Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell have played a lot of golf together the past few years.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
EAST LOTHIAN, Scotland -- Sure, there will be plenty of people following their favorites like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson at the 2013 Open Championship this week.
With the Scottish avowed love of the game and overwhelming sense of its history, you've got to think the first- and second-round draw of Sir Nick Faldo (yes, the tee sheet has the official designation), Tom Watson and Fred Couples will attract quite a crowd, as well.
Granted, Faldo, who turns 56 on Thursday, now makes his living sitting in the booth at the 18th and commentating on the competition. But two of his three Open titles came at Muirfield in 1987 and 1992 so he shouldn't have trouble finding a comfort zone.
Watson, who is now 63, has won the Claret Jug five times, and one of those came in 1980 at Muirfield. The 53-year-old Couples never won a British Open but he made this year's field when he won the 2012 Senior British Open at Turnberry.
The threesome tees off at 4 a.m. ET (9 a.m. local time) on Thursday and 9:01 a.m. ET (2:01 p.m. local). For the record, the first group leaves the tee at 1:32 a.m. ET (6:32 a.m. local) and the last goes off at 11:13 a.m. ET (4:13 p.m. local).
Here are other groups PGATOUR.COM is watching in the first two rounds. Use the comments section below and let us know your favorites.
Bubba Watson, Nicolas Colsaerts and Dustin Johnson (2:44 a.m. ET Thursday and 8:45 a.m. ET Thursday): These are the big hitters. Colsaerts leads the TOUR with an average of 306.6 yards while Johnson is fourth at 304.9 and Watson fifth at 304.1. Keeping it out of the fescue rough will be key.
Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker (4:11 a.m. ET Thursday and 9:12 a.m. ET Friday): Els, who won the first of his two British Opens at Muirfield in 2002, will be the elder statesman in this group. The defending champion is joined by the U.S. Open champion in Rose and Snedeker, who tied for third last year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Phil Mickelson (4:44 a.m. ET on Thursday and 9:45 a.m. ET on Friday): Mickelson was at his best on Sunday when he won the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open with a brilliant chip to a foot on the first playoff hole. McIlroy is looking for his first win of the season on either side of the Atlantic while Matsuyama, the 21-year-old who has already won three times on the Japan Tour is playing in his first Open.
Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel and Sergio Garcia (9:01 a.m. ET on Thursday and 4 a.m. ET on Friday): Westwood and Garcia would have to be placed at the top of the best-player-never-to-have-won-a-major category. Westwood has 15 top-10s, including 10 in his last 20 starts, while Garcia has 18, including a tie for eighth at Muirfield in 2002. Schwartzel made his major breakthrough in 2011 at Augusta National.
Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Luke Donald (9:12 a.m. ET on Thursday and 4:11 a.m. ET on Friday): Adam Scott, who squandered a four-stroke lead on the final four holes at last year's Open Championship, likely would have had a much different return to the Open Championship had he not made this year's Masters his first major title. Donald and Kuchar won't be the odds-on favorites but their ball-striking skills can't be overlooked.
Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen (9:45 a.m. ET on Thursday and 4:44 a.m. ET on Friday): Woods played a practice round at Muirfield with Jason Day and Dustin Johnson on Sunday. He says the left elbow strain is healed and he's ready to go. McDowell is fresh off a win at the Alstom Open de France, his third win in his last seven starts worldwide -- a stretch that also includes four missed cuts. Oosthuizen, who won the 2010 British Open, is currently 138th in FedExCup points.
Nick Faldo last played the British Open in 2010 at St. Andrews. (Getty Images/Redington)
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Nick Faldo thought he may have played his final British Open three years ago at St. Andrews. The Home of Golf would be an appropriate place for the three-time champion to make his last appearance at golf’s oldest championship.
Faldo began to consider entering this year’s British Open at Muirfield, though, after filming a commercial at the Scottish course. He won twice at Muirfield, in 1987 and 1992. “I realized how important Muirfield is to me,” Faldo said. “For years I thought my last event was at St. Andrews. Then I thought, 'Hey, I might regret this, this is the last chance to walk Muirfield.' To win two majors, to win two Opens at the 18th hole, that 18th green is a very special spot in my career. I thought, 'Hey, I should go back and give it a go.' ”
British Open champions are exempt for the championship until turning 60. Faldo will turn 56 on the first round of this year’s championship. He last made the cut in 2005, finishing 11th.
