Nothing outside of the major championships was ever guaranteed for Tiger Woods when it comes to his schedule. And now even that is uncertain in the wake of the news that Woods recently had a microdiscectomy procedure to alleviate nerve pain in his lower back.
Apparently Woods is already hitting balls after having the procedure Dec. 23. Still, Woods is out for the Farmers Insurance Open as well the Genesis Invitational, two tournaments he was expected to play.
At 45, Woods was already in a dubious spot having to deal with back stiffness that was inevitable in the wake of his 2017 spinal fusion surgery. Now the added wrinkle is recovering from the microdiscectomy procedure, which typically does not require an overnight stay but clearly takes some recuperation time.
We expected less before all this, and now that appears to be even more the case as 2021 moves on. With that in mind, here is a look at Woods’ scheduling possibilities.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational (March 4-7) seemingly would be the earliest place for a return, and that is just six weeks away — which would appear to be a stretch. Woods has had a lot of success at Bay Hill, winning eight times, most recently in 2013. Since then, his best effort was a tie for fifth in 2018, when he briefly contended during the final round. He has missed the tournament, however, the last two years. In 2019, he complained of neck stiffness; last year he skipped because of back problems. Having missed the last two makes it easier to skip it again. And playing out of the Bay Hill rough is no bargain. This appears to be a long shot.
The Players Championship (March 11-14) has never been a particularly great tournament for Woods, even though he has won it twice. Still, Tiger doesn’t skip the PGA Tour’s signature event unless he is physically unable. Given the back procedure was Dec. 23, there is a glimmer of hope.
The Honda Classic (March 18-21) is mere miles from Woods’ home, and he’s played the event several times over the years. This would have been a no-go if everything had remained normal, but now it is a distinct possibility. It is eight weeks away and three weeks prior to the Masters. Having a home game might be exactly what works best. PGA National is a tough place to work back in, but Woods might not have a choice. The following week’s match play event is no guarantee.
The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship (March 25-28) is two weeks prior to the Masters, and Woods likes that timing. He’s guaranteed three rounds in the round-robin pool format, and anything beyond that is a bonus. Two years ago, Woods tied for fifth at Austin Country Club, losing in the quarterfinals. He won the Masters two weeks later. Here’s the problem: He might not qualify. Woods is ranked 44th in the world and dropping. Can he remain in the top 64 at that point? Does he want to even risk the possibility of playing multiple matches if he makes it to the weekend? If not eligible, the Honda the week prior makes more sense. Crazy thought: Woods doesn’t qualify, and shows up at the opposite event in the Dominican Republic.
The week of April 3 is now circled. If Woods can’t make it back prior to then, can he return at the Masters? It’s not an ideal place to come back, but he’s done it before: in 2010 and 2015, the latter year having taken nine weeks off to work on his game. Woods hates to miss the Masters. The fact that he had an issue and seemed intent on getting it resolved as quickly as possible suggests he’ll do all he can to be in Augusta.
The move of the Valspar Championship from March to three weeks after the Masters (April 29-May 2) may help the Florida tournament land Woods. It was three years ago that, in just his fourth start back after the spinal fusion surgery, he tied for second, a shot behind winner Paul Casey at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course. The course is not far from home and is really well-suited to Woods. It’s also three weeks prior to the PGA Championship. The only question: Would he rather play the following week? If unable to play the Masters, this event would be a prime place to return, as it is more than three months away.
The Wells Fargo Championship (May 6-10) seems an either/or proposition for Woods, who last won the tournament in 2007 and then finished fourth in 2009. Since then, he has played the event just four times, with two missed cuts and a tie for 55th in 2018. Quail Hollow Golf Club has undergone several changes that perhaps don’t suit Woods. It might keep him away. Then again, if he wants to play two weeks prior to the PGA Championship, this would be the choice, meaning he skips Valspar.
