Woods Tries to Keep Streak Alive End Another

By Associated PressFebruary 15, 2006, 5:00 pm
2006 Nissan OpenPACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Tiger Woods has a couple of streaks going in opposite directions.
The one getting most of the attention is his 2-0 start to 2006, playoff victories in the Buick Invitational and the Dubai Desert Classic that take expectations even higher. The last time he started off a year with two victories was in 2000, which has become his benchmark for dominance.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods waits to hit a shot during Wednesday's practice round at Riviera Country Club.
Making it three in a row means getting rid of another streak that is getting under his skin.
Woods is 0-10 at the Nissan Open, a record that dates to his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old amateur when he missed the cut. His record has improved only slightly since he turned professional, although the Nissan Open remains the only PGA Tour event he has played more than three times as a pro without winning.
'I just haven't played my best golf at the right time,' Woods said Wednesday. 'I've played some good golf, but not my best stuff. And this track, you've got to hit the ball well. You just can't get away with hitting it poorly around here and expect to win.'
Not that he hasn't come close.
Woods is part of an All-Star collection of players in the hunt in 1999, the year Ernie Els pulled away from Woods, Davis Love III, David Duval and Nick Price to win by two shots. Woods needed a birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff, but piped a 3-iron into a beer tent and made bogey.
The Nissan Open also is the site of his only playoff loss in an official tournament, to Billy Mayfair in 1998 when the tournament moved to Valencia Country Club while Riviera's greens were being rebuilt.
Even when Woods was at his best -- 2000 comes to mind -- Riviera knocked him down. He had a stretch from the end of 1999 to the spring of 2000 in which he finished first or second in 10 out of 11 events. The exception, of course, was the Nissan Open, where he tied for 18th.
His next chance starts Thursday, and if his winless streak at his hometown tournament is weighing heavily, Woods isn't saying.
'You don't ever try to force a win,' he said. 'You just take it as a process. It's 72 holes. You take it a shot at a time, and hopefully at the end of the week, you're on top.'
One assumption seems safe -- that it will be 72 holes.
A year ago, players spent five days at Riviera and managed to squeeze in only 36 holes because of rain that turned the fairways into swamps and gave bunkers the literal meaning of 'beach.' Adam Scott and Chad Campbell were tied for the lead, didn't play Sunday and returned Monday morning for a playoff, which Scott won on the first extra hole.
Because it was only 36 holes, it did not count as an official victory.
California is getting plenty of sunshine these days, however. Coming off a spectacular week at Pebble Beach, the forecast is for mostly dry conditions through Sunday. The course is in great shape, with fairways running fast.
And if a playoff also is in the forecast, perhaps that bodes well for Woods.
Both victories this year went extra holes -- two at Torrey Pines before he outlasted Jose Maria Olazabal, and the 18th hole at Dubai when he beat Ernie Els. In fact, Woods' last four victories went overtime, including the American Express Championship at Harding Park and the Dunlop Phoenix late last year in Japan.
The field at Riviera is stronger than usual. Even without Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen, the Nissan Open boasts 13 of the top 25 in the world ranking.
The welcome sight is Els, who is playing on American soil for the first time since the U.S. Open.
The Big Easy tore ligaments in his left knee during a holiday in the Mediterranean last July. He was the last one to fall off a tube and got tangled up with someone in the water, putting him on crutches and out of golf for four months. Els has played five times since returning in December, winning in South Africa and losing to Woods in Dubai.
Some see Dubai as another failure; it was the seventh time Els has been a runner-up to Woods. But the 36-year-old South African saw it as progress. His knee not quite 100 percent, and he did well to get into the playoff when Els made a 6-foot birdie on the final hole.
'I haven't played with Tiger, or in that kind of a field, for a while. And to play that well and almost win was quite exciting,' Els said. 'I'm looking forward to the year.'
Better yet, Els got his traveling out of the way for now. In the past, he would leave Hawaii for places like Singapore and Australia and the Middle East, then head to Florida to begin his march to the Masters. The two Middle East tournaments were moved up this year, so Els will be in the United States the next two months.
He realizes he is getting older, but has no plans to cut back on his travel. Looking at his record, which includes three majors and six runner-up finishes, he sees no reason to change.
'Up to now, I've had a great career,' Els said. 'A couple of putts here and there, it could have been a lot better.'
At least he has one thing Woods doesn't -- a trophy from the Nissan Open.
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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.”