Faldo said his preparation has been “a little thin” as he also serves as a television analyst. The 2010 British Open also was his most recent start on either the PGA TOUR or Champions Tour. He recently visited with noted sports psychologist Gio Valiante, who also works with U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, to prepare for the tournament. While competing in a major after such a long layoff is no easy task, Faldo is prepared in at least one aspect.
“I have corduroy trousers, cashmere sweaters and a vest, so I’m ready for Scotland,” he joked.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
Rory McIlroy’s decision to switch equipment -- McIlroy and Titleist and FootJoy parent company Acushnet announced Tuesday they will part ways at the end of this year when McIlroy’s contract expires -- is certainly nothing new.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia are just a handful of big names to have left one company for another in recent years. Nick Faldo did, too.
“I call it dangerous,” Faldo said Tuesday on Golf Channel. “I’ve changed clubs and changed equipment, and every manufacturer will say, ‘We can copy your clubs; we can tweak the golf ball so it fits you.’
“But there’s feel and sound as well, and there’s confidence. You can’t put a real value on that. It’s priceless.”
Just ask Jim Furyk.
Two years ago, Furyk won three times and captured the FedExCup trophy. A little more than a year later, he flirted with falling out of the top 50 in the world. Part of Furyk’s struggles? Tinkering too much with his equipment.
There was also the late Payne Stewart, who left Wilson for Spalding and then endured a season-long slump in 1994, falling sixth on the money list in '93 to 123rd a year later.
“You have to be very, very careful,” Furyk said. “You easily could go off and do this and it messes you up because it just doesn’t quite feel the same. When you’re striping it, it’s fine. But as soon as doubt comes in…
“It was a product of maybe trying to get a little bit longer, maybe trying to find new ways to improve and maybe then hurting my strengths. Trying to make my weaknesses better but in doing so, hurting your strengths, which is rule No. 1. You don’t do that.”
Faldo, a six-time major winner, offered similar advice to McIlroy.
“I’d be very cautious,” Faldo said. “I’d love someone like him, in his position, to sell the bag. That bag is worth a fortune; it’d be on TV all the time. Stick with the clubs that you know best, that you believe the best.
“It’s really important. It’s the feel and confidence of knowing that your equipment will perform how you want it to perform on Sunday afternoon. You can’t mess with that at such a young age.”
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Brandel Chamblee thinks the solution is simple for Tiger Woods.
“He needs to fire Sean [Foley], call Butch [Harmon],” Chamblee said in a teleconference Tuesday. “I think that would get it done right there.”
Woods, who is coming off only the eighth missed cut of his career and his worst-ever performance in the Masters, scoffed at the suggestion.
“Everyone has an opinion, and he's entitled to his,” Woods quipped. “But he's no longer playing anymore, so, so be it.”
Foley, meanwhile, declined to comment, preferring to reference Woods’ statistics. To an extent, he had a point.
Woods ranks 42nd on the PGA TOUR in driving accuracy at 64 percent -- only once in the last five years, in 2009, has he hit more than 60 percent of his fairways -- and is 19th in greens in regulation.
He’s also fourth in total driving and sixth in the all-around category.
Not that Woods hasn’t had his share of struggles.
At Quail Hollow, Woods took 33 putts in the second round. In the Masters, Woods failed to break par in any of his four rounds as he hit just 57 percent of the fairways and 56 percent of the greens.
Just two weeks prior to the Masters, however, Woods won for a seventh time at Bay Hill -- where he led the field in greens in regulation.
“I know he'll never [fire Foley], because he's letting his ego get in the way of common sense,” said Chamblee, who added that Harmon could help Woods find his rhythm again and swing on a flatter plane. “He wants to prove to people he's right. He would rather prove to people he's right than be right.
“He's literally lost the art of the game, and I think Butch could help him.”
For Nick Faldo, he sees Woods’ struggles as more mental than anything else.
“It's self-belief,” Faldo said. “I think when he fears left and the trouble is on the right, we saw this last week, especially the seventh hole at Quail Hollow, the water runs down the right, you need a power fade to feed it in there, and if he fears losing it right, then he pulls it hard left.
“But the real bottom line is for me, he just doesn't have the self-belief, the self-confidence that he obviously had, the Tiger of old, simple as that.”
Woods doesn’t deny that he’s struggled with taking his practice sessions to the course at times while undergoing his latest swing change.
“I've been Ranger Rick before; go out there and stripe it every shot you want, and then you do nothing out there,” he said. “Eventually you stripe it on the range and then you do it at home at your home course, and then you bring it eventually to tournament sites, and eventually to major championships on the back nine on Sunday. There's a process to it, at least in my career there has been. It's worked out OK so far.”
