour' season finale, the Race to Dubai event in the Middle East.

McDowell said he had already spoken with Chevron tournament officials and was hoping to speak to Woods personally before he formally backed out of defending, but hasn't seen Woods of late. Woods didn’t qualify for the current FedEx Cup series, which is staging its second leg this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

"I don’t see how I can do it, unless he wants to send me a jet," McDowell said.
From China to California to Dubai in a span of eight days would be hard for anybody to survive.

"The schedule is just so compressed this year," McDowell said. "Dubai, it's just too important a week for us. I am trying to play both tours. But with a Ryder Cup year coming, it's too important. I have to be ready to play when I get there."

The Chevron event, while unofficial, was one of four titles McDowell won in his transcendent 2010 season, including the U.S. Open.

The Dubai event has a $7.5 million purse, the richest European Tour event of the year. McDowell is 33rd in the Race to Dubai standings, otherwise known as the money list. To make the 2012 Ryder Cup team as an automatic pick, he needs to pick up as much in earnings as possible.

"I would love to play," he said. "It's not so much the week of Tiger's event that I am worrying about -- it's the week after [Dubai]."

As for Woods, he fell to No. 38 in the world ranking this week, and if he falls out of the top 50 while idle over the next three weeks, he won’t be eligible to play. In order to the Chevron to award world ranking points, each of the 18 players in the field must be ranked in the top 50 when the rankings are issued Sept. 19.

It's a longshot, however, that Woods will fall that fast, even though by Sept. 19 it will have been two years since his last PGA Tour win in Chicago.

Category: Golf
Posted on: October 14, 2010 11:43 am

McDowell: Tiger scandal my key 2010 catalyst

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Network ratings, tournament ticket sales, merchandise revenue and even rounds played were down in 2010 according to various reports. Much of it was pinned on the seemingly endless Tiger Woods sex scandal, a big turnoff to millions.

Yet not everybody was negatively affected by the biggest public-relations hit in golf history. In fact, one increasingly prominent player used a bit of backdoor kismet resulting from Woods' travails to carve a massive place for himself at the table with the game's biggest stars.

Graeme McDowell, the U.S. Open champion and the hero of the European win two weeks ago at the Ryder Cup, might not have accomplished either if not for Woods' massive personal issues. He related the amazing connect-the-dots story of how receiving a last-minute invitation to replace the host of the Tiger Woods Chevron World Challenge tournament in Southern California last December changed his whole 2010 trajectory. Woods withdrew rather than face the media scrutiny as the scandal was unfolding.

Rest assured, I am not at all a fan of giving world ranking points to boutique mini-tournaments like the Chevron event, the World Match Play or Sun City cash grabs, but in this case, it worked out perfectly for McDowell, who finished second to Jim Furyk in the Chevron last fall.

How many doors did that open? Let him tell the tale. Here is McDowell, in his own words, explaining to the Belfast Telegraph how that particular last-ditch invitation changed his entire year:

“What happened at the end of last season, and getting the invite to the Tiger Woods golf tournament, was the real catalyst for everything that has happened for me this year. I walked off the golf course in China, with Rory [McIlroy] and myself just having lost the World Cup by a shot to the Molinari boys.

“My manager, Conor Ridge, suggested there was a shadow of a chance, what with the Tiger Woods story unfolding that week, that I might get an invite into the Chevron World Challenge.

“As it so happened, I was flying home from China to Orlando through L.A. that week, so I said of course I would get off the flight there and take my chance. I don’t how Conor managed to do it, but we got the nod on the invite and then I go and finish second.

“I moved from 55th to 38th in the world, it got me into Augusta and smoothed up the start of the season. Then after Wentworth, I get into the U.S. Open right on the bubble at world No. 50.

“So if I had not been top 50 at the end of last year, I maybe would not have got off to the start I had this year. Maybe I wouldn’t have got myself into the U.S. Open and things like the Ryder Cup.

“It was just one of those very fateful moments.”

Yep, sort of the reverse of driving over a fire hydrant and into a tree.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com