For the PGA Championship (May 13-17), it is quite unlikely we will see Woods do what he did in 2019 — which is not play prior to the tournament following the Masters. Last year, his only start prior to the PGA was the Memorial, his first tournament following the pandemic shutdown. In 2012, Woods shared the 36-hole lead at Kiawah Island (South Carolina) with Vijay Singh and Carl Pettersson, only to shoot 74-72 over the weekend and fall well off the pace. Rory McIlroy won the tournament by 8 shots; Woods finished tied for 11th, 11 strokes back.
Two weeks after the PGA, two weeks prior to the U.S. Open. Jack Nicklaus‘ Memorial Tournament (June 3-6) in Dublin, Ohio, is in the perfect spot. Barring something unforeseen, it’s difficult to see Tiger skipping a tournament he has won five times.
The U.S. Open returns to Torrey Pines in San Diego for the first time since Woods’ epic playoff victory over Rocco Mediate in 2008. That was his 14th major title, and an avalanche of things have occurred over the past 13 years. But Torrey should be more to Woods’ liking.
It is difficult to see Woods playing between the Opens. He’s not likely to play the Travelers the week after the U.S. Open nor the John Deere the week prior to The Open. That leaves only the Rocket Mortgage Championship in Detroit, a place he’s never played. He hasn’t competed at The Open at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England in 18 years. He missed the 2011 tournament due to injury. He tied for fourth when Ben Curtis shocked the world in 2003. He entered just 2 back of Thomas Bjorn heading into the final round and missed a playoff by 2 strokes. (Woods, infamously, had a lost ball on the very first hole of the tournament, his drive into the rough not found in the allotted time; he made a triple-bogey 7.)
Remember when Woods was a prime contender to play in the Olympics? A year ago at this time, he was ranked sixth in the world, in prime position to be one of the top four Americans. Now he’s barely inside the top 50 — where he will need to be if he is to even qualify for the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis. The WGC falls perfectly for him, (It is a week following the Men’s Olympic golf tournament), three weeks following The Open and two weeks prior to the FedEx Cup playoffs. The big questions: Will he be eligible? And where will he be in the FedEx standings?
Woods wasn’t able to qualify for the Tour Championship in 2019 despite winning the Masters, nor was he able to do so last year despite a victory at the Zozo Championship. In the past three years, he has shown an inclination to play them all if eligible.
This year, the Northern Trust (Aug. 19-22) returns to Liberty National, where he withdrew after one round in 2019; the BMW Championship (Aug. 26-29) goes to a new venue at Caves Valley Golf Club in Maryland; and the Tour Championship (Sept. 2-5) is back at East Lake in Atlanta, where Woods won in 2018 — and has yet to return.
It’s the same story: Woods’ fitness, ability to practice and compete, will determine how much he plays in 2021. After missing two tournaments he was expected to play, and possibly more, it seems the most Woods could play prior to the FedEx Cup playoffs is 10 tournaments. It is difficult to see him playing more than that. And it might even be one or two less. As always, the focus will be on the major championships. From there, how he feels and his motivation to advance in the FedEx Cup playoffs will likely determine how much we see him.
A significant anniversary in Phil Mickelson‘s career passed the other day, one that highlights his early greatness while also reminding us of his longevity.
It has been 30 years since Mickelson won his first PGA Tour event, doing so as a 20-year-old amateur while playing college golf at Arizona State.
The feat occurred so long ago that the PGA Tour had yet to open its season with a two-tournament Hawaii swing. And it happened at a tournament that long ago went away.
Mickelson won the Northern Telecom Open in Tucson, Arizona, overcoming a triple-bogey 8 on the back nine and winning with an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole to defeat Tom Purtzer and Bob Tway. The date was Jan. 13, 1991, and it was the second tournament of the season.
Mickelson remains the last amateur to win on the PGA Tour.
Now he embarks on another season at age 50, looking to become the oldest winner of a major championship and, perhaps more realistically, just the eighth player age 50 or older to win a PGA Tour event.