Nick Faldo hasn't aged a bit -- but one can't say the same about Rory McIlroy. Here's McIlroy, then just 15, during the 2004 Faldo Series Final, held at Burhill Golf Club in England in 2004. McIlroy won the under-15 title at Faldo's junior tournament. He won it again in 2006.
Nice green jacket, by the way.
Faldo remembers the the young McIlroy well, too. On Sunday, he tweeted: @McIlroyRory congratulations on win and World #1, only 10yrs ago @FaldoSeries you stated you wanted it all!...vision n determination!
The longer Tiger Woods goes without winning a PGA TOUR event -- something he hasn’t done since 2009 -- the more self-doubt might creep into his game, at least according to Nick Faldo.
“His incredible record in the past, leading after 54 holes and converting was ridiculous,” Faldo said via conference call Tuesday. “But now we have seen about four times when he's been right there, good enough to get into contention but not good enough to finish it off. I think that's when you discover all of those little things that you can't really put your finger on, what it takes to finish it off.
“The bottom line is trust, or self‑belief, self‑confidence in your ability. We have seen a few swings and a few putts that ‑‑ we watch Tiger scratch his head.”
Johnny Miller doesn’t think Woods needs to learn how to win again, but the longer he goes without winning, Miller says, the tougher it will get.
“Even starting with the Masters last year, that great charge on Sunday, it looked like he was going to do it and just sort of fizzed out,” Miller said. “The more of those that he has, the more scar tissue you get, and the tougher it is to make those putts.
”He did win at Sherwood, but I don't know if that totally convinced him that that was a real win. He needs to do it on TOUR with a PGA TOUR win.”
Woods will have his chance this week at a tournament he’s won three times before.
Brandel Chamblee, however, sees a different Woods at age 36.
“People are not intimidated by Tiger Woods anymore,” Chamblee said. “He doesn't hit it as far, he doesn't hit it as high and he doesn't hit it as straight and he's missing a lot of little putts, and late in a golf tournament, which makes him beatable and makes him human and makes him less intimidating.
“When you put all of that together, that is an intangible that Tiger Woods carried like the best shield and the fastest arrow. He beat everybody, because of all of those reasons. But one of them was that he intimidated the devil out of people, and so they are giving him their best shot.”
Woods will have a chance to turn that around beginning Wednesday when he faces Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in the opening round.
The Hyundai Tournament of Champions -- which will finish on a Monday night in primetime for the first time -- will be the first of three consecutive tournaments covered exclusively by Golf Channel to begin the year (Sony Open in Hawaii, Jan. 12-15; Humana Challenge in Partnership with the Clinton Foundation, Jan. 19-22). The Sony Open also will air in primetime from Hawaii.
Miller: “It’s great repartee when Nick and I are together. It’s kind of an older brother-younger brother dynamic. We’re not afraid to challenge each other.”
Faldo: "I was really looking forward to a stress-free start to the new season. Now this news. Oh well, never mind. At least I've got two weeks in Hawaii watching the PGA TOUR, and let's just say some lively debate. Should be fun."
Will this collaboration be a sign of things to come? Golf Channel president Mike McCarley told USA Today that “we'll see how it works, what kind of hijinks ensue . . We'll have to check if it's safe to release these two into the wild."
McCarley added that Miller, “like any great analyst, lacks a filter between his brain and mouth so you never know what will come out -- but you know it will be interesting."
Miller, a veteran of NBC Sports’ golf coverage since 1990, and Faldo, lead analyst for PGA TOUR coverage on Golf Channel and CBS since 2007, will join Golf Channel on NBC play-by-play commentator Dan Hicks in the booth for all four days of 2012’s inaugural tournament.
Golf Channel’s exclusive coverage will begin Thursday, Jan. 5, with a special two-hour edition of Golf Central from Maui, Hawaii, which will preview the Hyundai Tournament of Champions with player interviews, and participation from Golf Channel and Golf Channel on NBC personalities, including Miller and Faldo.
Golf Channel’s coverage of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions will include 17-1/2 live hours from Hawaii -- with the majority in prime time ( see schedule below).
Joining Hicks, Miller and Faldo for the telecast will be Terry Gannon, Frank Nobilo, Mark Rolfing, Jerry Foltz, Curt Byrum and Kelly Tilghman.
