Man on Fire at Firestone

By Associated PressAugust 23, 2006, 4:00 pm
WGC-Bridgestone - 125wAKRON, Ohio -- Tiger Woods was given the choice to play one golf course where he had to win, with a few stipulations.
 
Augusta National was closed.
 
And his passport had expired, so he couldn't go to St. Andrews.
 
The best options would be Torrey Pines or Firestone, where Woods has won four times each among his 51 victories on the PGA TOUR.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has his sights set on his fifth career win at Firestone Country Club.
'It would be probably be here,' Woods said Wednesday at the Bridgestone Invitational, where he is defending champion and will try to win for a fifth time on Firestone South.
 
'It's a treat to get to play a golf course like this, because of all the modern courses aren't like this,' he said. 'They don't have trees like this or defined fairways. Every hole looks like it's an alley way. It's more of a ball-striking course.'
 
Woods has won by 11 shots and won in a seven-hole playoff, and he has never finished out of the top 10 at Firestone dating to 1997, when it was the World Series of Golf.
 
'This is his benefit tournament,' said U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy.
 
Making him even more dangerous this week is the timing. Woods is coming off a five-shot victory in the PGA Championship and will go for his fourth consecutive victory this week.
 
He is at his best when he is in his comfort zone. Sometimes that can be on a golf course, such as the Firestone, Torrey Pines or Muirfield Village (three victories). And sometimes that can be a position on the leaderboard.
 
Woods improved to 12-0 in the majors and 37-3 on the PGA TOUR when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead, beating Luke Donald last week at Medinah.
 
'You'd like to go into a final round thinking that the pressure was on him because he's expected to play well,' Donald said. 'But it's almost reversed that way, because he's been there so many times. And for me, that was one of my first times. He knows how to do it. He's been there many times. It comes a little bit easier for him.'
 
In the majors alone, Woods has failed to break par only one time when playing in the final group, a 2-over 72 at Bethpage Black when he won the 2002 U.S. Open by three shots. His average score in those situations is 69.25, while his 11 opponents (Sergio Garcia has played with him in the final round twice) is 72.67.
 
It wasn't always like that.
 
Woods said he has noticed a transformation in his comfort level over the last 10 years, from his first time playing in the last group at a major (a nine-shot lead) to three days ago at Medinah.
 
'Winning breeds winning, and the fact that I've been down the stretch and I've been down there enough times where I've had to handle the heat, that gives you an added confidence,' he said. 'I can always say, 'I've done that.' Because I have. As the years go by, you still are nervous but probably not as much.'
 
There's not much to get nervous about this week.
 
The Bridgestone Invitational is a World Golf Championship -- Woods already has won 11 of those, by the way -- which means different things to different players. To some, it's a short field. To others, it's an elite field.
 
To most, it's free money.
 
The field is composed of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup players, along with the top 50 in the world and selected tournament winners from the six main tours around the world.
 
It adds to 78, everyone from Woods to Shiv Kapur of India, from Phil Mickelson to Gonzalo Fernandez. They will be playing for $7.5 million, with $1.3 million going to the winner and $30,250 for last place.
 
If there's pressure, it might fall to the Europeans.
 
The United States set its Ryder Cup team Monday, with Tom Lehman choosing Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank as his captain's picks. Europe's team won't be determined for another two weeks, ending at the BMW International Open in Germany.
 
Five players qualify through world ranking points, and the other five from a European tour money list that began last summer. Where it gets tricky is that most Europeans play a full schedule in America and rely heavily on the world rankings. But at a tournament like the Bridgestone Invitational, the money can go a long way.
 
With so much money on the table, that makes it a big week for Paul McGinley and Jose Maria Olazabal. And with a big field and loads of world ranking points, Carl Pettersson is feeling the heat.
 
Pettersson is a Swede by birth who spent his formative years in North Carolina and rarely plays the European tour. He tried to join last year but had to wait until the end of the year, meaning his victory in Tampa and runner-up in the Southern Farm Bureau Classic at the end of last year didn't count.
 
'I've lost all those points. Otherwise, I wouldn't be four out,' Pettersson said. 'I really need to play well.'
 
Donald's tie for third at Medinah moved him to the top of the Ryder Cup list, securing his spot on the team. All he cares about this week is winning, although that might mean going through Woods.
 
'I'm not trying to beat one person,' Donald said. 'It would be ridiculous to say that he's going to win every event he enters.'
 
Right now, it only seems that way -- especially at Firestone.
 
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  • Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

    Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

    By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

    He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

    The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

    Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

    Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

    3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

    5/2: Rory McIlroy

    7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

    9/2: Justin Rose

    5/1: Brooks Koepka

    15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

    10/1: Adam Scott

    12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

    15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

    20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

    25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

    30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes