For Now its Phils and Tigers Show

By Brian HewittJune 12, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- There are, perhaps, eight or nine players in the field at this weeks U.S. Open who can actually win the championship at storied and feared Oakmont.
 
Jim Furyk is one of them. So is Zach Johnson. And Adam Scott. And Vijay. And defending champion Geoff Ogilvy. And three or four others.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson shares a light moment Tuesday with his left wrist in a brace. (Getty Images)
They are all contenders.
 
But there are only two stars here.
 
Tiger and Phil.
 
Whether you like it or not, they are the stars. They are the first and second best players in the world right now, respectively. And whether youre sick of their media exposure or you cant get enough, they are the stars.
 
As such, they held center stage Tuesday at Oakmont. Tiger is the unquestioned favorite. He has won two U.S. Opens, and three PGA TOUR events already this year. His wife, Elin, is very pregnant with their first child. He is very excited about the impending birth.
 
Mickelson is the happy father of three. Right now he has an injured left wrist. Last year he made a mess of the 72nd hole at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and gave the golf tournament away to Ogilvy who was more than happy and competent enough to seize the moment.
 
Mickelson is most definitely not the favorite to win the week. As one former TOUR pro said Tuesday, Dont bet on a fighter with a broken hand.
 
Mickelsons hand isnt broken. But a bad wrist on a golf course with thick, penal rough and anorexic fairways ... well ... he might as well have a broken hand.
 
Im trying not to go in with too many expectations, Mickelson said.
 
Mickelson and Woods as a concept work better as rivals than they do as friends. Which is why the defining moment at Oakmont came Tuesday when someone asked Mickelson if he had advice for Tiger when it comes to being a father.
 
Me giving Tiger advice doesnt really feel right about anything, Mickelson said with that sheepish Phil grin. After the laughter stopped Mickelson politely and sincerely added that he thought Tiger and Elin would be wonderful parents.
 
Mickelson hasnt been able to prepare with the normal volume of work he believes he needs to ready him for a major championship. He will wear a non-restrictive wrist brace all week.
 
But he simply hasnt played much golf since tweaking the wrist here a couple of weeks ago when the rough was much thicker. Driver, the longest and crookedest club in his arsenal, has stayed in the bag during most of his practice. If he hits too many drivers, the wrist flares up again.
 
Yet, he admitted, to win this tournament you have to hit driver and get it down the fairway.
 
Woods, when asked, pointed out that Mickelsons injured wrist is the left wrist. The left wrist, he added, is not the impact wrist for a left-handed golfer.
 
A lot of people have forgotten that Woods injured his impact (left) wrist, as an amateur at the 1995 U.S. Open. He had to withdraw. He knows wrists.
 
Woods is stronger and healthier now. His biggest concern at most majors these days is finding the fairway off the tee and zeroing in on the pace of the greens for 72 holes. The latter is especially crucial at Oakmont which, arguably, has the most complex set of green complexes in the world.
 
This is one of the most difficult tests well ever face, Woods said. You really have to play well from tee to green. Then the fun really begins.
 
Next thing we knew, Tiger was a comedian.
 
Asked if he had a favorite hole, Woods cracked, Yeah, the 19th hole is great.
 
Asked about the 288-yard, par-3 eighth, Tiger said, Pretty good. You can drive a par-4 every day.
 
He was a regular Rodney Dangerfield.
 
Anyway, if Phil is playing possum here this week, he has everybody fooled. If Tiger wins, no one will be surprised.
 
Jim Furyk is the last American to capture this championship. He did so in 2003 at Olympia Fields. He is my pick to win.
 
The best story this week, if he wins, will be Mickelson. Hands down. Putting to bed the ghosts of Winged Foot, and all that.
 
The best story for golf, if he wins, will be Woods. It always is. When he wins, everybody outside the world of golf pays attention.
 
Whatever happened to The Big Five?

Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
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    Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

    It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

    Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

    He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

    It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

    And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

    Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

    The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

    “I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

    “I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

    The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

    But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

    The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.


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    But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

    So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

    “That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

    "I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

    To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

    They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

    A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

    “He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

    Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

    But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

    Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”

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    Players honor victims of Parkland school shooting

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:36 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA Tour players are honoring the victims in the Parkland school shooting by wearing ribbons on their hats and shirts.

    Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located about 45 miles from PGA National, site of this week’s Honda Classic.

    “It’s awful what happened, and anytime the Tour can support in any way a tragedy, we’re always going to be for it,” Justin Thomas said. “Anytime there’s a ribbon on the tees for whatever it may be, you’ll see most, if not all the guys wearing it. Something as simple and easy as this, it’s the least we could do.”


    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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    The school shooting in Parkland, which claimed 17 lives, is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.

    Tiger Woods, who lives in South Florida, offered this: “It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives that we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all. It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”

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    Thomas' game on track for Masters

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 8:22 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas likes where his game is trending.

    He said that on the eve of the Honda Classic.

    With the Masters just six weeks away, that’s where trends are aimed as the Florida swing makes its start.

    Thomas made another encouraging move Thursday to get his game ready for a chance at winning back-to-back major championships.

    A 3-under-par 67 moved him a shot off the lead in the first round at PGA National’s Champion Course.

