Tiger To Sleep and to Dream

By Brian HewittSeptember 10, 2007, 4:00 pm
Tiger Woods can play Cog Hill No. 4 in his sleep.
Sunday in the final round of the BMW Championship, Tiger fired a stress-free 63 and cruised to a 2-shot victory over Aaron Baddeley to wrest away the points lead in the inaugural FedExCup that will conclude this week in Atlanta.
Woods has now played 11 times in the event they used to call the Western Open. And he has made a western omelet out of the competition. He has won four times and posted eight top-10s there. When Tiger Woods is comfortable with the speed of the greens as he was this week; and when he finishes in the top 5 in driving distance and driving accuracy as he was this week, its simply no contest.
All of a sudden they (the putts) started dropping in from everywhere, Woods said on the same day his good friend, the equally dominant Roger Federer, won the U.S. Open in tennis. For the week, Woods didnt three-putt once. Sunday he needed just 18 putts for his first 14 holes.
Tiger Woods can also just plain win in his sleep.
He has now collected 60 official TOUR victories, all before his 32nd birthday. Three more and he will pass Arnold Palmer. One day he will almost certainly race past the all-time record of 82 held by Sam Snead. He has now won six times this year and 60 of the 215 times he has teed it up on the PGA TOUR for an unheard of (in golf) winning percentage of 27.9.
If Woods wins at East Lake this week, he will earn $1.26 million in prize money and receive $10 million in deferred money. (Who among us doesnt peg him as a prohibitive favorite next week?) He can do the math in his sleep.
Generally, Tiger said late Sunday, I feel pretty fresh.
If he doesnt already, this will all help Woods sleep better at night. He is on a pace to become sports first billion dollar athlete (on and off the course combined) by the time hes 35. To put it another way: His children and their children and their children will be set for life when it comes to money.
Woods likes money. He is, after all, human. But he didnt get into golf; didnt fall for the sport because he wanted to be a billionaire. Its just that now that hes going to be one some day, he can relax and play golf for the reason that hooked him to begin with: He loves the game.
Woods, playing one group ahead of Aaron Baddeley and Steve Stricker Sunday, because Baddeley had birdied the last two holes Saturday to nudge him from the final pairing, took his first lead in the final round when Baddeley bogeyed the sixth. This occurred just moments after Woods converted a short birdie putt on the seventh.
At that point Woods was 2 under on his round and one ahead of Stricker and Baddeley. Meanwhile, up ahead, Tim Clark was making an inspired run at the leaders with birdies on seven of his first nine holes. Clark also holed a 20-foot par save on the seventh to go with a bogey on No. 2.
Clark had entered the BMW Championship outside the top 30 in the FedExCup points standings which meant he needed a strong finish to get his ticket punched to East Lake.
All 30 players in Atlanta are guaranteed $175,000 in deferred money, plus an invitation to the 2008 Masters, plus whatever share they earn of the $7 million purse there.
Meanwhile, back at the BMW Championship, once again it became obvious that the TOUR had made a conscious decision to promote low scores. Clark finished with a 29 on the front and Woods, Baddeley and Stricker each birdied the seventh, eighth and ninth holes. Can you spell S-H-O-O-T-O-U-T? The scoring averages for the week at Cog Hill were the lowest in the history of the event by more than a full stroke.
NBC analyst Johnny Miller, more than once Sunday, said over-the-air that the scoring conditions were like shooting fish in a barrel.
Clark, Camilo Villegas and Stewart Cink all played their ways into the TOUR Championship from outside the top 30. But it is Woods who undoubtedly slept best Sunday night.
And if anybody in the world thinks they will unseat Woods from his top spot any time soon, they are sadly mistaken. Hes simply too good.
And, ay, theres the rub.
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    Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

    The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

    “Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

    And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

    After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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    Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

    “Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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    Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

    He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

    Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

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    McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

    “I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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    A performance fit for a King

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

    So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

    “Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

    But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

    “Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

    But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

    Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

    Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

    Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

    McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

    “I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

    And entertained, of course.

    Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

    “And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

    McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

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    McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

    During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

    But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

    “The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

    McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

    “He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

    Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

    And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

    “The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

    All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

    Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

    Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

    Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

    “I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

    Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

    “He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

    It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

    “It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

    Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

    But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

    There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

    A kiss for his wife, Erica.

    A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

    The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

    “Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

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    McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

    By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

    McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

    “I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

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    A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

    Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

    “It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”