Bradley and Bubba are two peas in a pod

By April 25, 2012, 9:55 pm

AVONDALE, La. – The last eight winners of major championships have been first-timers. In that small cohort, each seems to have a strong bond with at least one of the others.

The Ulsterman trio of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke have their nationality. McDowell introduced Clarke to his new bride. McIlroy and McDowell share a friendship much more profound than the first two letters of their last name. Clarke and McIlroy were a part of the ISM team behind the thwarted Chubby Slam.

Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen were boyhood competitors whose relationship has evolved into a special bond as the next torchbearers for their country.

The last two majors, however, have been won by Americans in Georgia in playoffs. Keegan Bradley took the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club while Bubba Watson is fresh off a stirring Masters triumph.

At first glance, the two may seem to have little in common. Look again. The parallels to their successful careers may explain the recipe for the American resurgence in majors.

Both grew up in small towns. Bradley, nearly 26, was born in Woodstock, Vt. – population 926. The 33-year-old Watson is a product of Badgad, Fla., with double the number of people but probably the same number of traffic lights.

Watson's father wanted his boy to be great at baseball. Bradley could not be a bigger Red Sox fan, whose dreams were probably filled with equal parts Fenway green and Augusta green.

Each went on to a rather unheralded collegiate golf career, despite the manifestation of some serious game. Watson eventually became a bulldog at the University of Georgia while Bradley quietly honed his game at St. John's in New York City.

'I've always kind of been a player that's been under looked my whole career,' Bradley said  Wednesday. 'I just never seemed to get any credit. I'm glad it happened, I'm glad that kind of was my path.'

After school, both players had a year on mini-tours, which Bradley said was a crucial experience for his future success.

'I was able to luckily play a year on the Hooters Tour where at one point I was down to $1,200 in my bank account,' Bradley said. 'I ended up winning that week and I think that that was the start of the PGA Championship.'

Seems like such a short road. For Watson, it was a longer road to the PGA Tour, with a three-year path through the Nationwide Tour. Watson gleaned a lesson he may have just finally fully understood in the last few seasons.

'Golf you can play a long time, and just take your time at it,' he said Tuesday. 'Don't get overwhelmed, don't get frustrated, just keep playing, keep doing your thing.'

They both did their thing – both bombing the ball and finding a way to the cup and the PGA Tour. Bubba finally broke through in an emotional playoff win at the Travelers. Bradley won the Nelson unexpectedly.

Now in 2012, both are world-class players with major championships titles to call their own.

When he beat Jason Dufner last August, Bradley said he kept focus on himself during the playoff. He saw some of that in Watson, too.

'In that situation, I was able to really just focus in on myself and what I needed to do. I really just enjoyed the moment and it looked like Bubba was doing that,' he said.

Bradley is further along than Watson in one important regard: completing the metamorphosis into a full-fledged major champion.

'It's very different. I don't envy him in that aspect. I envy the green jacket that he has, but it's something that you just have to get through, basically because it is a lot,' he said, referring to the onslaught of attention from friends, strangers, family and media.

He expects Watson to pull through with flying colors.

'Bubba seems to really enjoy it which is what you need to be able to do,' Bradley said.

Meanwhile, the PGA champion has moved beyond his landmark win to show he is more than a one-hit wonder.

'Now I'm starting to prove that I can play out here and it's really fun to feel like you're a part of the PGA Tour and one of the better players out here, and it's a lifelong dream,' Bradley said.

Watson intends to simply keep on doing his thing and seeing how the chips fall.

“If I go out there and play my game, I have a chance to win,” he said. “If the other guys go out there and play their game and hit good shots, they have a chance to win. So we're not looking at [winning], we're just looking at trying to play good golf.”

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.

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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.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

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.