Woods Again Setting St Andrews Pace

By Associated PressJuly 14, 2005, 4:00 pm
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- From behind the seventh green at St. Andrews, all anyone could see was Tiger Woods' head bobbing up and down from the deep bottom of Shell bunker.
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus started his final appearance at the Open Championship with a 3-over-par 75.
This was foreign soil for Woods, who famously stayed out of the sand all four rounds when he won the British Open five years ago. He leaped twice to find his way out. Then came a puff of sand, followed by his ball skirting up to the green and stopping 4 feet away for a birdie.
By the end of his round Thursday, Woods was in a familiar spot at St. Andrews.
He made seven birdies in a nine-hole stretch, then ventured twice more into bunkers and settled for a 6-under 66 that gave him a one-shot lead over Mark Hensby in the first round of the British Open.
``I still feel very comfortable out there,'' Woods said after his best start in a major championship since he opened with a 66 in the 2000 PGA Championship. ``Even though I had it going, finishing at 6 (under) is a great start to the tournament. I'm very pleased with the way I played all day.''
Jack Nicklaus could hardly say the same.
Playing his 164th and final major championship at the home of golf, Nicklaus stirred his legion of fans ever so briefly with a 7-iron that just cleared the Swilcan Burn for a 4-foot birdie on the opening hole, and a nifty chip over Shell bunker into 5 feet for a birdie at the seventh.
Three-putt bogeys on three straight holes, however, sent him to a 75 and put him in a precarious position for making the cut, his goal.
``Obviously, I'm going to have to play well tomorrow,'' he said. ``I doubt if par will make the cut. We'll just have to see.''
The Old Course was in a far more favorable mood, with only light breezes blowing across the links toward St. Andrews Bay. Provided players avoided the bunkers, they could score.
Hensby had a chance to join Woods atop the leaderboard until a 12-foot birdie on the 16th and another 12-footer on the final hole just missed, giving him a 67 and another impressive round in a major.
The 10 players at 68 included Fred Couples, who birdied his last two holes; Luke Donald of England, who thrived while playing with Nicklaus and Tom Watson; and Jose Maria Olazabal, who somehow made it around St. Andrews without a bogey.
Woods finished off his round with a 3-wood just left of the 18th green, then a 70-foot putt that dipped in and out of the hollow called ``Valley of Sin'' and stopped some 4 feet away for birdie.
But it was a burst of birdies in the middle of his round that got everyone's attention.
Colin Montgomerie overcame an opening tee shot into the Swilcan Burn for a 71 and was quite pleased until he saw how far behind he already trailed the world's No. 1 player.
``It's ominous who's on top of the board. Ominous,'' Montgomerie said. ``If there's a course built for him, it's this one. He won by eight shots last time here, and who says he won't do the same again?''
Told that Woods opened with a 66 -- one shot better than his start in 2000, when he won by eight -- Nicklaus hardly seemed surprised.
``That's not fast for him. That's just a normal start,'' Nicklaus said.
Hensby also is becoming a regular fixture at the majors. He tied for fifth in the Masters and tied for third at the U.S. Open, joining Woods and Vijay Singh as the only players with top-10 performances in both majors this year.
Yet even Hensby issued a warning about the possibility of Woods holding the claret jug.
``People are scared to say it but it's true,'' Hensby said. ``If he's playing well, we're all playing for second.''
Woods, however, is no longer the sure thing.
Remember, he had a two-shot lead with two holes to play in the Masters and had to go extra holes with Chris DiMarco. And just when he was making a charge at Pinehurst No. 2 last month in the U.S. Open, he made two straight bogeys at critical moments and finished two shots behind Michael Campbell.
Then again, he has been playing well since missing the cut in Dallas for the first time in seven years, finishing no worse than third in his last three events. And his power is still a big advantage at St. Andrews. He had nothing more than a wedge into six holes, and twice was putting from just off a par 4.
One of those came at the ninth, when his tee shot stopped just short of the green. That was the start of four straight birdies, capped off by another monstrous drive that left him a short chip on the 12th.
But he found another bunker -- the Coffins -- on the 13th with a 2-iron slightly pulled to the left, and he was barely able to get back into the fairway. And a 5-iron from the 16th fairway turned just slightly and wound up in Wig bunker short of the green. Woods had to play away from the flag, and had to two-putt from 60 feet for bogey.
``If you catch those bunkers around here, you know a shot is going to be gone,'' said Olazabal, who played with Woods and Robert Allenby. ``And that's what happened to him.''
There was plenty worse that happened to others.
Vijay Singh had to play a shot lefthanded away from the lip of a bunker on the 16th hole and was fortunate to walk off with bogey. He still managed a 69, joining a large group that included Campbell.
Phil Mickelson got lost in the rough on his way to a triple bogey on the 15th and shot 74. Ernie Els, who thrives on the Old Course, couldn't hole any putts and made three straight bogeys on the back nine, also shooting 74.
Defending champion Todd Hamilton struggled with his putter and was at 74, too. He was hardly surprised to see Woods leading, and not just because of what happened five years ago.
``I expect him to do well in every tournament, but especially in the majors, where it takes a guy that not only has a good golf game, but understands how to play a difficult golf course,'' Hamilton said. ``And this is a difficult golf course.''
Along with two bogeys from the bunkers, Woods let two other birdies get away.
One followed a somber two minutes at noon, when St. Andrews joined the rest of the country in observing two minutes of silence to honor victims of the terrorist attacks in London last week. Woods later revealed his mother was in London the day of the bombings.
``I'm very thankful that my mom is still here,'' he said.
He resumed his quest for the Open with a chip on the par-5 14th that went past the hole and into the swale, costing him a good look at birdie. And he missed a 6-footer for birdie on the 15th.
Still, he was right where he wanted to be -- in the lead, and in control of the Old Course.
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  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.