What a great week for Mike Weir in Australia. The 2003 Masters champ, who’s struggled with injuries and his game for what feels like forever now, finished T15 at the Australian PGA Championship thanks in large part to a bogey-free 67 in the final round. It was Weir’s first top-20 result anywhere since his out-of-nowhere runner-up at the 2014 Byron Nelson. For more, read this solid story on GolfAustralia.com ×× Kudos to Golf Canada and the CP Women’s Open for the 2017 event winning the LPGA Tournament Owners Association’s best charity/community engagement award. The achievement isn’t surprising given the $2 million raised for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario through its CP Has Heart campaign and the tremendous turnout and support from those in the National Capital Region and beyond for local gal Brooke Henderson at Ottawa Hunt. The tournament really was a home run ×× Speaking of hitting it out of the park, big score for Cobra Golf with Rickie Fowler winning the Hero World Challenge Sunday. The company recently introduced a gnarly looking CNC precision milled face driver — the King F8+ — and its premier player, Fowler, debuted it to the tune of a final-round 61 to win by four shots ×× Bet the folks at TaylorMade were equally as giddy though. I mean, when is the last time we’ve seen Tiger Woods drive the golf ball as far and straight as he did at the Hero? It’s been a long time coming for TaylorMade after making a splash at last year’s PGA Merchandise Show with the Woods signing.
The news wasn’t fantastic for Canadians competing in qualifying schools over the weekend. But it wasn’t awful either. In the final stage of the LPGA Tour qualifying, only Maude-Aimee Leblanc and Brittany Marchand survived the 72-hole cut. (The tournament was five rounds.) Both finished T32 to earn conditional LPGA status next season. All others earned Symetra Tour status ×× In the final round of PGA Tour Champions Q-School, Victoria’s Jim Rutledge finished T23 to earn the right to Monday qualify at events next season. Rookie senior Danny King finished T51, though accorded himself well in his first try with a third-round 66 ×× Before Tiger’s return last week Golf Channel was not surprisingly re-airing many of its one-hour Tiger-wins-a-major specials. The 1997 Masters was showed of course and one-time young gun Tommy Tolles played a prominent role as he finished alone in third at that tournament. I was watching thinking, ‘Man, Tommy Tolles was good back then, what happened?’ Tolles followed up that ’97 Masters result with a T5 at the U.S. Open and the year before he’d finished solo-third in the PGA Championship. He seemed destined for greatness. But Tolles played on the PGA Tour until 2004, never winning, before losing his exempt status. He toiled on the Web.com Tour for a couple years, incurred back problems that required surgery and then quit competitive golf for good. Well Tolles, 50, just finished second in PGA Tour Champions Q-School, losing in a playoff for medallist honours to Tom Byrum. He will play a full schedule with the round bellies in 2018. Good for him.
In this space last week I wrote that I thought the biggest question mark surrounding Woods as he embarked on yet another comeback to competitive golf was whether or not he could swing his driver with the same smooth tempo we’d seen him show in widely spread social media videos once he started posting scores for real. Turns out he didn’t have to. At his Hero World Challenge, Tiger swung his driver and metal woods as hard as he ever has and, for the most part, he hit them farther and straighter than he has in a really long time too. It was very impressive and massively importantly for him going forward, especially if he remains pain-free, as he reported he was following the four rounds. However the caveat — just as it was last year when Woods returned in the Bahamas and looked good, but not nearly as good as he did this year — is that Albany is a relative cakewalk of a golf course off the tee. It has wide fairways, made wider in spots by waste bunkers that are easily escapable, barring the ball landing in a footprint or behind a rock, and aside from Saturday, when Woods struggled and carded his only over-par round of the week, the conditions were calm and ripe for scoring. So as was the case with Woods when he left Albany last year, let’s see how he does when he gets to a tougher, more visually intimidating golf course. As for the rest of his game, his iron play was mostly strong, his putting was fairly solid and his short game, well his short game was mediocre, even downright awful at times, which wasn’t surprising given where it was when he left the game the last time and the tough Bermuda grass green surrounds at Albany. But he can sort that out. So what grade does Woods get in his comeback? I’ll give him an A- given how long he was away, the uncertainty surrounding the health of his back, and how down in the dumps he was just six months ago when he was pulled over for reckless/impaired driving. But again, the Hero World Challenge is a mostly meaningless event. It’s a fun fair. It was exciting to see Woods perform better than many of us expected, but let’s wait and see how he does when the golf courses are tougher and there is a cut to make. When the stakes are higher. When the pressure is really on. Let’s see how he plays then, and here’s hoping it’s as well or even better than he did in the Bahamas.