Tiger on Top at Wachovia Championship

By Associated PressMay 7, 2004, 4:00 pm
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tiger Woods says his game is starting to come around, and not many doubted him Friday in the Wachovia Championship.
 
Woods made every putt inside 20 feet and one from nearly 50 feet. It led to his best round since February, a 6-under 66 at sun-baked Quail Hollow that gave him a two-shot lead going into the weekend.
 
'More than anything, I gave myself some looks at the putts and I made them - just about every one of them,' Woods said. 'It's a nice combination.'
 
Woods was at 9-under 135, two shots ahead of Kirk Triplett (73), Notah Begay (70) and Arron Oberholser (68).
 
Vijay Singh, who is challenging Woods for No. 1 in the world, missed a half-dozen putts inside 18 feet on his back nine and had to settle for a 70, leaving him in the group only three shots behind and setting up the prospects for a major showdown on Sunday.
 
Singh is hitting the ball so well that Woods three shots ahead of him and Masters champion Phil Mickelson (70) two shots behind him was of little concern.
 
'We've got the weekend ahead of us,' Singh said. 'I'm playing well. I think I'm going to be there Sunday.'
 
There's a long list of players ready to join him. Stuart Appleby (72), Brett Quigley (72) and Joey Sindelar (69) joined Singh at 6-under 138.
 
Davis Love III birdied four of his last five holes for a 66, matching Woods for the best round of the day, and was at 5-under 139 with former Masters champion Mike Weir (72), Kevin Sutherland (68), Chris DiMarco (70), Carlos Franco (71), Joe Ogilvie (71) and Cameron Beckman (72).
 
Woods, who won the Match Play Championship earlier this year, has not been closer than six shots of the lead going into the weekend at his seven previous stroke-play events this year.
 
'Everything is improving,' he said. 'It's just a matter of time before it starts coming together. Hopefully, I can get out there tomorrow and play just the way I did today. And hopefully on Sunday, I'll do the same thing.'
 
Indeed, the final two rounds will be a good gauge of his game.
 
Woods is the best closer in golf, having won the last 18 times on the PGA Tour when he had at least a share of the 36-hole lead. That streak dates to the 1999 Byron Nelson Classic, and there is some historical significance.
 
It was the week leading into the '99 Nelson Classic that Woods, who had spent the previous year overhauling his swing, had an epiphany on the practice range when all the changes felt natural. That was the start of a staggering run in which he won 20 times over a two-year period, including a sweep of the majors.
 
Woods doesn't think he's at that stage. Besides, he said he is only fine-tuning his swing, not revamping it.
 
'I hit one golf shot where I didn't feel anything and I knew that was it,' Woods said of that moment five years ago. 'If I could replicate that, I would be on the right track. I haven't had a moment like that yet. I may never, because that was such a drastic change. This is just a minor change.'
 
The biggest difference Friday was his putter.
 
Woods took only 22 putts, and at one point had seven consecutive one-putt greens. It all started on the second hole, when his 50-foot putt from the bottom of the green fell for birdie, the kind of break that hasn't been going his way the last few months.
 
Still, he figured he was in for a good round after his worst shot of the day.
 
Unsure whether to hit it low or high, a fade or a draw, he pushed it high and so far right that it landed in the middle of some pine trees some 50 yards right of the pin. He was fortunate to eventually get up-and-down for bogey. On the next hole, he drove it so well that Woods only had a 6-iron into the 532-yard seventh to set up a two-putt birdie.
 
'That's when you know you've erased it and gone back to what you need to do,' he said. 'That's cool.'
 
When his 20-foot birdie curled into the right side of the cup at No. 11, he was tied for the lead.
 
'He was 6 under and I thought I was going to have a course record for less than 12 hours,' said Triplett, who opened with a 64 on Thursday. 'You'd like to have it for a couple of days, give the ink a chance to dry for that scorecard they're going to put up in the locker room.'
 
