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Fortunes can change quickly in the world of golf

By Doug FergusonOctober 25, 2017, 3:14 pm

SHANGHAI – The final World Golf Championship of the year is a case study in how quickly the landscape can change.

Jon Rahm had never played in one of these elite events and it wasn't his highest priority a year ago because he had played only one PGA Tour event as a full member. Now he's at the HSBC Champions as No. 5 in the world, making him the highest ranked European.

Hideki Matsuyama was coming off a victory in the Japan Open and a runner-up finish in Malaysia, worthy of celebration because the Japanese star had moved into the top 10 in the world for the first time in his career. He won by seven shots at the HSBC Champions, part of an amazing stretch in which he won five times in nine starts.

Patrick Cantlay had gone two years without even playing because of a back surgery he feared might end his career. He made it back to golf in February, to the Tour Championship in September and to his first World Golf Championship this week at Sheshan International.

Pat Perez?


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Full-field tee times from the WGC-HSBC Champions


Not even he can believe he's No. 18 in the world.

Perez was No. 333 at this time a year ago after returning to golf following surgery on his shoulder. The last time he even qualified for a World Golf Championship was at the HSBC Champions in 2009, the week he said he realized he was ''globally unknown.''

''I pulled up the [current] schedule and saw my name on it twice as the defending champion,'' said Perez, who went from one to three career victories by winning the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and the OHL Classic in Mexico.

''That was so cool,'' he said. ''I can't even believe it's going on. I'm living it, but it hasn't sunk in. I don't see myself with Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson. Those are super athletes. I'm not even in consideration with them. But it's nice to be where they are. It's nice to be on the big schedule. No. 18 in the world. Who in the hell would have thought that?''

Getting into the top class of golf is hard enough. Staying there isn't that easy.

Just ask Jason Day, Adam Scott and Patrick Reed, all of whom were in the top 10 in January and failed to win this year. Bubba Watson isn't at the HSBC Champions because at No. 60, he isn't eligible.

Johnson, Matsuyama and Rahm lead the field when the HSBC Champions begins Thursday in some of the best weather this tournament has ever seen.

It's the end of a three-week Asian swing for Perez and about a dozen other PGA Tour players. It's the stretch drive for a group of Europeans that include Tommy Fleetwood, who is leading the Race to Dubai, and Rahm, who still harbors hopes of catching him.

It won't be long before a new year begins, and based on the way this year has gone, the possibilities are endless.

''I think I've said many times what I think of my year. You know, unbelievable,'' Rahm said. ''Not many players get to say this, but I accomplished a lot more than I set my mind to at the beginning of the year. It's very special. I accomplished a lot of goals that weren't in my mind at the beginning of the year, such as top 10 in the world, winning on the European Tour. There are many things that I set my mind to that I ended up doing.''

Johnson had an idea where he was going at this time a year ago, just not the detour in his path to the top.

He won his first major at the U.S. Open. He won twice more over the next few months and was one round away from winning the FedExCup. He was No. 3 in the world, though his game was pointed in a strong direction and he fulfilled that through the spring with three straight victories against the strongest fields to reach No. 1.

And then he slipped down the stairs on the eve of the Masters, wrenched his back and didn't win again until August.

Matsuyama cooled off in the spring when he went three months without a top 10, but then he was runner-up in the U.S. Open, won another World Golf Championship and contended at the PGA Championship. His game has looked tired since then.

Getting his game in top form was one thing. Keeping it there was even tougher.

''I'm still learning how to do that,'' Matsuyama said. ''That's one of my goals, one of things I'm working on now, is to be able to stay on top of my game.''

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 21, 2018, 7:00 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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Woods happy to help Furyk at Ryder Cup

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 6:58 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods didn't hesitate when Jim Furyk asked him to become a vice captain at the upcoming Ryder Cup.

Woods said Wednesday that Furyk asked he and Steve Stricker “a while ago” whether they were interested in being assistants in Paris as the Americans try to win a Ryder Cup on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Woods said of Furyk, “and whatever he wants, whatever he needs, I’m there to help him. We’re worked well the last couple of years in the cups together.”


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Though Woods has said that he wants to be a playing vice captain, he has been an assistant at each of the past two international team competitions.

Furyk, Woods and Stricker were all assistants at Hazeltine, where the U.S. won in a rout.

“Jim is very detailed, very smart, very analytical, and he’s just a fantastic leader,” Woods said. “For him to ask Stricks and I together, it will be special for both of us.”

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Woods to hit '4 or 5' drivers each day at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 6:25 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Those hoping Tiger Woods will wield the driver early and often this week at PGA National likely will be disappointed.

Depending on wind direction, he said he will only hit “four or five” drivers each round.

During Wednesday’s pro-am, Woods hit driver on six holes. He found two fairways with the big stick and found the right rough four times, though a few of those misses were only a few yards off the fairway.


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In two starts this year, Woods has struggled mightily with every club off the tee, but driver has been especially troublesome. He has found only 36 percent of the fairways so far (30 of 84).

The Champion Course here is a par 70, with water and bunkers often lining the fairways. Putting the ball in play off the tee will be at a premium, and so Woods opted for a low, penetrating 2-iron six times in the pro-am.

Woods said he did not make any equipment changes following the missed cut at Riviera.

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TT postscript: One birdie in casual pro-am round

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 21, 2018, 6:15 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Here are a few observations after watching Tiger Woods’ pro-am round Wednesday at the Honda Classic:

• As expected, the stress level was minimal at PGA National. He had a short warmup (considering it was still freakin’ dark when he was about to tee it up, at 6:45 a.m.) and generally took little time contemplating shots, except for a few clubs off the tee.

• Tiger spent a lot of time chipping, pitching and putting after completing a hole. No surprise there. He didn’t play a practice round Monday or Tuesday, and he hasn’t competed here since 2014. Gotta get in that work.


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• He hit six drivers Wednesday. That’s probably one or two more than he will in competition, depending on wind direction. Two of those drives found the fairway. The other four were varying degrees off-line in the right rough, none more wild than his push slice on the difficult sixth hole that was probably 60 yards right. At least it was playable over there – water runs all the way down the left side.

• It’s not quite a stinger, but he hit more than a few 2-iron shots off the tee, with a sweet, little draw. That’ll play quite nicely here.

• We said it for a few rounds at Torrey Pines, and then again for one day at Riviera, but here goes: Woods appears to have taken the left side of the course out of play. Whether that remains true after playing under “game speed” this week, who knows?

• Woods made only one birdie, after getting up and down out of the greenside bunker on the par-5 third. His pro-am stat line, for those interested: 7 of 14 fairways, 12 greens and 31 putts and shot around 2 over. Again, he was not really trying.

• Best shot of the day? His fairway-bunker shot on the sixth hole (while playing his second ball). He skied a mid-iron from 187 yards to kick-in range. A little more of that, please.