Big Four Go After Golfs Fifth Major

By Associated PressMarch 23, 2005, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The 'Big Four' have been going their own direction for most of the year, two months of travels and trophies that lead them to The Players Championship.
Ernie Els was in Dubai when everyone else was at Doral. Phil Mickelson was skiing in Utah when the rest of the best were battling at Bay Hill. Tiger Woods was on his boat when he wasn't playing, while Vijay Singh was on the range the two tournaments he skipped this year.
The one thing they have in common is winning.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is widely regarded as the biggest of the Big Four.
'They all play well. They're all at the top of their game. They've all won one or two tournaments,' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday. 'They're joined by a lot of other players that are playing well. But Vijay, Tiger, Ernie and Phil have the opportunity this week to create some stories that could be pretty special.'
It doesn't always work out that way at golf's fifth major.
The Players Championship is the richest tournament in golf ($8 million) with the strongest and deepest field of the year, with 82 of the top 100 in the world ranking gathered on the TPC at Sawgrass, and all 146 of them capable of winning the $1.44 million prize.
The roll call of champions is worthy. In the 31-year history, only six champions have not won a major.
But the Big Four usually are a Big Flop at Sawgrass.
Woods and defending champion Adam Scott are the only players among the top 10 who have won The Players Championship, and Scott made it interesting last year by pulling a 6-iron into the water and having to salvage bogey with a testy up-and-down from 40 yards.
'Maybe I've run out of patience here in the last couple of years,' Els said. 'So I think this week I've got to be really patient, sometimes just throttle back and put the ball in play -- play it like a major.'
Els has only two top 10s in his 11 years at Sawgrass, and the others aren't much better. Singh has just two top 10s, his only year in contention ending with a tee shot he hooked into the water on No. 14 in 2001 when he finished second to Woods. Mickelson's best finish came last year, when he was four shots behind Scott.
Woods has no qualms with his record. Four years ago, he became the only guy to win The Players Championship and the Masters in the same year. He also was runner-up to Hal Sutton in 2000. And he won the first of his three U.S. Amateur titles at Sawgrass in 1994.
'I've had a nice run here,' Woods said.
But he has gone three straight years outside the top 10, and last year nearly missed the cut after opening with a 75.
And for those who want to throw Retief Goosen into the mix and make it a 'Big Five,' the stoic South African has missed the cut five out of six years at Sawgrass.
'I like the look of the course,' said Goosen, who played a practice round Wednesday with Woods. 'But for some reason, I'm just not hitting the right shots around it.'
Precision is everything at Sawgrass.
The course is not long by today's standards, measuring only 7,093 yards. Woods, Singh and Els were pounding drivers on just about every hole last week at Bay Hill, but Sawgrass is more about position.
And rain could change everything. The course got nearly an inch of rain overnight, and there is virtually no chance of getting it firm and fast by the end of the tournament. With more rain in the forecast later in the week, some already are bracing for a Monday finish.
Much of the focus is on Singh.
He is coming off two torturous weeks, missing a 30-inch par putt on the second extra hole to lose in a playoff to Padraig Harrington at the Honda Classic, then hitting a 7-iron into the water on the 18th hole while tied for the lead with Kenny Perry at the Bay Hill Invitational.
'It still plays in my mind,' Singh said. 'It's nothing that you just kind of forget about a week later. It's a disappointing thing to lose tournaments like that. But you have to look ahead all the time, and that's what I'm doing.'
Singh wants to win this tournament as much as any other.
He has a house down the street and had his annual Monday night bash with some 200 guests. When he's not on the road, he's at home on the range at Sawgrass, and probably knows this course better than anyone in the field.
To help his chances, he even cut out one of his practice rounds this week.
'This is where the biggest gathering of players are, and it'll be one of the biggest achievements of my career if I can win this thing,' Singh said. 'My focus right now is to play as I good as I can.'
Mickelson also is looking ahead.
His last PGA Tour event came at Doral, where he wanted Woods in the final round, but watched as the eight-time major winner rallied from two shots behind to beat him.
There has been a lot of speculation how Mickelson will respond to losing another showdown, but he already is back at work. He spent two days on the Stadium Course over the weekend, taking 8 hours in a practice round to study virtually every angle around the greens.
Then, he headed up to Augusta National for two days of practice for the Masters.
'I think I'm pretty close to being ready,' Mickelson said. 'I'm excited to get the tournament started.'
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - The Players Championship
  • Full Coverage - The Players Championship
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    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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    Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

    The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

    Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

    Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

    Notables in the field:

    Tiger Woods

    • Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

    • Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

    • Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

    Rickie Fowler

    • The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

    • Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

    • On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

    Rory McIlroy

    • It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

    • McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

    • Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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    Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

    Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

    ''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

    ''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''

    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

    Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

    Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

    ''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

    Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

    Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

    ''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

    She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

    Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.

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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.