Not to worry. Woods escaped with par on the 14th, hooked his drive into the water to make bogey on the par-5 15th and only got one of those shots back.
 
Triplett stayed with him until hitting into thick rough and missing a 3-foot bogey putt on the 16th.
 
Mickelson has been in contention every Sunday he has played this year, a trend that looks as if it will continue at the Wachovia Championship. Lefty didn't get much out of his game, but he didn't hurt himself with a 70 and was only five shots back.
 
'It seems like every time I missed a shot, I made a bogey,' Mickelson said. 'I thought it was a round I could go low, so 2 under is a little disappointing.'
 
Divots:@ Swampy conditions right of the 12th fairway proved costly for Shigeki Maruyama. His tee shot plugged in the wet, thick grass, and a search party of 14 - marshals, caddies, players, even a Japanese photographer - could not find it. He had to walk 300 yards back to the tee, found the fairway and made a good bogey. ... Among those in contention is Kelly Mitchum, the top golf instructor at Pinehurst Resort who got in through a local PGA qualifier. Mitchum was at 5 under until a double bogey on the final hole. He shot 69 and was at 3-under 141. ... Charles Howell III, coming off a fifth-place finish last week in New Orleans, missed the cut with rounds of 74-74. He will take the next two weeks off, returning at Memphis.
 
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    O. Fisher, Pepperell share lead at Qatar Masters

    By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 5:13 pm

    DOHA, Qatar - Oliver Fisher birdied his last four holes in the Qatar Masters third round to share the lead at Doha Golf Club on Saturday.

    The 29-year-old Englishman shot a 7-under 65 for an overall 16-under 200. Eddie Pepperell (66) picked up shots on the 16th and 18th to catch his compatriot and the pair enjoy a two-shot lead over American Sean Crocker (67) in third.

    David Horsey (65) was the biggest mover of the day with the Englishman improving 31 places for a share of fourth place at 12 under with, among others, Frenchman Gregory Havret and Italian Andrea Pavan.

    Fisher, winner of the 2011 Czech Open, made some stunning putts on his way in. After an eight-footer on the par-4 15th, he then drove the green on the short par-4 16th for an easy birdie, before making a 12-footer on the 17th and a 15-footer on the 18th.

    Like Pepperell, Fisher also had just one bogey to show on his card, also on the 12th hole.


    Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters


    ''I gave myself some chances coming in and thankfully I made them,'' said Fisher, who has dropped to 369th in the world rankings.

    ''You can quite easily make a few bogeys without doing that much wrong here, so it's important to be patient and keep giving yourself chances.''

    Pepperell, ranked 154th in the world after a strong finish to his 2017 season, has been a picture of consistency in the tournament. He was once again rock-solid throughout the day, except one bad hole - the par-4 12th. His approach shot came up short and landed in the rocks, the third ricocheted back off the rocks, and he duffed his fourth shot to stay in the waste area.

    But just when a double bogey or worse looked imminent, Pepperell holed his fifth shot for what was a remarkable bogey. And he celebrated that escape with a 40-feet birdie putt on the 13th.

    ''I maybe lost a little feeling through the turn, but I bounced back nicely and I didn't let it bother me,'' said the 27-year-old Pepperell, who hit his third shot to within four feet on the par-5 18th to join Fisher on top.

    The long-hitting Crocker is playing on invites on the European Tour. He made a third eagle in three days - on the par-4 16th for the second successive round.

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    Uihlein fires back at Jack in ongoing distance debate

    By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 4:32 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Wally Uihlein challenged Jack Nicklaus’ assault this week on the golf ball.

    Uihlein, an industry force as president and CEO of Titleist and FootJoy parent company Acushnet for almost 20 years, retired at year’s start but remains an adviser.

    In an interview with ScoreGolf on Friday, Uihlein reacted to Nicklaus’ assertions that the ball is responsible for contributing to a lot of the troubles the game faces today, from slow play and sagging participation to the soaring cost to play.

