The countdown to Woods return continues

By Doug FergusonMarch 24, 2010, 5:37 am
ORLANDO, Fla. – Tiger Woods was nowhere to be found at Bay Hill except in just about every conversation.

It’s been like that a lot lately.

Woods spent Tuesday at Augusta National, his second straight day of practice as he prepares to enter his new world of golf in two weeks at the Masters. Speculation is as prolific as the tabloid reports on his extramarital affairs.

How will the gallery respond to him?

Which two players will be in his group for the first two rounds in what figures to be a circus like no other?

What will he say to the media?

Such are the inquiries at the Arnold Palmer Invitational because Woods isn’t around to answer the questions himself. His only interviews came Sunday evening with ESPN and the Golf Channel, both lasting five minutes, neither revealing very much.

Jim Furyk won the Transitions Championship and walked into his press conference holding a three-page transcript of Woods’ interview. Players headed to the putting green or the practice range at Bay Hill, and whenever they saw a camera, a tape recorder or simply a media badge, the topic was predictable.

By now, they should be used to it.

“For a guy not being around, he sure has drawn a lot of attention, and rightly so,” Steve Stricker said. “It’s been a weekly thing. That’s why it will be good to get him out here, to get him back playing, to get that behind him – and us. Not only him, but it’s been difficult for us, too. Things are changing on a daily basis. We have to stay on top of it so we can be somewhat responsive to those questions.”

Geoff Ogilvy defended his title in the season-opening SBS Championship and was asked how much longer Woods would be a topic. “It’s going to linger for a while,” he said.

Woods was always going to be a topic at Torrey Pines, where he has won seven times as a pro. Perhaps it was merely a coincidence that the winner was Ben Crane, one of the players unwittingly dragged into his story when a magazine quoted Crane as making disparaging comments about Woods’ marriage – even though Crane said he hadn’t spoken to anyone at the magazine or in the media for three months.

Wood became the story at the Accenture Match Play Championship when it was announced during the first round that he would be making his first public appearance, and speaking during the third round.

Then came news, three weeks later at Doral, that he would return to competition at the Masters. Later, Furyk ended more than two years without a victory by winning at Innisbrook about the time Woods was giving his TV interviews Sunday.

Woods hasn’t played the first three months. That hasn’t made it a quiet three months, except for outside the ropes.

“The fact he’s not playing, he’s still the No. 1 story on our tour – if he chooses to be,” Paul Goydos said. “He did the interview during Accenture. He did an interview Sunday. … I didn’t even know he was doing the interview. I was watching basketball.”

Goydos says the last three months are far different from the eight months when Woods was recovering from knee surgery. He was out of sight, and only on anyone’s mind when Padraig Harrington was foolishly asked if his two major victories required an asterisk because Woods was missing.

“When he was hurt, that one you didn’t hear too much,” Goydos said. “People didn’t make that big of a deal about it. I would make the argument that this has been no different from when he’s playing.”

And when he’s playing, rarely is there an interview with other players that doesn’t include a question about what Woods shot that day.

“I haven’t played good enough to have a whole lot of media attention,” Scott Verplank said. “But I’m sure when you go into the media room after a good round they’re not asking you about Tiger’s round. You’ve got to go to TMZ or the National Enquirer to find out what he did. So that’s different.”

There have been other differences over the last three months.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it seems fewer players have made the cover of golf magazines – Ogilvy, Hunter Mahan and Ernie Els made the cover of the two main publications. Other weeks have featured golf courses or a sand wedge (grooves debate).

Galleries have been noticeably thin, sometime for reasons beyond Woods, such as Super Bowl Sunday, a rare Monday finish at the Bob Hope Classic and cold weather in Arizona.

“It’s been pretty quiet,” Mahan said. “Everyone is playing golf without him, like they did for six months (with his knee surgery). But I think he’s going to bring a whole new audience to golf when he comes back.”

It will be a golf-friendly crowd to start with – the Masters ticket is among the toughest in sports.

But after that?

“There’s not as much buzz,” Verplank said. “That’s getting ready to change.”

Stricker is as curious how the players will respond to Woods, although he figures that will get back to normal in no time. His greater concern is how the gallery will respond. Every tournament seems to have one hole where the crowd is a little more vocal, such as the 16th hole at Phoenix, the 17th at The Players Championship or the amphitheater behind the 12th green at Muirfield Village.

Then again, that might not last long, either.

“I think we’ll have more of a Phoenix atmosphere for a short time. But after he wins three of his first four starts and he’s on his way to the Grand Slam,” said Goydos, pausing to smile, “then it will be back to normal.”
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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.