Mickelson is the host of this week’s American Express Championship in La Quinta, California, a role he took on last year after serving as the event’s ambassador for three years.
When Mickelson won in 1991, he opened the tournament with scores of 65-71-65 to take a 2-shot lead into the final round. At the time, he was already widely acclaimed, having won two individual NCAA titles as well as the 1990 U.S. Amateur. He also played in his first major championship in 1990, tying for 29th at the U.S. Open, where he was the low amateur.
The third round was notable for a shot that personifies Phil. He had an approach that barely trickled into the front portion of a bunker, leaving a very difficult chance to get the ball close to the hole and save par. The safe play was to hit the shot out to the side; getting behind the ball and hitting it toward the pin was nearly impossible.
Instead, Mickelson decided to play a shot that he had practiced numerous times but was audacious under the circumstances. He aimed away from the hole, back down on the fairway. And with the ball on a slight upslope, he hit a shot that went over his head, backward and toward the hole. It stopped close enough for a tap-in par.
“I just want his parents to make sure he stays in school two more years,” Purtzer said afterward.
Victory did not come easily. Mickelson went from leading to trailing by 2 shots after making a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 14th hole. He twice had hit shots into unplayable lies. Only four holes remained.
But he parred the next hole, birdied the 16th, then parred the 17th and found himself tied with Purtzer and Tway. Both players had made mistakes of their own to let Phil back into the tournament.
Knocking his approach to 8 feet, Mickelson made the birdie putt to win, joining Scott Verplank (1985 Western Open), Doug Sanders (1956 Canadian Open), Gene Littler (1954 San Diego Open), Frank Stranahan (1948 Miami Open, 1945 Durham War Bond Tournament), Cary Middlecoff (1945 North & South Open) and Fred Haas (1945 Memphis Invitational) as the only amateurs to win on the PGA Tour.
Purtzer and Tway shared first- and second-place money because Mickelson could not take the $180,000 prize as an amateur. (They each received $144,000.)
“He didn’t give up, he didn’t change anything,” said Mickelson’s father, Phil Sr. “Somebody came back a little bit, and all of a sudden he was tied for the lead and birdied the final hole to win. After almost giving it away on the par-5, and then to come back, I thought that was so meaningful of an event that he could carry that with him for a long, long time. If you have a bad hole, it doesn’t mean you are out of it.”
That mantra has followed Mickelson throughout his career.
Now he embarks on a new phase. This week’s tournament looks to be the first of at least four in a row. After this, it’s off to the Farmers Insurance Open, the Saudi International on the European Tour (where he tied for third last year) and then an expected return to California for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Last year, he added the Genesis Invitational to make it five straight weeks.
There is also the possibility for some senior golf for Mickelson. In 2020, Mickelson won his only two starts on the PGA Tour Champions.
But there are more immediate goals. Davis Love III was the last player age 50 or older to win on the PGA Tour, doing so at the 2015 Wyndham Championship. The only others to do so were Sam Snead (52), Art Wall (51), James Barnes (51), John Barnum (51), Fred Funk (50) and Craig Stadler (50).
And ranked 67th in the world, Mickelson has some work to do in order to play in the upcoming World Golf Championship events (the relocated Mexico event for the top 50 and the match play for the top 64), with a longer-term goal of qualifying for the U.S. Open, to be played in his hometown of San Diego at Torrey Pines.
Mickelson will need to be among the top 60 to play in the U.S. Open — the same event where he made his professional debut — in 1992. At that point, he was already an exempt player on the PGA Tour, by virtue of that victory as an amateur — a status he’s maintained for 30 years and counting.
Bryson DeChambeau wasn’t feeling well during the Masters in November, bad enough to wonder whether he had COVID-19. Following the second round, he took a test that came back negative. He finished the tournament but never got into contention, ending in a tie for 34th.
DeChambeau is feeling better now — he tied for seventh at the Sentry Tournament of Champions — but explained recently just what was going on at Augusta National.
