Back at Hoylake, golf's landscape has changed

By Doug FergusonJuly 12, 2014, 8:22 pm

HOYLAKE, England - The British Open packs 154 years of history on links courses that have been nurtured more by time than by tractors. It returns this year to Royal Liverpool, the second-oldest golf club in England, established in 1867 before anyone in America knew much about the Royal & Ancient game.

For all its heritage, however, the charm of this major is what lies ahead. No one ever knows what to expect.

Consider the landscape.

Royal Liverpool was so brown and baked when The Open was last here in 2006 that the R&A asked players to take extra care if they smoked, and it had two fire engines stationed on the golf course. The ball rolled so far when it hit the ground that Tiger Woods hit only one driver over 72 holes and won by two shots.

Now the grass is greener than it was at Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Open.

It feels like a new course this year.

''It's lush. The greens are soft and very green. Fairways are pretty similar,'' said Rory McIlroy, who took a scouting trip to Hoylake last week. ''But I think they are going to get a spell of good weather leading up to The Open, and hopefully, it will get a bit firmer.''

He recalled watching in 2006 when ''the ball was like bouncing down a road on the fairways.'' McIlroy says he could hit as many as five drivers each round.

''It's going to be a little different,'' he said. ''There's some thick spots of rough on the course, so avoiding that and avoiding those fairway bunkers ... if I can just do that, and anyone else can do that, then they'll have a good chance.''

A greater change might be the landscape of golf.

Woods was at the height of his powers eight years ago when he won the claret jug for the third time. He was the first player in more than 20 years to repeat as Open champion. He would go on to win the PGA Championship that year, making history as the only player to capture multiple majors in successive years.

Now he makes news when he can even play in a major.

Woods has had three surgeries since he was last at Royal Liverpool - two on his left knee, the most recent on March 31 to alleviate a nerve impingement in his back, which caused him to miss the Masters for the first time, and then the U.S. Open. When the British Open begins on Thursday, it will be his first major in 11 months.

Woods returned earlier than anyone thought - himself included - three weeks ago in the Quicken Loans National at Congressional. He missed the cut, which annoyed him, and played without pain, which thrilled him.

''I hate to say it, but I'm really encouraged by what happened this week,'' Wood said. ''What I was able to do physically, and the speed I had and the distance that I was hitting the golf ball again, I had not done that in a very long time.''

He wasn't worried about the little mistakes, mainly with his short game, because he could fix them.

But how soon?

Woods is 38 and without a major in six years, leaving him at 14 for his career and still four short of catching Jack Nicklaus. It might help to return to a course where he has won before, except that this is a different golf course. And he is not the same player.

''We haven't seen Tiger really, really play well in a while now,'' two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange said.

There hasn't been a dominant player even during his time away from various injuries and surgeries over the last five years. Golf is ruled by committee.

McIlroy, with two majors by age 23, is just now starting to get his game back in order. Martin Kaymer is in the best form, having won The Players Championship and U.S. Open by going wire-to-wire in both. Adam Scott is No. 1 in the world. Phil Mickelson is the defending champion. Justin Rose is fresh off a big win at Congressional. Bubba Watson is a Masters champion again.

All have had moments of greatness, none of it sustained.

Nineteen players have won the 24 majors that have been held since Woods won his last one.

''We have all witnessed what Tiger has been able to do over his career, whether that's come back from injury and win, come back from any sort of off-course stuff and win. I mean, win the U.S. Open on one leg,'' McIlroy said. ''Is it foolish for people to write him off? I would say so. If he's playing and he's competing, he's got as good a chance as any.''

Considering the circumstances, Woods winning would be a surprise.

Then again, for as long as golf's oldest championship has been around, it is still capable of delivering a few shockers.

Mickelson produced one of his own at Muirfield last summer when he had his named etched on that silver claret jug for winning the one major that for years befuddled him. Only five years ago, 59-year-old Tom Watson came within an 8-foot par putt of being the oldest major champion. Ben Curtis was playing his first major in 2003 when he won at Royal St. George's. He was the only player to break par. The Open returned to St. George's eight years later, and 11 players had a better score than Curtis.

What happened eight years ago at Royal Liverpool feels like ancient history.

Perhaps that should be the adage for The Open. The more things stay the same, the more they change.

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Luiten in three-way tie at Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 17, 2018, 4:17 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten showed a return to form after a mediocre 2017 as he moved into a three-way tie for the lead in the Oman Open on Saturday.

The Dutchman shot a second straight 6-under 66 - the joint best score of the day - to move to 12-under 204. He was joined at the top by Matthew Southgate (69) and Frenchman Julien Guerrier (66) after the third round at the Greg Norman-designed Al Mouj Golf Club.

