Tiger Tracking Second Leg of Grand Slam

By Associated PressJune 12, 2005, 4:00 pm
PINEHURST, N.C. -- Three of the best players in the world have reason to believe Pinehurst No. 2 owes them.
 
Tiger Woods was poised to win his first U.S. Open six years ago, making birdie on the 489-yard 16th hole to pull within one shot of the lead on Sunday afternoon. Momentum was on his side, with the toughest hole behind him.
 
'These guys haven't played 16 yet,' Woods said recently, recalling that Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson were playing in the final group that day. 'We looked back there and they had just hit their tee shots on 15. So, I'm in the driver's seat if I can par in. I'm looking pretty good.'
 
Then he pulled a 7-iron into the bunker, missed a 5-foot par putt and watched from a cart barn near the 18th green as Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open with a 15-foot par.
 
'I've relived that so many times,' Woods said.
 
Vijay Singh was trying to rally, and doing a fine job of it. His 69 was one of only two rounds under par that day, but a bogey at No. 16 left him in need of birdies on the last two holes, and that was too much to ask. He wound up tied for third with Woods, two shots behind. And, like Woods, he stuck around to see the conclusion.
 
'I was in the scorer's tent,' he said. 'I didn't have a chance of winning, but I was pretty eager to see who was going to win at that time.'
 
Everyone figured it would be Mickelson.
 
It was a dramatic week of beepers and birdies for Lefty, who carried a pager in his bag for his wife to contact him should she go into labor with their first child. He put those distractions aside and played his best golf, leading by one shot with three holes to play, and Stewart was on the ropes.
 
Everything turned so quickly. Stewart made an unlikely par putt on the 16th, took the lead with a short birdie on the 17th and denied Mickelson his first major with a putt for the ages.
 
'To travel all the way across the country when we were so close to delivering our first child, I felt very determined to make that worthwhile and get a win out of it,' Mickelson recalls. 'It was really a shock when that didn't happen. Granted, it was the way it was supposed to be. But at the time, I really was surprised, because I was playing well and I was very determined to win, and just didn't do it.'
 
No one begrudges the outcome at Pinehurst.
 
Four months after he captured his second U.S. Open, the 42-year-old Stewart was killed in a freak plane accident.
 
'I was one of the guys battling him out there,' Woods said. 'I have a lot of fond memories of that event, and his celebration we had back home at Isleworth when we got back, certainly some great memories from that.'
 
The memories are twofold at this U.S. Open.
 
Stewart created such a legacy at Pinehurst No. 2 that a bronze statue of his reaction to making the winning putt stands above the 18th green.
 
But as many of the 156 players file into the Donald Ross course in the sandhills of North Carolina, they have reason to remember the fiasco the U.S. Open became last year at Shinnecock Hills.
 
Retief Goosen didn't win his second U.S. Open last year as much as he survived it. The USGA allowed Shinnecock to get so dry and brittle that no one broke par in the last round, and 28 players failed to break 80. The par-3 seventh would not hold a tee shot, and it reached the point that officials had to water the green every other group.
 
'They don't really do justice to a great golf course if they set the golf course up like they did at Shinnecock,' Singh said. 'There's no real necessity to do that. I did not enjoy playing the weekend there, and if they do the same thing at Pinehurst, I'd rather not play the golf course that way than go out there and make a fool of myself.'
 
Can the USGA ruin another great course?
 
'They've got a lot of potential,' Davis Love III said. 'I've talked to a few of the guys and they've sought me out to say, 'What do we need to do with our course setup to not let this get away from us again?' They realize things happen, but it got away from them a little bit last time.'
 
Pinehurst presents enough difficulties on its own.
 
The identity of the venerable course is found in the greens, which are described as domed - or as turtlebacks or upside-down saucers. They are sloped severely around the edges, demanding precision like no other U.S. Open site.
 
Singh, the No. 1 player in the world, lacks U.S. Open and British Open titles to complete the career Grand Slam, the only things missing from his Hall of Fame career. The 42-year-old Fijian considers the U.S. Open the toughest of the four majors, demanding players to have control off the tee and on the greens, and everything in between.
 
'The whole game has to be good,' he said. 'And at the same time, you've got to be lucky.'
 
The short game plays into Mickelson's strength, for few players possess his imagination around the greens. Players can hit a variety of chips with a half-dozen clubs, although Mickelson tends to hit them all with his sand wedge.
 
'The golf course is one of the best we play, one of the best in the world,' Mickelson said. 'What I love about playing at Pinehurst is the USGA sets it up where it's shaved around the greens, and gives us a chance to let our short game come out, as opposed to just the thick, heavy rough where they have to chop it out.'
 
Mickelson is the sentimental favorite, and he already has won three times this year on the PGA Tour, making him a strong favorite. But he has struggled since winning the BellSouth Classic in a playoff, failing to contend in his last four tournaments.
 
As for Woods?
 
The Masters champion is the only player capable of the Grand Slam this year, and expectations usually are high whenever he slips on a green jacket. But this year is different.
 
Woods felt his fourth victory at Augusta National would be a validation of the changes he made to his swing. Instead, it has felt more like an interrogation, with people questioning whether his game truly is back.
 
He has never been this unpredictable.
 
True, he won the Masters with three perfect shots in a playoff to beat Chris DiMarco. But most people remember the bad swings on the final two holes in regulation that led to bogeys and made him work overtime.
 
He rallied to win at Torrey Pines and Doral. He missed the cut at the Byron Nelson Championship, ending his record streak on the PGA Tour at 142 consecutive events in the money.
 
Which Woods will show up at Pinehurst?
 
No one knows for sure, although Woods certainly is capable of a calendar Slam - remember, he won four straight majors from the 2000 U.S. Open through the 2001 Masters.
 
He was asked recently if that stretch taught him anything about the difficulty of winning all four majors in one year.
 
'Yeah,' Woods said. 'It's hard.'
 
Perhaps no other tournament is as tough as the U.S. Open, which prides itself on protecting par. Pinehurst No. 2 was relatively soft six years ago when Stewart won, starting and finishing with light rain. Even so, Stewart was the only player to break par for the tournament.
 
Most remember the dramatic conclusion, the star quality atop the leaderboard, and a champion who left a legacy at Pinehurst No. 2.
 
'I just always marvel at how good a test it was, and how well it played,' Jack Nicklaus said.
 
Related links:
  • Full Coverage - 105th U.S. Open

  • Tee Times - U.S. Open

  • Photo Gallery from Pinehurst

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    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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    After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

    Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

    Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

    It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard


    On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

    There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

    He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

    His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

    Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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    Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

    With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

    He picked up one more No. 2, too.

    The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

    In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

    Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

    “It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

    Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

    Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

    He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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    Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

    Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

    Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

    His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

    “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

    Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

    Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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    Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

    Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

    Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

    What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

    Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

    Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

    Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

    Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

    Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

    Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry