2013 full of great play from great players

By Doug FergusonDecember 10, 2013, 8:59 pm

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Wanting to return among the elite in golf, Graeme McDowell mapped out a plan last fall. He figured out how many ranking points he would need to get back into the top five in the world.

And he went about it the right way. It started with his win at the World Challenge a year ago. He won at Hilton Head on the PGA Tour. He won the World Match Play Championship and the French Open on the European Tour. He was third at World Golf Championships in Doral and Shanghai.

''I've got to say, I got pretty close to that target that I set myself,'' McDowell said.

Little did he know how much the target would be moving in an extraordinary year for golf.

McDowell ended last year at No. 15 in the world. Now he is all the way up to No. 12.

''I wasn't really factoring on how many great players around me were going to have incredible seasons,'' McDowell said. ''So making an impact in that top 10 in the world has been very difficult to do this year because you just get so many guys playing incredibly well.''

Call it bad timing for McDowell, and happy days for golf.

Rarely has the golf season – men and women – felt so rewarding for so many players. Perhaps that explains why Tiger Woods could win five times – more than any other player in the world – capture the PGA Tour money title and the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average, and then listen to people discuss the definition of Player of the Year and whether he is worthy without having won a major.

Woods won the vote as the best player on the PGA Tour.

He is used to playing under a different set of standards, a victim of his own success. Anyone else with five trophies from the courses where he won – Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass and Firestone – and there would be a debate.

But this wasn't just any other year.

Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters, and along the way earned redemption from blowing the British Open nearly nine months earlier. He had the outright lead on the back nine at the British Open this year before faltering. A month later, he won The Barclays during the FedEx Cup playoffs, arguably one of the strongest fields of the year with the tour's top 125 players who are all on form.

When he finally went home to show off his green jacket, Scott won the Australian PGA Championship and the Australian Masters, and then teamed with Jason Day to give Australia its first World Cup title in 24 years. He was poised to capture Australia's Triple Crown until Rory McIlroy beat him on the last hole in the Australian Open.

A better year than Woods? Probably not, though it depends how much weight is given a major.

Perhaps a better question: Did he have a better year than Phil Mickelson?

Lefty came within a cruel lip-out of shooting a 59 in the Phoenix Open, which he wound up winning. Showing off a short game like no other, his chip on the 18th hole at Castle Stuart gave him a victory in the Scottish Open. And his Sunday at Muirfield gets little debate over the best round of the year. Mickelson made four birdies on the last six holes for a 66 to capture the one major that not even he thought he could win.

Who won the most meaningful major this year? Mickelson or Scott? Best to save that argument for the bar.

Not to be forgotten is Henrik Stenson, who in April wasn't even eligible for the Masters. He finished one shot behind in the Shell Houston Open, which got him to Augusta National. But it was the summer when the Swede began to shine.

A tie for third in the Scottish Open. Runner-up at the British Open. Runner-up at Firestone (by seven shots to Woods), third at the PGA Championship. He won two FedEx Cup Playoff events to win the $10 million FedEx Cup. And for good measure, he won the final event in Europe to become the first player to win the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in the same season.

Missing from the equation this year was the guy who started the year at No. 1 – McIlroy. He still had a good view.

''You've got Tiger with five wins this year. Adam breaks through for his first major. Phil wins the major he thinks he's never going to win. Henrik comes back,'' McIlroy said. ''Yeah, it's deep. You've got to play really well to win. ... But I think golf is in great shape.''

On the LPGA, the points-based Player of the Year came down to the next to last week, even though Inbee Park had won three straight majors among her six titles. Suzann Pettersen and Stacy Lewis won the other majors. Lewis won the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. Pettersen had a chance to win the money title until she faltered in the Titleholders.

That's what inspired LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to say, ''Sports are at their absolute best ... when the best athletes in that sport are having the best years of their lives.''

It's hard to say with certainty that Woods was at his absolute best, and not just because he didn't win a major. It used to be that when Woods was at his best, there was not enough wealth to go around. Now there is.

What a year.

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Watch: Tiger birdies 3 of 4, then goes OB

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 8:30 pm

Starting Sunday five off the lead, Tiger Woods teed off in his final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which he walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at the par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

His momentum was slowed by his first bogey of the day at No. 9, the product of an errant drive and its ensuing complications. As a result, Woods made the turn 2 under on his round, 9 under for the week, and still five off the lead, like when he started the day.

But Woods wouldn't wait long to make up for his mistake, immediately responding with another flagged iron and another birdie at No. 10.

He continued his assault on Bay Hill's par-5s at the 12th, getting up and down from the sand for a birdie-4 that moved him to 11 under par, just two off the lead.

And with this roll at 13 giving him his third birdie in four holes, the charge was officially on, with Woods just one back.

Just when it looked like Woods was primed for a late run at his 80th PGA Tour victory, Woods stepped to the tee at the par-5 16th, where he had missed wide right three days in a row, and sniped his drive out of bounds into a backyard miles left.

He made 4 on his second ball for a bogey-6 to drop back to 11 under, three behind.

(More coming...)

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.