England's Chris Wood (69), another man on the comeback trail, was in fourth place at 11 under, but it could have been a lot better if not for a bogey-bogey finish. Adrian Otaegui (66) was a shot behind Wood while pre-tournament favorite, France's Alexander Levy (67), was at 9 under.

The 90th-ranked Luiten credited some hot iron play for his success after a cracked driver set him back last year when he had just two top-10 finishes the whole season.


Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic


''I cracked my driver in my first tournament of the year in Abu Dhabi and it took me almost six months to get another one that I really liked. Once you are not driving the ball well, it puts pressure on other parts of your game,'' said the 32-year-old Luiten. ''My iron play did not get me into trouble at all today.''

Southgate was quick off the block with three birdies in his first three holes. But the Englishman then made two bogeys and a double bogey in his next four holes, and a birdie on the ninth saw him make the turn at even-par.

That forced him to think differently for the back nine and he was rewarded with three birdies.

''It was quite funny really,'' Southgate said. ''We birdied the ninth and I walked off and said to my caddie Gary ... 'We've just shot level par, so let's just pretend that we've made nine solid pars and that we haven't holed a putt and haven't made a birdie. Let's just start again on the 10th'.''

The 32-year-old Guerrier started his round with a monster 48-foot birdie putt and had an eagle, six birdies and two bogeys.

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J.Y. Ko increases lead; Lydia focuses on positives

By Associated PressFebruary 17, 2018, 3:33 pm

ADELAIDE, Australia - Jin Young Ko continued her domination of the Women's Australian Open, shooting a 1-under 71 Saturday to increase her lead to four strokes after three rounds.

The South Korean, who led after each of the opening two rounds of the LPGA tournament, had a three-round total of 11-under 205 at Kooyonga Golf Club.

Australian golfer Hannah Green moved into second place after the round of the day, a 66.

Green, 21, is seeking to become the first Australian to claim her national crown since Karrie Webb won the last of her five titles in 2014. Webb, who is playing a part-time schedule in 2018, missed the cut Friday by one stroke.

Green birdied her first three holes on Saturday and then added two more on the eighth and ninth. Two more birdies followed on the back nine with her only dropped shot a bogey on the 17th.


Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open


"I was very pleased with my ball striking," Green said. "I have put myself in contention so I'm very happy with how things are panning out.

"It was a real shame about Karrie missing the cut, but I know she has got different plans."

South Korea's Hyejin Choi (70), was tied for third, five strokes behind. Australia's top-ranked golfer Minjee Lee was tied for fifth after a 69, six off the lead.

Former No. 1 Lydia Ko shot a 71 and was eight strokes behind.

"It's always nice to be able to start the season on a good note, and I've obviously got tomorrow," Lydia Ko said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to finish off on a high note."

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Cantlay, McDowell, Saunders share lead at Riviera

By Doug FergusonFebruary 17, 2018, 3:51 am

LOS ANGELES - Tiger Woods waited 12 years to get back to Riviera and lasted only two days.

Woods had three straight bogeys early on the back nine Friday and didn't play well enough to make up for his misses. He had a 5-over 76 and missed the cut in the Genesis Open for the first time in nine appearances as a pro.

He was at 6-over 148, one shot worse than his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old at Riviera.

''I missed every tee shot left and I did not putt well, didn't feel very good on the greens,'' Woods said. ''And consequently, never made a run. I knew I had to make a run on that back nine, and I went the other way.''

Patrick Cantlay ran off three straight birdies toward the end of his morning round, starting with a tap-in on the par-3 sixth when he missed a hole-in-one by a fraction of an inch, and shot a 69. He was tied with Graeme McDowell (66), the former U.S. Open champion who is trying to work his way back from a two-year slump.

They were at 7-under 135.

Sam Saunders also was at 7 under, making back-to-back birdies until it was too dark to continue. He had three holes remaining in his second round. Ryan Moore bogeyed his final hole for a 68 and was one shot behind at 136.

Rory McIlroy overcame a few short misses on the front nine for a 69 and was at 2-under 140.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


Cantlay was coming off a three-putt bogey when his tee shot at the par-3 sixth - the hole with a bunker in the middle of the green - landed above the flag and to the right, and then rolled back down the slope just over the right edge of the cup.

''I actually missed a little to the right, but it's a bowl back there so as long as you get the number right, it should be pretty close,'' Cantlay said.

He followed with a short iron into 5 feet for birdie, a 15-foot birdie on the next hole and then a wild drive that led to a bogey on his final hole.

McDowell has gone 59 starts worldwide since his last victory and has fallen out of the top 200 in the world. He had missed four straight cuts dating to late last year, though he felt he was hitting it well in practice. What helped was seeing some good scores.

