Too Early to Get Excited About Perfection
He won every major championship he played in 1953, and every official tournament he entered except for the Seminole Pro-Am Invitational, where he tied for second. Then again, Hogan only played six times that year because of battered legs from a bus accident.
Tiger Woods will play no more than 17 events on the PGA TOUR this year, so a 2-0 start might be a little early for anyone to get excited.
Even so, expectations were as high as the desert sun at noon when Woods left Arizona with yet another victory. It was his fourth in a row on tour since early September, all done in record fashion.
He set a 72-hole scoring record at Cog Hill outside Chicago and won by eight shots at the Tour Championship and the Buick Invitational, both record margins. On Sunday, he smoked Stewart Cink 8 and 7 in the Accenture Match Play Championship, the biggest blowout in the finals in 10 years of a tournament that Woods considers the toughest to win this side of a major.
I think this certainly is the best stretch Ive every played, Woods said.
Strong words'downright scary'considering that Woods won nine times, including three straight majors, in 2000 and that he won six consecutive PGA TOUR events at the end of 2006, a streak that reached seven until losing in the Match Play the following year.
Woods, who also won in Dubai earlier this month, has never before started a season with three straight victories, and it is hard not to speculate how long he can keep winning given his history at some of the tournaments coming up.
Next is the Arnold Palmer Invitational March 13-16 at Bay Hill, where Woods won four straight times from 2000 to 2003. The week after that is the CA Championship at Doral, where he has won the last three years.
Then the Masters April 10-13.
He just morphs his game into the courses, Cink said. So I dont think theres a course thats going to present him with a real obstacle as far as him not being a favorite.
Woods did little to squash the notion of a perfect season when someone asked him if winning them all was within reason.
Thats my intent. Thats why you play, Woods said after collecting his 63rd career TOUR victory and his 15th title in the World Golf Championships. If you dont believe you can win an event, dont show up.
But it also is his intent to make every putt and hit every shot just how he wants. No one does that, of course. No one wins every tournament. Byron Nelson holds the record with 11 straight victories during a year in which he won 18 times in 30 events. That means he lost 12 times that year.
A perfect season in golf?
I do find that laughable, Hal Sutton said Monday. Anybody who knows golf knows that aint going to happen. You can only own this game for a certain period of time. Even if your name is Tiger Woods, you dont own it forever.
Sutton was among those who beat Woods during a time when the worlds No. 1 player looked unbeatable, going head-to-head with him at The Players Championship in 2000 and winning by one shot.
He watched part of the championship match Sunday until I got bored.
Tiger is definitely more dominating, Sutton said.
Curtis Strange is among those who played in the prime years of Woods and Jack Nicklaus, and he said it is pointless to compare generations. But he also found speculation of a perfect season to be a little over the top.
He is by far and away the best player, Strange said. Weve never had a player this much better than the second-best player. Hes unbelieveable, really. But hes not unbeatable. Lets not get ahead of ourselves just because he beat Stewart Cink 8 and 7.
As usual, the best comparisons are to Woods himself.
Most consider his best golf to be from late 1999 through the 2001 Masters, when he won 16 of 32 times on the PGA TOUR and four consecutive majors. Dating to the 2006 British Open, Woods has won 15 of his last 24 events, a 63 percent clip.
He just has this strong sense of belief in himself that hes just never out of it, Cink said. Hes never going to mess up. Hes just always in control. He never loses his composure.
The more he talked, the more Cink made Woods out to be a machine.
I think maybe we ought to slice him open to see whats inside there, Cink said. Maybe nuts and bolts.
Not many thought Woods could ever produce better results than 2000, the benchmark of greatness in his era. Woods, however, has been saying all along that his plan was to get better. And with each victory, what seemed impossible is not unthinkable.
Woods knows he was fortunate to win the Match Play. In the first round, he rallied from 3 down with five holes to play against J.B. Holmes by winning four straight holes with three birdies and a 35-foot eagle. In the third round, Aaron Baddeley twice stood over putts inside 12 feet to win the match before Woods prevailed on the 20th hole.
I played 117 holes this week, Woods said. I could have easily played 16 and then been home. Thats the fickleness of match play.
And such is the fickle nature of golf.
Odds are, Woods wont win them all.
But if he were to even win three of his next six on the PGA TOUR, that would give him 18 wins in his last 30 starts, essentially matching Nelsons golden year in 1945.
And even that might not be enough to satisfy him.
You can always get better, Woods said. You can always keep improving.
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.