Fall Of The Tiger, Woods Slips Outside Top 50

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It’s something that his fans thought wouldn’t happen until the day he retired but Tiger Woods is out of the world’s top 50 players for the first time since he entered into it in 1996.

Woods now sits at 51st in the rankings his lowest spot since way back on October 13, 1996 when he was ranked 61st following his maiden US PGA Tour win at the Las Vegas Invitational.

It was only a week after that he first ventured into the top 50 after winning at Disney World and beginning a remarkable run up the leader board.

In fact Woods spent a total of 778 inside the top 50 where he racked up 14 major’s in the process.

Tiger Woods at Bay Hill

Tiger Woods drops from top 50 but is showing signs of promise.

The former world number one does have a chance to reclaim his spot though as he returns from a two month break to play at the Frys.com Open at CordeValle on Thursday.

He is showing signs of regaining some form as well after shooting a practice round of 62 in preparation for the event.

It would be a huge turnaround though from a player who hasn’t tasted victory for nearly two years, the Australian Open of November 2009 his last triumph before his life infamously unravelled.

Throughout this year it’s been a real struggle for the former champ who’s battled problems in his knee and Achilles and was ultimately forced to reoperate after missing the cut in the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club back in August.

“We’re practicing very hard up at Medalist and I’m playing as much as I possibly can, something that I hadn’t not done all summer, because I hadn’t been cleared (by doctors) to do it,” Woods said.

A big portion of his break has also been spent working on a new swing technique with coach Sean Foley which is designed on taking some of the pressure of his lead leg.

It seems to be paying off though with his 62 on the Medalist a course record which included 10 birdies, seven on the back nine, where he shot 29.

“My training sessions are great,” Woods said.

“Strength has come back. My explosiveness has come back through my training, and now just trying to get my feels back, and it feels great.”

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After missing the cut, where will Tiger show his stripes next…?

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Tiger misses cut

Tiger misses cut

Bears go into hibernation and now a Tiger will, too. Only this time it won’t be by choice.

Tiger Woods missed the cut in a major championship for just the third time as a professional and fourth time overall Friday, shooting a 3-over-par 73 to finish his week 10 over.

His next stop will be Jupiter (Florida, that is) after he hit some otherworldly shots at Atlanta Athletic Club, where he arrived 129th in the FedExCup standings and left out of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup following five double bogeys over two days.

That, by the way, was the first time the two-time FedExCup champion has put up such ghastly numbers.

It also means it will be the last time we will see him until Novemeber when he is scheduled to play in the JBWere Masters in Australia and possibly The Presidents Cup — should captain Fred Couples select him.

Woods needs the tournament reps, but he needs first to go back to the range to do the work he’s been unable to do because of his health or lack thereof after a knee and Achilles injury sidelined the 14-time major champion for three months.

“I showed signs that I can hit the ball exactly how I know I can,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, I just didn’t do it enough times.”

Time is exactly what Woods needs now, maybe now more than ever, to do the things Sean Foley has tried to impart but has been unable to because of Woods’ battered body and mind.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but Foley has his work cut out with a soon-to-be 36-year-old Tiger.

“Now I have nothing to do but work on my game,” said Woods, a four-time winner of the PGA Championship who missed the cut in the event for the first time in his career. “That’s going to be good.”

Woods was anything but good this week, except for maybe his distance off the tee.

“I’m hitting the ball farther,” he said.

Farther into the woods maybe. That’s what Woods did on the par-5 12th Friday, for example, when he hit a low snap hook with a fairway wood on his way to one of those five double bogeys.

Woods said the week was a step backwards in that he didn’t make the cut and therefore didn’t contend in the tournament.

Well, it wasn’t a step forward, either, so it could only be backwards. If you’re not doing one, you’re doing the other.

Earlier this year, Woods returned too soon from the injuries he sustained at the Masters only to pull out of THE PLAYERS Championship following just nine holes.

Nothing was right then and not much is better now. But maybe all this in a weird way will do Woods some good.

He can go back to spending all his waking hours working on his game — driving, ball-striking, chipping, putting — and get away from the spotlight, scrutiny and everything else that goes with being him out here.

Besides, half the reason he put his face on golf’s Mount Rushmore was because he outworked everybody else.

Woods is ultracompetitive, like all the great ones always are, and he came to the PGA Championship with the same expectations he’s always had.

“A ‘W’,” Woods said. “A nice ‘W.’”

Instead, he left with another set of letters next to his name: MC.

And in the long term, it might just do him some good.

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Tiger get mojo back on final round of Doral WGC-Cadillac Championship

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Tiger at Doral

Tiger at Doral

Tiger Woods found reason to be encouraged Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Woods ended another ordinary week on a course he once dominated by matching his best score of the year with a 6-under 66 at Doral that gives him his best finish this year through five tournaments.

He also found his sense of humor.

“I’m putting the pieces together,” Woods said. “Everything is kind of shaping up and heading the right direction, which is good, and peaking right at the right time … for the Tavistock Cup.”

He plays Monday and Tuesday in the made-for-TV Tavistock Cup exhibition. The real golf resumes a week later at Bay Hill, where he is a six-time winner. That will be his final event before the Masters.

Woods began the final round 11 shots out of the lead and made only one bogey on the sixth hole. He twice had back-to-back birdies on the back nine, including a shot he nearly holed on the 17th for a tap-in birdie.

He again used a mallet-shaped putter, a heel-shafted club that he often uses in practice. Woods struggled on the greens all week, but made his share of 10- and 15-footers to at least leave Doral in a good frame of mind.

Still missing is getting into contention.

“Of course it bothers me,” Woods said. “I want to win golf tournaments. That’s the whole idea of entering events is to win golf tournaments, and I didn’t do that this week. But I showed positive signs for the next time I play, which is a good thing.”

Woods has had trouble closing this year. He shot 75 in the final round at Torrey Pines, and the one time he was in contention at Dubai, he shot 75 the last round on a windy day to fall into a tie for 20th.

The 66 was his best final round since a 65 at the Australian Masters.

The scrutiny remains, however, and more attention is shifting to his new swing coach, Sean Foley, with whom Woods began working at the PGA Championship last August.

Woods had said late last year that he was picking up the new swing more quickly than his other swing changes. He finished the year with a playoff loss at the Chevron World Challenge. And while he blew a four-shot lead on the last day, he looked like the Woods of old. The mystery is what happened to that game during his two-month break.

He said he was “definitely not going the wrong way,” and understood the criticism Foley is starting to face. Hank Haney went through the same criticism, even as Woods was winning some 40 percent of his tournaments and six majors.

“He’s never dealt with this before,” Woods said of Foley. “For some reason, I tend to get a little bit more scrutinized than most players do, analyzed to the ‘nth’ degree about what goes on within one round of golf. That’s something that’s new to him. But he said one positive thing is I’m always on TV, which is good, so he gets to look at a lot of golf swings.”

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Lovemark sets expectations high on Nationwide Tour

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Jamie Lovemark

When Jamie Lovemark wants to get away he heads to a favorite fishing hole — and he leaves his cell phone at home.

Lovemark, who at 22 was the youngest Player of the Year ever on the Nationwide Tour, doesn’t like the distractions of modern technology to interfere with one of his favorite hobbies.

“I love to fish, and I think more people are finding out that when I don’t answer my phone I’m either playing (golf) or fishing,” said Lovemark, a former star at Southern Cal who took to the Nationwide Tour this season like a fish in water.

Lovemark was consistent throughout the long season, winning once in 22 events and finishing inside the top 10 nine times. He had a 69.41 scoring average and earned just over $450,000, the fourth-highest total in Tour history.

With all of those accomplishments behind him Lovemark can now look ahead to the PGA TOUR in 2011.

“I think mostly throughout this past year I improved as I went along and I was working on a lot of things with my swing coach, Sean Foley,” Lovemark said. “I improved a lot on being consistent and I did a better job of controlling the golf ball.”

Lovemark is most proud of his body of work throughout the season. His lone victory came in the Mexico Open Bicentenary when he hit what many consider the shot of the year in a playoff. His second shot to the par 5, a 6-iron from 235 yards, landed 3 feet from the pin. He made the eagle to beat B.J. Staten on the first playoff hole.

“It’s very nice to know that I improved over the course of the year and I want to continue to improve as my career goes along,” said Lovemark, who is fully exempt on the PGA TOUR for 2011 — including an invite to THE PLAYERS Championship.