''All I'm missing is a couple little numbers and a little bit of confidence,'' McDowell said.

Defending champion Dustin Johnson shot a 69 and gets to stick around for the weekend. He was at 1-over 143. Bubba Watson, who won in 2014 and 2016, has fallen out of the top 200 in the world after a two-year drought. He shot a 70 and was at 4-under 138, and then headed for the NBA All-Star weekend to play in the celebrity game.

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Plenty of good – and bad – in Tiger's missed cut

By Rex HoggardFebruary 17, 2018, 3:10 am

LOS ANGELES – Do you want the good news or the bad?

Actually, having any good news to report when it comes to Tiger Woods is something of a sea change after a tumultuous few years for the 14-time major champion both on and off the golf course, so let’s start there.

Right about the time Woods began his round of birdie-bogey bingo on Day 2 at the Genesis Open, news broke that he’d signed to play next week’s Honda Classic.

The annual South Florida PGA Tour stop may be just a short drive from the Woods compound, but his commitment to play PGA National is very much a reason for optimism.

It marks, after all, the first time Woods has played consecutive weeks on Tour since 2015 when he went from the PGA Championship  where he missed the cut  to the Wyndham Championship, site of his last top-10 (T-10) on Tour. Last year, when he attempted to go back-to-back from the Farmers Insurance Open to the Dubai Desert Classic, came to a woeful end when he withdrew after just a single round with an ailing back.

“I'm very pleased. I'm very excited about it,” Woods said as darkness settled Friday over Riviera Country Club. “I wish I would have two more competitive rounds to head into next week, but that's not the case. But I get a chance to do some work and I'll go do some work.”

Throughout this entire process, which began last April when he had fusion surgery on his lower back, Woods has talked of benchmarks and protocols. He has, by all accounts, been a model patient, following doctor’s orders and easing his way back into the competitive fray.

As late as Tuesday, Woods was coy when asked about whether he would play the Honda Classic, figuring it would be a “great” sign if he did play, but adding it would be a “smart” sign if he didn’t.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


Although the late Yogi Berra would probably applaud Woods’ misdirection, his point was valid. He’s never been real keen on announcing his schedule in advance, and that’s particularly evident and prudent now that his competitive fortunes are dictated by the whims of his surgically repaired back.

But on Friday as Woods was setting out for his round, he offered the most telling assessment yet that his health, which for so long has left him perched on the edge between continued greatness and competitive irrelevance, is no longer an issue.

“I'm both pleased and also not very happy with some parts of it,” he said. “It's nice to be back competing again and to be able to go out there and play, practice after each round. That's been nice, something I haven't done in years.”

And now the bad.

Woods began the day at Riviera teetering on the cut line at 1 over, played his opening loop in 2 over par to drift further back and closed his day, and week, with a 5-over 76 and a 6-over total to miss the cut by five strokes.

There is no shortage of culprits on this front.

He struggled off the tee. He struggled with his irons. And on Friday he struggled with his short game, which had been the rock his comeback had rested on until now.

He was once again plagued by the wild miss off the tee, hitting just 13 of 28 fairways for two days with a tee ball that offended equally, sailing right four times and left seven. So much for that “stout” new shaft.

But if his tee ball became public enemy No. 1, his iron play may have been worse with Woods finding a pedestrian 16 of 36 greens in regulation. That’s the fewest greens for Tiger through two rounds in a Tour event as a professional.

“I would say he's a pretty good ways away,” figured Justin Thomas, who may need to find another ride home after flying out to Los Angeles on Air Tiger. “He's obviously not driving it well, he's not hitting the shots that he wants to. Probably the distance control isn't quite there.”

Thomas was quick to point out that despite Woods’ struggles he continued to fight like few can, at least on Thursday when he turned what probably should have been a 75 into a 72. On Friday, the magic ran out.

Woods’ abbreviated week in Los Angeles began with a lost ball in a eucalyptus tree and ended with his surprising loss of touch on the greens.

He missed par attempts from 13 (No. 9), 4 1/2 (No. 11), 5 1/2 (No. 12) and 6 1/2 (No. 16) feet on Day 2, the final three miscues marking his first three three-putts of the week. That deft touch that had secured him weekend tee times last month at Torrey Pines and kept his round on Day 1 at the Genesis Open from becoming ugly, had vanished.

“The feeling of not feeling very good over my putts finally caught up with me,” Woods said.

Woods has a few days to think about those feelings, and he’ll spend the weekend fulfilling his host duties at Riviera before heading home for next week’s Honda Classic.

He understood as well as anyone that it was always going to be this way following so many years of false starts and relapses, but the difference now is that there’s some good news to go along with the bad.