Big Five Now the Big Two
He already has won three times, including the Masters for his first major since 2002, and he has finished in the top three in seven of his 13 starts on the PGA Tour. He has returned to No. 1 in the world. And when Woods says his game is coming together, no one rolls his eyes.
Still, this is a year in which nothing is what it seems.
The lasting image of Woods is not of him slipping on a green jacket at Augusta National for the fourth time, but making a mess of the final two holes at the Masters and having to sweat out a sudden-death playoff. True, he has given himself a chance to win just about every other time he has played, but he also missed a cut for the first time in seven years.
And while he nearly staged dramatic comebacks from a six-shot deficit at the U.S. Open and a five-shot deficit at the Western Open, his rallies ended with errors he rarely makes.
I guess thats the one negative of being the best. Everyone expects you to be perfect, Jim Furyk said after ignoring Woods charge and winning the Western Open. If he makes a mistake, it sticks out more than anything else. People pay notice to it. People will mention it to him. He has to relive those moments a little bit more critically than everyone else because the spotlight is on him.
Hes human. But sometimes, it doesnt seem that way.
Woods is not alone.
With so many players poised to do so many great things, the spotlight on the first half of the year seems to shine as much on their shortcomings as anything they have achieved.
Six months ago, the stars were aligned for a blockbuster season. Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson have done their part, each winning three times. In fact, 15 of the 27 tournaments have been won by players ranked in the top 10.
But heading into the British Open, the Big Five is more like the Big Two.
Ernie Els has won in faraway lands'twice in the Middle East, once in China'but the Big Easy has had a tough time on the PGA Tour. He squandered two great chances to win at the start of the year in Hawaii, and his only decent opportunity since then was at Congressional. He shot 72 in the final round of the Booz Allen to finish five shots back.
Whether he can turn it around remains to be seen, although history is not on his side.
Els is coming off a devastating year in the majors'a playoff loss in the British Open to journeyman Todd Hamilton; a bogey on the 18th hole that cost him a spot in the playoff at the PGA Championship; a great round that went unrewarded when Mickelson beat him at the Masters, and an 80 from the final group at the U.S. Open.
The last time he felt so empty was when he was runner-up in the first three majors of 2000. He went through the motions in 2001, failing to win on the PGA Tour for the only time in his career.
Retief Goosen also has laid an egg.
He was a forgotten figure at the start of the year, only making news when he didnt play. Goosen overslept and missed his pro-am time by 10 minutes at Riviera, making him ineligible to tee off in the Nissan Open. Then, it looked like he slept through the final round of the U.S. Open.
Described as unflappable and nearly unbeatable, Goosen lost a three-shot lead in three holes at Pinehurst No. 2 and wound up with an 81. Turns out he was unflappable in defeat, taking in stride the worst final-round score by a 54-hole leader at the U.S. Open since Gil Morgan shot 81 in the final round at Pebble Beach in 1992.
Everybody else seems to be more worried about it than I am, Goosen said last week. It was a disappointing day, but nothing like that is going to bother me.
Despite three trophies, Mickelson hardly could be considered a threat to No. 1.
None of his victories this year came against more than one other member of the Big Five'Singh was at Phoenix and Pebble Beach, Goosen was at the rain-shortened BellSouth Classic. Lefty gets high grades for the best round of the year'not his 60 in the FBR Open, but his 10-under 62 at tough Spyglass Hill that sent him to a wire-to-wire victory at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
He was so hot in February that he was atop the leaderboard for 10 consecutive rounds of stroke play going into the last day at Doral. Mickelson practically begged for Woods best game on the Blue Monster and got every bit of it, losing by one shot in the only head-to-head battle by any two members of the Big Five.
But he hasnt been the same since.
Mickelson won in Atlanta, but only because Jose Maria Olazabal twice missed 5-foot putts on the 18th hole. His preparations for the majors are just as calculating, but the game hasnt been there, and his only tussle on the weekend has been over spike marks.
Singh has top 10s in both majors, although he was an afterthought in the Masters and U.S. Open. He still leads the PGA Tour money list, but thats more a product of playing 20 times'seven more tournaments than Woods.
Woods and Singh have swapped spots atop the world ranking six times this year, and No. 1 could continue to be a revolving door through the end of the year.
But for all the talk of a Big Five, the first half of the year has narrowed it down to two.
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Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME
Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.
Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)
What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.
Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.
Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.
Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.
Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.
Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.
Watch: Pros try to hit 2-yard wide fairway in Dubai
While in Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour prestented a little challenge to Ross Fisher, Richie Ramsay, Nicolas Colsaerts and Soren Kjeldsen. On a stretch of road outside of town, the four players had to try and hit a 2-yard wide fairway. Check out the results.
Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose will take a one-shot lead into the final day of the season-ending Tour Championship as he attempts to win a third straight title on the European Tour and a second career Race to Dubai crown.
The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for a 7-under 65 Saturday and overall 15-under 201.
The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.
Rose is looking to be Europe's season-ending No. 1 for the second time. His leading rival for the Race to Dubai title, Tommy Fleetwood, is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.
''So, last day of the season and I've got a chance to win the Race to Dubai,'' Fleetwood said. ''It's cool.''
Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Race to Dubai title, is tied for 13th on 10 under after a 67.
Fleetwood had a lead of 256,737 points going into the final tournament and needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.
Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey.
Rose, who made some long putts for birdies apart from chipping in on the 13th hole, looked to be throwing away his advantage on the par-5 18th, when his second shot fell agonizingly short of the green and into the water hazard. But with his short game in superb condition, the reigning Olympic champion made a difficult up-and-down shot to stay ahead.
''That putt at the last is a big confidence-builder. That broke about 18 inches right-to-left downhill. That's the kind of putt I've been hoping to make. That was a really committed stroke. Hopefully I can build on that tomorrow,'' said Rose. ''I know what I need to do to stay at the top of the leaderboard. If I slip up tomorrow, he's (Fleetwood) right there. He's done everything he needs to do on his end, so it's a lot of fun.''
The last player to win three tournaments in a row on the European Tour was Rory McIlroy, when he won the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship in 2014.
Fleetwood was 1 over after seven holes but turned it on with a hat trick of birdies from the eighth, and then four in a row from No. 13.
''I wanted to keep going. Let's bring the tee times forward for tomorrow,'' quipped Fleetwood after closing with a birdie on the 18th. ''Just one of them strange days where nothing was going at all. A couple sloppy pars on the par 5s, and a bad tee shot on fifth and I was 1-over through seven on a day where scoring has been really good ... Ninth and 10th, felt like we had something going ... it was a really good last 11 holes.''
If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it
NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.
She says she always gets nervous starting a round.
You don’t believe it, though.
She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .
Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .
Or disarming ticking bombs . . .
“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.
Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.
Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.
Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.
At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.
She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.
She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.
And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.
There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.
Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.
It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.
Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.
Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.
“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”
About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.
Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.
“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”
David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.
“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”
Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.
Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . .
“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.
Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.
“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”
Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.
“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.
Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.