Are you looking forward to hearing Miller and Faldo together? Let us know.
GOLF CHANNEL’S LIVE COVERAGE OF HYUNDAI TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
|Rd. 1 – Friday, Jan. 6||Rd. 2 – Saturday, Jan. 7||Rd. 3 – Sunday, Jan. 8||Rd. 4 – Monday, Jan. 9|
|5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. ET||5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. ET||5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. ET||4 p.m.-8 p.m. ET|
Will Tiger Woods break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career major championships. Time will certainly tell, but Nick Faldo believes that opportunity has passed.
“I do, personally (believe that),” Faldo told the Montreal Gazette. “I was one of the few guys that said it right after this all happened and he was trying to get back to the Masters last year.
“Mentally, he's actually a pretty sensitive guy. He's very sensitive to any comments or criticisms that we have. It's just about global communication. Something like that, trying to deal with that, I thought it was going to really affect him. Plus, there's probably a lot going on in his life that we don't know about. It's just having that peace of mind. There's nothing nicer for a golfer to go to the golf course all day long and you do what you want to do, practice-play or play-practice, and then you look at your watch and say, 'I'm going home -- it's 6 p.m.'”
Woods of course hasn’t won anywhere since 2009 and his last major victory came at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he famously won on a broken leg. Since then, Woods has posted a half-dozen finishes in the top 6 in majors, but he also missed the cut in his last one, the PGA Championship, after missing this year’s U.S. and British Opens because of injury.
Faldo, who won six career major championships and dealt with his own share of scrutiny in his heyday, said he can sympathize with what Woods is going through now.
“Now, I know what it's like,” Faldo said. “The phone's always going; people are texting, emailing. I can't concentrate like that.
“That's the first thing I thought: 'His concentration will be shattered.' He had this amazing ability to go away from a tournament and then go on and practice as close to tournament-mode as anybody could do or better than anybody else could do. Now, I think that's been shattered. I can't imagine what it's like. The phone is ringing off the hook and there are all sorts of things to talk about.
“That's one of the simplest things that can affect you, whether it happens for business reasons or personal reasons. Once you break that concentration, it really does affect you.”
Faldo also sees a connection between Woods’ recent string of injuries and what he’s gone through in his personal life, saying, “The stress injuries to your body are also related to that. When you're under stress, physically you will break down somewhere, whether it's a physical thing or emotional thing. All of this (is) linked.
"It's now two seasons. It's not like it's been two months. Two seasons of golf have gone by. He hasn't been in a comfortable mode for two years. Even when he comes back for The President's Cup, he won't be comfortable because he'll be under the questions and spotlight -- should he be there or shouldn't he be there?"
Woods, 29th in the current U.S. Presidents Cup standings, has already been guaranteed a spot on the team by captain Fred Couples. He won’t play again, however, until the Frys.com Open after missing the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup.
As for Faldo, he added that once he lost his focus from all the on and off-course distractions, he was never able to regain it.
“Once my quality of mindset for practice was broken, it's been broken ever since,” Faldo said.
Time will tell if Woods’ is, too.
By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- What's a Masters rookie to do? How can he jump in and be ready in, oh, three days?
"The most important thing is to understand the greens,'' said three-time Masters champ Nick Faldo. "You need to know where to put it. Especially when you're standing over a shot in wind like this went it's a high 5-iron to a pin three paces on. Good luck with that.''
Yes, Faldo, now a member of the British Empire and hence Sir Nick, was kidding. A bit.
But not about the magic major number -- 62. No one's ever been there, though a group, including Faldo at Royal St. Georges and Greg Norman and Nick Price here, have come close. In fact, Price had a putt for 62 here in the third round in 1986 that banged out of the cup. He said, at the time, that Bobby Jones held his hand up and said enough. Everyone who saw it agreed.
Of course, Johnny Miller set the record in 1973 at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Norman shot his in the first round in 1996, the year he lost to Faldo. Faldo's came in the second round in 1993 where he finished second to -- yes -- Norman.
"I holed my putt at Royal St. George's after a driver-2-iron for a 63.'' he chuckled. "Those were the days.''
And, no, he doesn't think a 62 is coming any time soon.
"You look at the hole locations and the speed and firmness of the greens. For someone to shoot a 62, that would be tough,” Faldo continued. “There's still a scare factor to it. Trying to hole a putt for a 62 at a major is like holing one for 59 on the regular tour. ''
He grinned and said, “I'm one of those who shot 63. I don't want anyone to shoot 62.''