Lovemark, who will turn 23 on Jan. 23, has been saddled with the “can’t miss” label throughout his amateur and short pro career. He says he’s learned that trying to live up to others’ expectations doesn’t do him any good.

“I think there will be (high expectations),” said Lovemark, who lost in a playoff at the Frys.com Open on the PGA TOUR in the fall of 2009. “I have high expectations and the people around me have those as well but I’m not worried about what other people might be thinking… I just want to go out and play well and go from there.”

Lovemark doesn’t mind sharing some of his goals for 2011, which include moving up in the Official World Golf Ranking so he can qualify for majors and the World Golf Championships.

“I want to play in the majors,” he said. “But to do that I’m going to have to be consistent and I want to be ready to go right out of the gate.”

There were several highlights to Lovemark’s season on the Nationwide Tour, which included being No. 1 on the money list for a season-high 11 weeks. He led during the final seven weeks of the season and preserved his spot at year’s end by tying for seventh in the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island.

What set him apart on the Nationwide Tour was a solid short game and plenty of length off the tee. He was No. 1 in sand save percentage and was fourth in final-round scoring average. He ranked 12th on Tour in driving distance, too.

The list of former Nationwide Tour money leaders since 1990 includes players such as Tom Lehman, Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson. It’s a good bet that Lovemark will make his mark on the PGA TOUR.

“That was my biggest confidence boost,” Lovemark said about his victory on the Nationwide Tour. “My game is really in good shape and the Nationwide Tour really prepares you well for the PGA TOUR. I think one of the big differences might be the courses on the PGA TOUR may be more penalizing, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Another factor working in Lovemark’s favor was the daily grind of traveling, playing golf and navigating his way during his first full year of being a pro golfer. He says that learning about how to pace himself while traveling was something he learned in a hurry.

“It will be a work in progress,” Lovemark said about his rookie year on the PGA TOUR. “I want to get better every day. I’ll be up against the best players of all time out there, so it should be a lot of fun.”

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Terrible year for Tiger as his game and life comes crashing down around him

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tigerwoodsnothappy

Tiger Woods not happy

Nearly a year ago, Tiger Woods‘ world came crashing down on him — literally. It was, in Woods’ own words Thursday during an interview on ESPN radio, “The best thing that could’ve happened to me.”

That was perhaps the most revealing, or at least telling, statement from Woods in the 25-minute interview, which Woods said he gave — along with launching a Twitter account and writing a first-person account for Newsweek magazine — in an effort to connect with the fans.

“That’s been the biggest surprise of all is how supportive the fans have been,” said Woods, who echoed similar words when he returned to golf at the Masters earlier this year.

“The only way [to rebuild my image] is to come to grips with who I am,” he added. “I wasn’t happy with who I was. I was doing things morally that inside I knew I shouldn’t be doing.”

Asked what about what he thinks he learned about himself in the past year, Woods added that he wasn’t the person he used to be.

Asked if he’s happier now, Woods said, “Infinitely so. I’m more clear about who I am and where I want to go.”

Where Woods goes on the golf course in terms of whether or not he breaks Jack Nicklaus‘ record of 18 major championships remains to be seen.

Woods, who has 14 career major championships, will play one more event this season, his upcoming Chevron World Challenge. If he doesn’t win, it will mark the first year since 1995 that he has gone without a victory.

“Bits and pieces” is how Woods described how the swing changes he’s been working on with new coach Sean Foley have been coming along.

“I’m more clear about who I am and where I want to go.”

- Tiger Woods

“The fixes for the misses are a little different than the past,” Woods added.

The main priority in Woods’ life, however, appear to be his children.

In the Newsweek article, for example, he talked about the joy of bathing his son over hitting another bucket of golf balls in practice.

He wrote: “Slowly, I’m regaining the balance that I’d lost. My healing process is far from complete, but I am beginning to appreciate things I had overlooked before. I’m learning that some victories can mean smiles, not trophies, and that life’s most ordinary events can bring joy.”

Thursday, Woods re-iterated that, saying his kids are his No. 1 priority and that every day he tries to teach them something, much the way his own late father, Earl, did with him.

Woods added that he’ll also tell his children the “absolute truth” when it comes time to explaining the events of the past year.

Said Woods: “My dad always said that love is a given, but trust and respect are earned.”

That’s exactly what Woods is hoping to continue to earn himself.

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