    Thomas, who won five times on his way to winning PGA Tour Player of the Year honors last season, is feeling something special brewing as he seeks to claim his first title of this calendar year.

    “I've been playing well all year,” Thomas said. “Just haven't had much to show for it. I feel like I'm close to reeling off a couple tournaments here. I just need to stay patient.”

    Thomas put together a strong start playing in a pairing in front of Tiger Woods, a spot that comes with challenges, with galleries on the move setting up to watch Woods.

    Thomas, who played with fans causing problems at Riviera last week, said galleries weren’t an issue.

    The Honda Classic isn’t a major, but it looks like it will present the sternest test of the year so far.

    The Champion Course is always a brute, but it sets up as a particularly grueling test this year, with Florida’s winter winds blowing briskly right from Thursday morning’s start.

    “It was a very tough day out there, very windy, tough crosswinds,” Thomas said. “I was a little bummed to see that the weather showed a little bit more wind in the morning than the afternoom.”


    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    The course is also playing firmer and faster than it typically does.

    Thomas, 24, confirmed how solid his ball striking is in a round of six birdies and three bogeys.

    “The players know it's a tough golf course,” Jack Nicklaus said earlier this week. “It's going to be a handfull this week, with a dry golf course. This golf course plays much more difficult when it's dry ... and it's a little breezy.

    “You're going to see some very interesting rounds. You might hear a couple complaints.”

    Not from Thomas, who lives in nearby Jupiter.

    “Any time you're even or better on this course, on a day like today, was definitely positive,” he said.

    Thomas’ 67 is confirmation his game is shaping up for the test at Augusta National, where he will be looking to add a green jacket to the Wanamaker Trophy he won at the PGA Championship last August.

    “I love where my game is trending for Augusta,” Thomas said Wednesday. ”I feel like I'm getting, just very, very slowly, better every week ... I'm improving on the things I need to improve on.”

    A victory would be the ultimate confirmation he’s getting major championship ready.

    “I'd like to have a chance to win one of these next three events before Augusta,” he said.

    Thomas is coming off a tie for ninth at the Genesis Open last week. He was T-17 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open before that and T-14 at the Sony Open before that.

    Thursday’s round heated up with Thomas making four birdies in the middle of the round. He chipped in for birdie at the seventh (his 16th hole of the day) to get to 4 under before making bogey at the difficult 17th, where he just missed the green short playing into the wind and left his chip 20 feet short.

    “I hit probably one of my better shots in the Bear Trap, that just ended up in a horrible lie,” he said.

    Thomas headed home eager to keep his promising trend going.

    “It's definitely a little better feeling going to sleep and waking up in your own bed,” Thomas said.

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    Hoffmann's goal: Use golf to cure muscular dystrophy

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 7:17 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Morgan Hoffmann sees more opportunities on a leaderboard than ever before.

    His run into early contention at the Honda Classic Thursday gives him more than a chance to win a trophy and a big check.

    He sees it as a chance to change more than his life.

    Hoffmann has muscular dystrophy.

    He shared that news with the world at the end of last year in a heart-rendering fashion.

    “Today I know that am so damn lucky,” he wrote about his opportunities as a PGA Tour pro in a first-person story for The Players’ Tribune in December. “Because I’ve found my calling, and it’s one far beyond golf.”

    With a 3-under-par 67 at PGA National’s Champion Course, Hoffmann moved into contention to win his first PGA Tour title. He also moved into position to advance his cause.

    “Hopefully find a cure,” Hoffmann, 28, said after a round of four birdies and a bogey left him a shot off the lead.

    Hoffmann believes that is why he was put on this earth.

    “So that when a child is diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, there will be a cure,” he says.

    Hoffmann has to overcome some physical challenges to keep playing, and he has been struggling with his game this year, but he says that is more about the dynamics of the swing than the disease. He arrived at the Honda Classic off five consecutive missed cuts and a first-round withdrawal from last week’s Genesis Open.


    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    “I've lost a lot of speed in my swing, but my swing is still there,” Hoffman said. “I'm on plane. It's not like it's really killing my golf game. This isn't the reason for the last missed cuts. I've been working on a lot of things.”

    Hoffman’s type of MD causes degeneration of muscles in the chest, back, neck, arms and sometimes the legs. He has particularly struggled with his pectoral muscles.

    With a special diet, he’s attacking his issues. And with the help of his team of family and friends, he’s fighting for the larger cause. He’s aiming to build a wellness center, a kind of health superstore. He’s planning an inaugural fundraising pro-am Aug. 20 in Paramus, N.J.

    Hoffmann was shaken by the blow when a doctor delivered the diagnosis in 2016, but his attitude since has been inspiring.

    “The doctor wasn't nice,” Hoffman said. “He was like, `Yeah, you have it.’ I went, `Well, all right, I'm speechless . . . What can I do?’ He's like, `There's no cure,’ and he basically hung up. I was pretty pissed off.”

    But Hoffman came out of that quickly. He’s excited about the doctor he’s working with today and the health and wellness plan he is following.

    “I could become a recluse and feel bad for myself, but what's that going to do?” he said. “I love being out here, and I love playing on the PGA Tour, and that's my dream. To help people, ultimately, is my goal. I think I can do really special things with this platform.”