Woods at Full Stride Early in Season
That hardly seems to be a problem.
Three weeks into his return from knee surgery, Woods already has hit full stride.
He won the Buick Invitational by four strokes after three straight rounds in the 60s on the tough South Course at Torrey Pines, a future U.S. Open site. He lost only 18 of the 112 holes he played at La Costa to win the Match Play Championship.
``When he plays good, he wins,'' David Toms said. ``We all know that.''
Woods expected no less.
After building a big lead and holding off a late charge by Toms on Sunday to complete his collection of the World Golf Championships titles, Woods was asked if he could have imagined two victories this early in his season.
``Uh-huh,'' he said without blinking.
Woods was still thinking about the tee shot he hooked into the parking lot in the third round of the Nissan Open. He made double bogey on the easiest hole at Riviera, and wound up three strokes out of a playoff.
Asked whether he was satisfied with his three weeks in California, Woods said: ``As a whole, you have to say, 'Yes.' But if you want to be a little bit greedy ...
``I've accomplished my goal two out of three weeks.''
The tournament that matters the most is a month away at Augusta National, where Woods will try to become the first player to win three straight Masters.
The last two years, Woods played six tournaments before his first victory of the season. He hasn't won twice on the West Coast since 2000, when Woods went on to one of the greatest seasons in golf with nine victories and three straight majors.
Is another record-breaking year in the works?
``You can expect me to keep trying to get better ' if my year turns out like 2000,'' Woods said. ``I'm starting to feel good. There's no doubt about it.''
His 2000 season didn't happen overnight. Woods won four straight PGA Tour events at the end of the 1999 season and carried that into the next year.
This time, he traces his groove to the PGA Grand Slam in Hawaii in November, when he won by 14 strokes in a 36-hole event against Ernie Els, Rich Beem and Davis Love III.
He says Dec. 12 surgery on his left knee not only got rid of the pain, but enabled him to start swinging the club the way he did.
``I have more shots than I did last year,'' he said. ``And on top of that, I'm feeling a lot better, which allows me to hit more shots. So, the combination of the two makes me a better player than I was last year.''
Some of those shots were evident at La Costa, particularly the 3-wood he kept low and hard into the wind and a variety of three-quarter shots that kept the ball from spinning away from the hole on the soft, spongy greens.
``He's swinging at the ball as good as I've seen him swing in a while,'' Toms said. ``He was hitting one or two more clubs than he normally would and just chipping it in there. And to be able to hit those shots shows a lot about how his game has progressed.''
In the five years of the Accenture Match Play Championship, no winner has ever played so few holes. Woods only played the 18th hole twice all week, one of those times during the 36-hole final against Toms.
Even so, he had to grind for this one.
Woods didn't miss a fairway until the 11th hole and raced to a 4-up advantage over Toms, which seemed to be insurmountable.
But Toms seized momentum with a 35-foot birdie putt on the second hole in the afternoon round, and Woods started missing putts that had been so routine.
``He was missing some short putts, and I think that was probably getting to him more than my game was getting to him,'' Toms said. ``He probably was disappointed that he was beating himself for a little while.''
Woods never trailed during the match, and Toms finally ran out of holes.
``I had to play the best golfer in the world to try to win the tournament, and I didn't have much this morning,'' Toms said. ``I got down too far to come back.''
The gap between Woods and his competition appeared to shrink during his two-month absence after knee surgery.
Ernie Els won the first two PGA Tour events in Hawaii, and piled up four victories in his first five events around the world. Vijay Singh won in Phoenix, Davis Love III won at Pebble Beach, and Mike Weir of Canada won twice (Bob Hope Classic, Nissan Open).
Now, it looks like a gulf again.
Woods now has 36 career victories on the PGA Tour, and he became the first player to win all four of the World Golf Championships events, which started in 1999. Including the World Cup title he won with David Duval in 2000, Woods has won seven of 13 world titles.
The next stop for Woods is the Bay Hill Invitational in two weeks, a tournament he has won the last three years.
``I'm just glad he doesn't play 25 tournaments,'' Toms said.
Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.
Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.
“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”
The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.
“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”
Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.
Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.
Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.
''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''
It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.
''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''
Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.
''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''
After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.
''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''
He's making his first start in the event.
''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.
Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.
''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''
Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.
''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.
The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.
''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''
Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.
''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.
Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.
Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.
Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.
John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.
Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years
Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.
He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.
How rare is his missing the cut there?
The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.
The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.
The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.
Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.
Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.
Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur
Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.
The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.
They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.
It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.
“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”
The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.
The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.