And he went to elaborate lengths to determine the issues.
“I actually went to multiple doctors, multiple people, trying to figure out what this was,” DeChambeau said last week during a conference call to promote the Saudi International tournament he will play next week on the European Tour. “I got a couple MRIs. Went to an inner-ear doctor, eye tests, eye pressure, ear pressure, even did an ultrasound on my heart, ultrasounds on my neck to see the blood flow and how things were moving through the different areas of my body, and everything came back really, really well.”
DeChambeau went on to say that he’s been doing brain training with Neuropeak, a neurofeedback company, and “the front lobe of my brain was working really, really hard, and that’s kind of what gave me some weird symptoms, like crazy overworking.
“So as I started to relax my brain a little bit and just get into a more comfortable situation and got on a really good sleep-schedule routine, a lot of those symptoms went away. And they come back every once in a while, but as I do a lot of breathing, it goes away, and that’s really what I’m focused on trying to do. I’m really working on gut health right now. I think there could be something there.
DeChambeau, who is ranked seventh in the world, has transformed his body over the past 15 months through a workout and weight-gaining program that has seen him add some 40 pounds.
“We’ve registered some pretty good inflammation in the stomach just from the massive changes I’ve made this past year,” he said. “When you’re trying to change anything, you’re always going to have something on the back end happen that may or may not be good for you.”
DeChambeau increased his driving-distance average by some 20 yards and led the PGA Tour with an average tee shot of 322 yards in 2019-20.
The decision to move the WGC-Mexico Championship to Florida — and call it something else — is another example of just how difficult it is for the PGA Tour to navigate through the pandemic. It’s also a reminder of how hard it is to operate when local events have seen their revenue streams cut to virtually nothing.
Only two other events since the return of golf have not taken place — the John Deere Classic and the HSBC-Champions in China. The Deere was replaced on the schedule by the Workday Charity Open and played at Muirfield Village the week before the Memorial on the same course. The Tour maneuvered shrewdly to find another sponsor and not lose playing opportunities.
Now it is faced with a similar scenario, as no replacement sponsor has been announced for the tournament that has been moved to Bradenton, Florida. The John Deere tournament determined it would be a financial disaster to try to play without spectators. So, too, apparently, did Grupo Salinas, a conglomerate of Mexican companies that puts up some $17 million a year to stage a tournament where it would not have been allowed to have spectators or provide corporate hospitality.
Grupo Salinas basically didn’t want to pay the full amount; that led to an impasse with the Tour, which has a contract to play these events. Had there been an equitable resolution, Mexico Championship would be part of the name of the tournament moving to Florida — just as the CJ Cup went to Las Vegas and Zozo went to Thousand Oaks, California, last fall.
It will be interesting to see if the WGC event actually does return to Mexico City next year. That appears far from a done deal.
The European Tour resumes its schedule with the first tournament of 2021 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, one of three Middle East events. Rory McIlroy is playing for the first time since the Masters. McIlroy has not started in the Middle East since he tied for third in Abu Dhabi and was second in Dubai in 2018 … Chris Kirk was playing the Sony Open on the last start of a medical extension he received after taking time off to deal with alcoholism and depression. To retain his playing card for the rest of 2021, Kirk needed to finish in a two-way tie for third place or better. Kirk finished tied for second — and said afterward he was not aware of what he needed. “I wasn’t looking. I was just going and playing,” he said. “I’m so thankful for the support of my family through these last few years.” … Joaquin Niemann, who missed the Masters because of COVID-19, is off to a hot start in 2021. He was 45 under in two tournaments in Hawaii, losing in a playoff at the Sentry, then tying for second at the Sony.
HONOLULU — The spoils at the Sony Open belonged to Kevin Na, a winner for the fourth straight season after coming from three shots behind with six holes to play for a one-shot victory with a birdie on the final hole.
The consolation prize belonged to Chris Kirk, and it felt like a win.
