Matteson Leads Woods Close Behind

By Associated PressJanuary 24, 2008, 5:00 pm
2007 Buick InvitationalSAN DIEGO -- Tiger Woods delivered the score he expected in his 2008 debut, just not the game.
 
Despite playing from the sand, rough and behind a few trees early in his round, Woods began a much-anticipated season Thursday with a 5-under 67 on the tougher South Course at Torrey Pines. That left him two shots behind Troy Matteson, and gave him a strong presence on the leaderboard as he goes for his fourth straight title in the Buick Invitational.
 
'It wasn't pretty off the tee, but I hung in there,' Woods said. 'Shooting 67 is always going to feel pretty good on the South Course.'
 
Imagine how it felt for Matteson.
 
He ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, then finished his round with consecutive birdies to become the first player since Davis Love III in 2000 to have the first-round lead while playing the South.
 
'I won't top that for awhile,' Matteson said.
 
Brad Adamonis had a 66 on the North Course, which is 600 yards shorter and played more than two strokes easier.
 
Rory Sabbatini, Stuart Appleby and Kevin Streelman, who began the day as the third alternate, were in the group at 67 with Woods. They all played on the North, which is where Matteson and Woods play on Friday.
 
Phil Mickelson opened his season with a 70 on the North.
 
Matteson was 11 shots better than his last trip around the South Course. That was the final round a year ago, when he played alongside Woods and watched the world's No. 1 player turn an ordinary round into a winner.
 
Maybe someone of that rubbed off on Matteson.
 
'That's an experience that any player would remember,' Matteson said. 'Anytime you get paired with Tiger, it's very interesting from a crowd standpoint, from a what-he-does standpoint. It's just pretty neat to see the guy shoot 66 on Sunday to win.'
 
Woods, who hasn't played since winning his Target World Challenge by seven shots on Dec. 16, wasn't the only person returning to work.
 
GOLF CHANNEL anchor Kelly Tilghman was back in the booth after a two-week suspension for jokingly suggesting young players wanting to take on Woods should 'lynch him in a back alley.' She recorded an apology that opened the telecast.
 
That seemed to end a month's worth of troublesome news in golf outside the ropes -- Tilghman's suspension, the firing of a magazine editor for putting a noose on the cover, and the death of popular caddie Steve Duplantis in Del Mar early Tuesday.
 
But maybe there's more tension to follow.
 
Woods put his name atop the leaderboard with a chip-and-putt birdie on the par-5 13th, his name right below Sabbatini's. And after the round, the chilly air dropped a few more degrees.
 
They have not spoken since Sabbatini withdrew from the final round of the Target for what his agent described as shin splints, pocketing $170,000, and Woods said the South African has never called to explain what happened.
 
'I haven't talked to him about any of it,' Woods said. 'It is what it is.'
 
Sabbatini donated the money Tuesday to the United Through Reading Military program at a ceremony for sailors at the Navy assault ship USS Boxer. Asked if the money came from his withdraw at the Target, Sabbatini said, 'That's what the situation was.'
 
'Unfortunately, the media took a lot of criticism toward me after the event, in that situation I was there,' Sabbatini said. 'I was tired, and we thought about it, and we thought we'd put it some good use.'
 
Sabbatini was asked to describe his relationship with Woods.
 
'As far as I understand, there's no animosity,' he said. 'We're both competitors and we both want to win.'
 
But as he walked out of the interview tent, with Woods waiting to enter, Sabbatini kept his eyes glued to the ground and Woods made no effort to speak to him. Told about the donation, Woods said, 'Oh. That's good.'
 
The way the start of this season has gone, it wouldn't be surprising to seem them paired together on the weekend. But this tournament doesn't take shape until two days, when everyone gets a crack at two courses that couldn't be more different.
 
Woods doesn't always overwhelm the North course, which is playing slightly more difficult in cold air and a stiff breeze, and with two par 3s that have been lengthened.
 
'The key is take care of the par 5s and then try and sprinkle in a few more (birdies) here and there where you can,' Woods said.
 
He didn't fare that great on the par 5s at the South, playing them in only 1 under. But he did enough to get the attention of anyone who might have missed him over the last four months on the PGA TOUR. Woods hit only two fairways on the front nine, but picked up birdies with a 10-footer on No. 4 and chipping in from 25 feet on the par-3 eighth.
 
He also hit 7-iron out of the rough on No. 10 to 4 feet, and holed a 25-foot birdie on the par-3 11th. His lone mistake was a chip from short of the 16th green that bounced high and soft, staying 10 feet below the hole.
 
So why was swing in control everywhere but on the tee?
 
'Your guess is as good as mine,' Woods said. 'I had a low, left ball or a spinny, high right. Kind of hard to aim when you've got both of those things going.' ^Divots: Mike Weir withdrew after nine holes with an illness. 'Early on he was not feeling well, and Charley (Hoffman) was not feeling well,' Troy Matteson said. 'I thought we were going to be down to one there pretty quickly.' ... John Daly, who withdrew last week from the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, opened with a 77.
 
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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.


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    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.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”