Even at familiar Torrey, is Woods ready to compete?

By Doug FergusonJanuary 25, 2017, 12:14 am

SAN DIEGO - Tiger Woods was quick to set the record straight, with a smile.

As he gets ready to embark on his 21st season on the PGA Tour, a reporter mentioned to Woods that he had won at Torrey Pines ''seven or eight times'' and asked how much his comfort level was a factor in deciding where to start his year.

''Eight times,'' Woods replied. ''And one as a junior, so it's technically nine. So I like that place .''

Woods first dipped his toes in the water eight weeks ago in the Bahamas at an unofficial event with an 18-man field and no cut. Expectations were low, and so was the stress. Still, it was his first competition since a pair of back surgeries kept out of golf for 15 months. It was an important first step.

Torrey Pines is sure to invite greater inspection.

There is no other golf course on the PGA Tour that Woods knows better or is more comfortable playing.

Yes, he also won eight times at Bay Hill and Firestone. Bay Hill was always feast or famine for Woods; even during his peak years, he failed to finish inside the top 20 on five occasions. What gives Torrey Pines the edge over Firestone is that during an 11-year stretch, Woods never finished more than four shots behind the winner against a 156-man field. And one of those was a U.S. Open on a left knee that was surgically rebuilt a week later.

But while positive memories are powerful in golf, they can be a double-edged sword for a 41-year-old golfer on the mend, especially when the most recent memories are a reminder of how he began a rapid slide from the top of the world rankings.

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The 18th hole at Torrey Pines will forever be remembered for Woods making a 12-foot birdie to force a playoff in the 2008 U.S. Open, which he won the next day for his 14th major. The last time Woods played it in competition was in 2014. He came up well short from 254 yards and into the water, took a drop, flew the green into a plugged lie in the bunker and made double bogey on his way to missing the 54-hole cut.

Woods didn't play the South Course in 2015 because he withdrew after 11 holes of the opening round on the North Course when his back tightened on him during fog delays and he couldn't get his glutes activated.

Those are his two most recent trips to the Farmers Insurance Open.

Woods undoubtedly will lean more on his body of work at Torrey, which is unparalleled.

His first victory as a professional was in 1999, when he made the cut with two shots to spare and shot 62-65 on the weekend for a two-shot victory.

He won five straight times at Torrey in four years, twice in 2008. At the PGA Tour event that year, Woods opened with a 67 on the South Course and a caddie who stayed behind to watch him finish on the 18th said, ''He just won two tournaments with one round.'' Sure enough, Woods won by eight shots that week, then returned in June and won the U.S. Open despite not having walked 18 holes from the Masters until the opening round at Torrey.

Here's another way to look at his record: His performance at Torrey Pines alone is better than the PGA Tour careers of every player in the field except for Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Padraig Harrington (six victories, but three majors).

But what does it all matter?

This is a different day for Woods, a time when hopes are higher than expectations.

Woods is so enthusiastic about being healthy enough to compete that he has scheduled four tournaments over the next five weeks, which will take him from San Diego to Dubai to Los Angeles to South Florida. Not even he knows how he will hold up, though he's willing to find out. That alone is progress.

He is at No. 663 in the world, a product of having played just 12 times in the last 24 months.

''I think he's excited,'' Jason Day said. ''Who wouldn't be excited to play after 17 months off?''

On a soft golf course that still had puddles in the fairway on Tuesday because of the rain, Woods is playing the opening two rounds with Day and Dustin Johnson, two of the best in the world. Day has been at No. 1 since March. Johnson is the U.S. Open champion with one of the most powerful swings in golf.

Woods said if his back feels good, then he can prepare. And if he can prepare, he says he can compete.

That's where he is.

Even at Torrey Pines, it figures to take more than a week to figure out how far he has to go.

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.