Kirk stepped away in May 2019 because of alcoholism and depression, a decision he feels saved himself, his family and his career. He was playing the final event of a medical extension the PGA Tour awarded him for lost time, and he delivered a 65 to finish one shot behind.
The birdie on the final hole gave him enough points to regain full status.
“It totally changes everything, being able to be back to picking my schedule like I’m used to over the last number of years,” Kirk said. “I’m thankful God put me in a great situation, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Na could have felt similarly.
The Sony Open is typically so crowded at the top that no one is safe and no one is ever out of it. Na looked to be out of it only when he missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 11th and then three-putted for bogey from 40 feet on the 12th to fall three shots behind Brendan Steele.
He answered with three straight birdies, Steele faltered at Waialae for the second straight year and Na delivered the winning shot with a 5-wood from the rough that went just over the back of the green on the par-5 18th, leaving him a simple up-and-down for birdie and a 5-under 65.
“I was playing maybe a little bit more aggressive coming down the stretch, not worrying so much about second or third, more focused on just that — winning,” Na said. “Every year, I hope to win, and I expect to win on the right golf courses.”
Kirk and Joaquin Niemann (66) finished one shot behind, and it felt good to only one of them. Niemann was runner-up for the second straight week in Hawaii. He finished the two Hawaii events at 45-under par without a trophy to show for it.
“Just another good week, so happy for that,” Niemann said. He does leave Hawaii with $1,369,400 in earnings.
Na collected his fifth career victory on the PGA Tour. Na, who turned pro out of high school, didn’t win until his eighth season. It was seven more seasons until he won again. Now, he’s up to four seasons in a row.
“I think experience is the reason why I’ve been winning,” he said. “When you do it again, you know it seems like the next one comes easier. … I think more about winning since I’ve been winning more often.”
It was hard to think that way when he was running out of time. From the rough left of the 13th, he hit his approach into just under 15 feet for the first of three straight birdies.
As for Steele, it was another year of disappointment in paradise, this one more of a slow leak. Steele last year had a two-shot lead with two to play and wound up losing in a playoff. This time, he made an 18-foot eagle putt on the ninth hole to take a three-shot lead into the back nine.
He hit driver on the 355-yard 10th and didn’t quite clear a bunker, leaving an awkward lie. He put his wedge on the front of the green some 80 feet away and three-putted. His game was so tentative the rest of the way that he didn’t have a birdie chance inside 30 feet until the 17th hole. That was from 10 feet to tie for the lead, and he missed that.
Steele also failed to birdie the 18th and closed with a 69.
“Totally changed the momentum,” Steele said about his bogey on the 10th. “Every single shot I hit after that ended up with a weird lie. … I think you just have to really take some positives out of this. Hard to see for me right now.”
Na finished at 21-under 259 and is assured of returning to Hawaii for two weeks next year, starting with the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. That course can be too big for him. Waialae proved to be a perfect fit.
HONOLULU — Brendan Steele knows he can play well at the Sony Open whether it’s windy or calm, in sunshine or rain. Now he gets another chance to see if he can win.
One year after Steele lost a late lead at Waialae and lost in a playoff, he delivered the lowest score of his career Saturday in ideal conditions with a 9-under 61 that gave him a 2-shot lead going into the final round.
“You hope that you come back and you play well and erase whatever negative memories there are,” Steele said. “But all the memories are pretty positive. Playing great here last year was good, and I’m excited for the challenge tomorrow. I know it’s going to be really tough. Guys are coming after me. But I’ll just do my best and hopefully it will be enough.”
If Saturday was any indication, it will be plenty tough.
Joaquin Niemann, a runner-up last week at Kapalua, was outside the top 10 when he birdied the par-3 17th and then roasted a 7-wood that tumbled onto the green to 10 feet for eagle and a 63. Just like that, he was 2 shots behind.
Kevin Na started the day 5 shots out of the lead and matched his career low with a 61 to join Niemann at two back.
