How High is Up for Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods - theres a surprise - is once again the subject of conversation of the year to date in his sport. He turned 30 in December and hasnt been beaten, in a stroke play event in which he finished all 72 holes without having to withdraw because of illness, since then.
The striped ones latest conquest was the Ford Championship at Doral Sunday in Miami. Woods held off David Toms and Camilo Villegas by one shot despite bogeys on the 71st and 72d holes. With apologies to Gertrude Stein: A win is a win is a win.
It was Woods 48th official PGA Tour victory and bumped his career earnings ever closer to 60 million dollars. Money, of course, doesnt mean terribly much to Woods anymore.
But getting better does. To improve is the goal he repeats, like a mantra, anytime you ask.
When Woods captured three major championships on his way to nine Tour wins in 2000 we thought that might have been the high water mark. Woods set or tied 27 PGA Tour records that season and played the four majors in a combined total of 54 under par.
Then a few things happened. Woods knee began to wear down and it eventually needed surgery. He and his instructor, Butch Harmon, parted ways. And Vijay Singh became a force.
Woods had set the bar at a height that appeared to be too high for everybody, including himself, to ever clear again. Then the relentless Singh cleared it, wresting Woods spot at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings and at the top of the money list and, in 2004, in the Player of the Year balloting.
Woods was forced to regroup.
Cutting to the chase: Woods knee healed. Singhs putter cooled. And the system of Harmons replacement, Hank Haney, began embedding itself in Woods muscle memory. This made it easier, among other things, for Woods to diagnose his flaws in mid-round.
Meanwhile, Haney told me in January, Woods had seen what Singh had figured out during his run: Bomb the ball as long as you can down the fairway off the tee and understand that a wedge out of the rough is better than 6-iron from the middle of the fairway.
On the front nine Sunday at Doral Woods hit zero fairways in regulation and all nine greens. Dont, by the way, think any of this has been lost on golfs governing agencies. The chatter in the back channels at the offices of the regulators is that technology in the grooves on the faces of wedges has quietly advanced. Getting the ball to stop on the green out of the rough, the whisperers say, has become easier. Some say too easy.
Stay tuned on this debate. If it comes to a fight in court, or anywhere else, Im betting on the equipment companies.
Anyway, squarer grooves or no, Woods has always been ahead of the curve at figuring out things, especially as they relate to his golf game and lowered scores.
It now appears he has more weapons and more ways to win than he did five years ago. Much of that comes back to his almost impossibly-sophisticated level of imagination, confidence and skill around the green complexes. This enables him to win with his A, B, C and, sometimes even, his D game.
He also says his practice check list is shorter than it has been in a long time as the Tour begins its annual run-up to the Masters in early April. If Woods successfully defends at a recently-lengthened Augusta where he will be a heavy favorite, it will be his fifth Masters win in 10 tries as a professional.
It will also officially mark the public beginning of the Grand Slam watch. Its way too early to start making predictions. But it is not too early to speculate.
If you ask me what Woods needs to do in 2006 to improve on 2000, I will tell you four majors will do it. Three majors and more than nine Tour wins will also do it.
For his part, Woods will stay in the moment, one more thing he does better than anybody else.
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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.
It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.
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.