    Uihlein also took the USGA and The R&A to task.

    The ball became a topic when Nicklaus met with reporters Tuesday at the Honda Classic and was asked about slow play. Nicklaus said the ball was “the biggest culprit” of that.

    “It appears from the press conference that Mr. Nicklaus was blaming slow play on technology and the golf ball in particular,” Uihlein said. “I don’t think anyone in the world believes that the golf ball has contributed to the game’s pace of play issues.”

    Nicklaus told reporters that USGA executive director Mike Davis pledged over dinner with him to address the distance the golf ball is flying and the problems Nicklaus believes the distance explosion is creating in the game.

    “Mike Davis has not told us that he is close, and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there,” Uihlein said.

    ScoreGolf pointed out that the Vancouver Protocol of 2011 was created after a closed-door meeting among the USGA, The R&A and equipment manufacturers, with the intent to make any proposed changes to equipment rules or testing procedures more transparent and to allow participation in the process.

    “There are no golf courses being closed due to the advent of evolving technology,” Uihlein said. “There is no talk from the PGA Tour and its players about technology making their commercial product less attractive. Quite the opposite, the PGA Tour revenues are at record levels. The PGA of America is not asking for a roll back of technology. The game’s everyday player is not advocating a roll back of technology.”

    ScoreGolf said Uihlein questioned why the USGA and The R&A choose courses that “supposedly” can no longer challenge the game’s best players as preferred venues for the U.S. Open, The Open and other high-profile events.

    “It seems to me at some point in time that the media should be asking about the conflict of interest between the ruling bodies while at the same time conducting major championships on venues that maybe both the athletes and the technology have outgrown,” he said. “Because it is the potential obsolescence of some of these championship venues which is really at the core of this discussion.”

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    J. Korda leads M. Jutanugarn by four in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 3:00 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand - Jessica Korda kept an eye on her younger sister while firing a 4-under 68 in the third round of the LPGA Thailand on Saturday to lead Moriya Jutanugarn by four strokes.

    A day after a course-record 62 at Siam Country Club, Korda fought back from a bogey on the front nine with five birdies to finish on 20-under 196 overall. The American was on the 18th hole when concerns over lightning suspended play for 30 minutes before play resumed.

    ''(I) was playing really well at the end of the season, but I haven't been in this (leading) position. Being back, it just takes you a little bit of time,'' said the 24-year-old Korda, who won her fifth and last title at the LPGA Malaysia in 2015.

    Her 19-year-old sister Nelly Korda (65) is eight shots off the lead.


    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


    ''I'm definitely a leaderboard watcher. I love seeing her name up there,'' said Jessica Korda, who was playing her first tournament since jaw surgery.

    Propelled by eight birdies and an eagle on the par-4 No. 14, with three bogeys, Moriya signed off with a 65 and a total of 16-under 200.

    ''Everybody has the chance to win as all the top players are here this week,'' said Moriya, who has a chance to become the first Thai winner in her home tournament.

    Australian Minjee Lee (68) is third on 15-under 201, followed by former top-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn (65) on 202. Lexi Thompson (69), the 2016 champion, is a stroke further back. Michelle Wie (69) is tied for sixth.

    Brittany Lincicome was in second place after the second round, four shots behind Jessica Korda, but the American dropped down the board and is tied for ninth after a 73.

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    The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday

    By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 1:11 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.

    Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.

    Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.

    The narrative wondrously started to turn here.

    It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.

    It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.

    He is just four shots off the lead.

    “I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”

    Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.

    “He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”

    Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.


    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?

    “It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”

    This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.

    “I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”

    Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.

    When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.

    “It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”

    Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.

    “I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.

    Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.

    It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.

    “It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”

    Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.

    Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.

    “He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”

    Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.

    “We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.

    Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.

    “I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”

    Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers.  He got a standing ovation.

    “I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”

    So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?

    Woods seems in a hurry to find out.