Trio Lead at Firestone Tiger One Back

By Associated PressAugust 2, 2007, 4:00 pm
WGC-Bridgestone - 125wAKRON, Ohio -- It has reached the point where everyone expects to see his name atop the leaderboard, and he got there Thursday at the Bridgestone Invitational with five birdies in a seven-hole stretch on a course that felt like a major.
 
Indeed, Hunter Mahan is on a roll.
 
Coming off four consecutive top 10s that included his first PGA Tour victory, Mahan overcame a sloppy double bogey with a torrid stretch of birdies for a 3-under 67, giving him a share of the lead with Paul Casey and Rory Sabbatini at the Bridgestone Invitational.
 
That other name that has become a fixture at Firestone -- Tiger Woods -- didn't fare too badly, either.
 
Woods is a five-time winner at Firestone and going after his third straight title in this World Golf Championship. He opened with a 68 that included another memorable shot, this one a 5-wood from 245 yards in the right rough that he squeezed between two trees and just over the back of the green for a simple birdie on the par-5 second.
 
'Very satisfied,' said Woods, who has posted a score in the 60s in the first round all 10 times he has played this course.
 
Mahan was playing Firestone for the first time, but that doesn't seem to matter. He got his game on track when he shot 63 to qualify for the U.S. Open, and he hasn't let up. There was a victory in Hartford, a 69-65 weekend at Carnoustie to tie for sixth at the British Open, an opening 62 at the Canadian Open, where he eventually tied for fifth.
 
So when he chopped up the 17th hole for double bogey, there was no need to panic.
 
'I'm just playing golf,' said Mahan, a 25-year-old player from Oklahoma State. 'It's just exciting to play this good, to feel like I'm finally reaching my potential and finally playing the way I can. Just going out there and letting go.'
 
For most of the 83-man field, it was a matter of hanging on.
 
The final major of the year starts next week at Southern Hills, but it sure felt like a major at Firestone. The course is in supreme condition with thick rough and greens that figure to be every bit as slick as the PGA Championship. More than one player watched a putt slide by the hole and keep rolling 6 feet away, and K.J. Choi hit one off the green at No. 12.
 
Only 13 players managed to break par.
 
It was the highest score to lead the first round at Firestone since it became a WGC event in 1999, and the scoring average of 72.18 was second only to the final round in 1999, when Woods failed to break par and still won the tournament.
 
Mark Calcavecchia, who also shot 68, played a practice round Tuesday and immediately sent a text message to Woods, who was practicing that day at Southern Hills. He told him the greens were as fast as Augusta National.
 
'I've never seen them this fast,' Calcavecchia said.
 
Mahan had no trouble with them, if only because he didn't have much space between his ball and the cup. He hit 5-wood into 20 feet for a two-putt birdie on the par-5 second, hit a sand wedge to 2 feet on the third, a 7-iron to 12 feet on the fifth and closed out his birdie run with a 7-iron to 10 feet on No. 7 and a wedge to 4 feet on the eighth.
 
Casey also got up to speed -- not with his putting, but his energy level.
 
After a grueling week at Carnoustie, he played last week in Germany and felt drained. He was still dragging his feet when he arrived in America, which swing coach and CBS Sports analyst Peter Kostis quickly noticed. Kostis figured a simple challenge might help, so he offered to buy Casey dinner if he broke par.
 
'The opposite to winning dinner was buying dinner,' Casey said. 'And it worked. It got me going.'
 
One of his birdies came on the 16th, a 656-yard hole that is tough to reach in two and equally difficult when playing the third shot with a wedge over the pond to a shallow portion of the green. Casey was alert enough to realize that Kostis works in the 16th tower, and he stuffed his wedge into 4 feet.
 
'I was aiming 15 feet left of the flag to the center of the green and I didn't hit the shot I wanted to,' Casey said. 'I kind of came out of it slightly and pushed it out to the right, and it finished about 4 feet away. I won't tell him that.'
 
Casey played in the final group last year with Woods and Stewart Cink and tumbled out of contention. He hopes for another chance this week, especially with the PGA Championship waiting and Firestone proving to be an ideal place to test one's game.
 
Joining the leaders was Sabbatini, who hasn't been heard from -- on the golf course, anyway -- since winning Colonial. Sabbatini went six holes without making a par, a streak that included three straight birdies. The longest of those putts was 3 feet, and his final two birdies were inside 5 feet.
 
'The rough is insane out there,' Sabbatini said. 'By Sunday if we don't get any rain, I don't see that anybody is going to be able to really get the ball close to any holes unless they're chipping.'
 
Anyone not on his game paid for it.
 
Cink, a winner in 2004 and a playoff loser to Woods last year, failed to make a birdie on his way to a 79. Mike Weir's progress slowed dramatically when he opened with a 77, while Vijay Singh chopped through the rough on his way to a 74.
 
Phil Mickelson, who has missed the cut in his last two majors, also shot 74.
 
'It's certainly playing different than most years,' Woods said. 'Most years, it's raining here, ball is plugging, you've got some low scores. Not this year. Right now, 3 under is leading. And that's a heck of a round here.'
 
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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.”