Overnight rain at Waialae Country Club, coupled with the tropical wind not even strong enough to make palm trees sway, left the course as vulnerable as it has ever been.
There were 10 scores of 64 or better Saturday. The average score was 66.7, a record for the Sony Open.
Niemann was 4 under for his round and far from satisfied.
“I thought I could put myself in a better position, and then finishing that way and making eagle on 18 made me really happy and gave me a bit of motivation for tomorrow,” said Niemann, the 22-year-old from Chile.
Na had it going so well he thought about a 59 when he stood over a 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th, knowing that would leave him an eagle away from golf’s magic number. He had to settle for a 61 — and know he might need another score like it.
“The golf course is so gettable that somebody can go shoot 8 or 9 under,” Na said. “Yeah, I am in a good position, but it’s what you shoot Sunday. I’m still going to need a low one tomorrow.”
Steele was at 18-under 192.
Starting times have been moved up by two hours Sunday with hopes of finishing ahead of heavy rain in the forecast.
Steele had a 2-shot lead with two holes to play a year ago when he missed a 6-foot par putt on the 17th hole, hit a wild hook on his approach to the easy par-5 18th and had to settle for par, and then missed the 10th green with an 80-yard shot in the playoff against Cameron Smith. It was a final hour when everything went wrong.
When he arrived in Hawai’i to start the week, he played the back nine at Waialae for a practice round and was reminded of what he let slip away.
“I was remembering some shots, some good and some bad, kind of kicking myself a little bit,” he said.
Steele said he typically plays well coming off a break — five weeks, in this case — and the fact he has the 54-hole lead for the second straight year only tells him he can play this course in any weather. The ferocious wind last year finally gave way to rain. This year, there has been plenty of sunshine and only moderate wind.
Keith Mitchell, who had a 62 on Friday, took the lead at one point in the third round and was 8 under through 15 holes on his round when his tee shot landed near a cement wall of a house and cost him a penalty drop. A mediocre finish gave Mitchell a 63, which felt even higher being in the same group as Na.
Nick Taylor, who took a 2-shot lead into the third round, was keeping pace until a pair of bogeys on the back nine. He shot a 68 and was still only 4 shots back.
Such is the nature of this tournament in this kind of weather. It was wide open on Saturday, and it’s not likely to be any different in the final round.
Justin Thomas has lost an endorsement deal with Ralph Lauren after he used an anti-gay slur during the third round of last weekend’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawai’i.
Thomas, 27, the third-ranked player in the world, was overheard on a greenside microphone cursing at himself for missing a par putt at the fourth hole on the Plantation Course at Kapalua on Jan. 9. He apologized profusely after the round and said after missing a playoff by a stroke that the issue was bothering him enough for it to be a distraction.
“We are disheartened by Mr. Thomas’ recent language, which is entirely inconsistent with our values,” the company said in a statement. “While we acknowledge that he has apologized and recognizes the severity of his words, he is a paid ambassador of our brand and his actions conflict with the inclusive culture that we strive to uphold.
“In reflecting on the responsibility we have to all of our stakeholders, we have decided to discontinue our sponsorship of Mr. Thomas at this time. As we make the decision, our hope is that Mr. Thomas does the hard and necessary work in order to partner with us again — truly examining this incident, learning, growing and ultimately using his platform to promote inclusion.”
Thomas has been with Ralph Lauren since 2013, and re-signed with the company in 2018 in a deal that was reported to go through 2021, according to the company website. According to Thomas’ website, Titleist, FootJoy, NetJets and Citi are among his other sponsors.
After his round Saturday, Thomas apologized when asked about the incident.
“It’s inexcusable,” he said. “I, first off, I just apologize. I mean, there’s no excuse. I’m an adult. I’m a grown man, there’s absolutely no reason for me to say anything like that. It’s terrible. I mean, I’m extremely embarrassed; it’s not who I am, it’s not the kind of person that I am or anything that I do, but it’s, unfortunately, I did it, and I have to own up to it and I’m very apologetic.”
