US Falls Behind after Morning Session

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- Tiger Woods got the Ryder Cup victory he badly needed Friday, then Darren Clarke trumped it with a win that helped his aching heart as much as his European team.
Woods and Jim Furyk teamed up for a 1-up victory over Colin Montgomerie for the United States' only win of the morning better-ball session.
Tom Lehman and Ian Woosnam
Captains Tom Lehman and Ian Woosnam shake hands at the 1st tee during Fridays fourballs.
About an hour later, Clarke hit the putt that secured a 1-up victory for the Europeans. It gave them a 2 1/2 -1 1/2 lead and marked the end of an emotional morning that began and ended with tears and cheers, as Clarke took to the course five weeks after his wife, Heather, died of breast cancer.
Asked to recount the reception he got as he walked to the sunsplashed first tee -- the standing ovation, the hugs from his own partner, Lee Westwood, as well as opponents Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, Clarke said he'd better not.
'I'd probably wail,' he said. 'It will stay with me forever. It was amazing. Hugs from Phil and Chris, my partner, the reception I got. I'll never forget that.'
He knew the first shot was going to be a tough one, but he nailed it -- 305 yards down the fairway en route to a birdie and a 1-up lead.
The rest of the match was tight, but the Europeans never trailed. When Clarke knocked his eagle putt close to the hole on No. 18, the Americans conceded, and Clarke teared up. Some questioned captain Ian Woosnam's choice to put Clarke and Westwood on the team -- the two captain's picks. Nobody questioned it after this.
'It's his commitment,' Woosnam said of Clarke. 'He's just ready to play every single day.'
That win gave Europe the lead after the first session for the fourth straight Ryder Cup. The Europeans are trying to win for the fourth time in the last five tries.
Europe's other morning victory came from the latest edition of the 'Spanish Armada' -- Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal -- who had no trouble beating David Toms and Ryder Cup rookie Brett Wetterich, 3 and 2.
Stewart Cink and J.J. Henry halved their match against Robert Karlsson and Paul Casey.
The United States' only victory belonged to Furyk and Woods. The world's best player earned an opening-day point for the first time since 1999, despite a slow start that included a hooked tee shot into the water on No. 1.
'I was struggling,' Woods said. 'I didn't warm up particularly well. Starting off on the first hole, I snapped one in the water. It was nice to have a steady partner like Jim. He was in just about every hole.'
Indeed, Ryder Cup victories are often the result having the right partners, and Woods had a good one in Furyk. The former U.S. Open champion birdied the opening hole after Woods was in the drink, then made a 25-footer at No. 9 to give the Americans the lead for good.
Montgomerie long has been Europe's ringleader, and the Europeans thought if he and Padraig Harrington could knock off Woods, as they did when Woods paired with Mickelson in 2004, the momentum could build to another victory.
It wasn't to be, even though the Europeans shaved the Americans' 3-up lead to 1-up after 16 holes. Montgomerie made a nice run at a 40-foot birdie putt in an attempt to tie the match on 18, but it scooted past.
'We had opportunities and just didn't take them,' said Montgomerie, who fell to 19-9-5 lifetime in Ryder Cup matches.
Woods improved to 8-11-2 and then headed out for the afternoon alternate-shot match, where he and Furyk took on Garcia and Luke Donald. This one started poorly, too, when Furyk's tee shot stymied Woods against a tree and Woods had to chop a left-handed shot back into play. The Americans lost that hole.
In the Garcia-Olazabal better-ball match, Wetterich and Toms both went in the water on the 13th and made bogey, giving Europeans a 2-up lead, and Garcia increased it to 3 up with a 12-foot birdie on the 15th.
'Today there was one secret, and that was Sergio,' Olazabal said. 'It was just wonderful to see him play. He was just awesome.'
Woods wasn't quite awesome but still figured out a way to win, which certainly brought a sigh of relief from the American contingent. In 2004, he paired with Mickelson and lost twice on the first day, a harbinger in Europe's 18 1/2 -9 1/2 romp at Oakland Hills.
'We wanted to put up some red numbers,' Furyk said. 'We know that when you get behind in this tournament, it's tough to come back.'
The rest of the afternoon matches shaped up like this: Chad Campbell and Zach Johnson, both on the bench for the Americans in the morning, against the all-Irish team of Harrington and Paul McGinley; Cink and Toms against David Howell and Henrik Stenson, two Europeans ranked in the top 12 who were both left out of the lineup in the morning; and the Mickelson-DiMarco pair against Westwood and Montgomerie.
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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.”