Thomas is not playing this week’s PGA Tour event in Hawai’i. He is scheduled to play the European Tour event next week in Abu Dhabi.
HONOLULU — Joaquin Niemann had no regrets about the 18th hole at the Sony Open.
Four days after a pair of pars on the final hole at Kapalua led to a playoff loss, Niemann holed a 50-foot chip for eagle on the 18th hole Thursday for an 8-under 62 and a share of the lead with Jason Kokrak and Peter Malnati.
“It was a good way to finish,” Niemann said. “Spent a few days thinking about that last hole, but taking all the positives from the week and pull it out for this week.”
They weren’t easy days for Niemann. The 22-year-old from Chile is still too young to have experienced the inevitable losses that pile up in this sport. He played Sunday at Kapalua with Sergio Garcia, who has experienced plenty of failure, and who told him to think about what all went right.
So much did on a breezy afternoon at Waialae on a course with dry fairways and smooth greens and low scoring. Niemann’s only bogey was when he fell asleep on a 25-foot birdie putt above the hole at No. 12, ran it 10 feet by the hole and three-putted. The finish was exquisite.
Kokrak played bogey-free, and he was as pleased with a 15-foot par putt on No. 1 — his 10th hole of the round — than any of his nine birdies. He had a 25-foot eagle putt for 61 on his closing hole that narrowly missed.
Malnati was the only one at 62 who played in the morning, though conditions were similar for much of the day.
Herman made it to Hawaii a week later than he had hoped and was happier than ever. He recovered from the coronavirus and had his lowest score in his 10th appearance at the Sony Open to get his year off to a good start.
He qualified for Kapalua the Sentry Tournament of Champions by winning the Wyndham Championship, his third career victory. But his COVID-19 test came back positive as he prepared to go to Maui, and self-isolation for 10 days left him no time to get to Kapalua.
“I feel pretty good,” Herman said. “Obviously, the low score today helps you feel a little bit better. Didn’t know what to expect coming out this week.”
Herman said he had a miserable four days dealing with the virus and still doesn’t have his full taste and smell back. The biggest concern was slight inflammation of the lungs, which pressed against his back and made it difficult to sit. He finally was able hit some golf balls last weekend and played only one round of golf.
Scoring was ideal for different reasons than Kapalua on a very different course. The wind off the Pacific shores on the edge of the course is normal. But it’s been dry enough for the ball to roll, helpful on tee shots in the fairway, not so much when it’s off line and head into the rough.
There was one other twist at Waialae — out-of-bounds stakes for about 350 yards down the left side of the 18th fairway. The tour erected them this year out of safety to those coming down the 10th fairway, and without the tents and bleachers because of no spectators, it might have been tempting for more players to take their tee shot on 18 down the 10th.
That never crossed Niemann’s mind. He hit a high draw that still tumbled through the fairway into the rough, came up just short and finished on a good note.
It sure was different from last week. Niemann missed a 6-foot birdie in regulation (and shot 64), and then in a playoff on the par-5 18th, he pulled it slightly and went down a slope left of the green, leaving a tough chip and a par. Harris English won with a birdie putt.
“It was the first time that it really hurt me, like finishing a golf tournament,” he said. “Probably one or two days I just keep thinking on how I couldn’t make birdie on 18 and get it done. I was talking with my coach, with my psychologist. We talked for an hour about the whole tournament, not for that 18th hole. It was a good way to take all the positives from that week.”
English, hopeful of being only the third player to sweep the Hawaii swing, had three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on his second nine and had to birdie two of the last three holes for an even-par 70.
Scoring was so low that only 30 players from the 144-man field were over par.
“They have it playing fantastic,” said Webb Simpson, one of 22 players at 65 or better. “I think all us golfers love it for the most part when we see a good drive and the ball bounce 10 feet in the air, it’s a good feeling.”