History suggests U.S. Open is Tiger's to lose

By Doug FergusonJune 16, 2012, 7:53 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – The expectations came back before Tiger Woods did.

For the longest time, there was a sense of inevitability about Woods when he was in front going into the weekend at a major championship. Eight times he had the outright lead after 36 holes, and eight times he went on to win, a streak that Y.E. Yang finally ended in 2009 at the PGA Championship.

The circumstances were slightly different Saturday at the U.S. Open.

This was the first time Woods has shared the lead at a major going into the third round, and the other leaders have some experience.

Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open nine years ago at Olympia Fields, where he had a chance to set the 72-hole scoring record until meaningless bogeys on the last two holes. David Toms is 11 years removed from his lone major at the PGA Championship, though not quickly forgotten is the resolve he showed. With the gallery one-sided in its support of Phil Mickelson, Toms laid up on the 18th hole at Atlanta Athletic Club and made a 12-foot par to win.

The other difference?

This is 2012.

Woods removed his cap on the putting green Thursday, revealing an increasingly receding hair line. That was always going to be a losing battle, though it was a subtle reminder that Woods is not the 24-year-old who completed the career Grand Slam at St. Andrews, nor was this the 30-year-old who won consecutive majors.

He is 36.

He has gone through four operations on his left knee.

He has gone through public scrutiny of a very private life.

In some respects, this week could be the start of a new era for Woods, who will always be compared against his old era.

This business of the ''new Tiger'' looking like the ''old Tiger'' needs to stop, for no other reason than the new Tiger is older. For all this talk about whether Woods is really back, he has won two times this year on the PGA Tour, and that's as many as anyone else. Woods won five times in 2003 and it used to be called a slump because it didn't include a major championship.

So now Woods is among the leaders going into the third round at The Olympic Club, and the expectations are that he will win the U.S. Open for a record-tying fourth time, and finally get to his 15th major in his delayed pursuit of Jack Nicklaus.

Woods' mother is at Olympic this week, and she rarely goes anywhere but the Masters and Honda Classic, her new home. Maybe she's onto something.

Then again, it's hard to imagine Woods not expecting the same thing.

If a 70 in the U.S. Open at Olympic is equivalent to a 66 at a regular PGA Tour event, then this would be a stretch of golf that should get some attention. He closed with a 67 to win at Memorial, then joined Furyk and Toms as the only players who have not gone over par this week.

''It's one thing to have a game plan, but you also have to execute the game plan,'' Woods said. ''And I think that's one of the reasons why I was so excited about how I hit the ball at Memorial, because that's what I needed to play here. I hit the ball so well there and the different trajectories, that was big for me. And to come here and then be able to shape it like this – because I have to, I have to shape it here – I've done a pretty good job of that for the first two days.''

Perhaps it helps that he has two players whose game he admires joining him as the only golfers who remain under par.

Woods thinks so much of the Furyk's toughness that he finally got his wish to have Furyk as a partner in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. A few years ago, Woods was presented one of those age-old hypothetical questions: If his life depended on someone making a 15-foot putt, and he couldn't pick himself or Nicklaus, which player would he choose? Among the names he eventually mentioned was Toms.

The lesser-known players have proved far more dangerous over the years.

Bob May took him to a playoff at Valhalla in the 2000 PGA Championship. Woods had to hole one of the biggest putts of his life at Torrey Pines just to get into a U.S. Open playoff with Rocco Mediate in 2008, and he still had to go 19 holes to beat him. Rich Beem didn't blink when he beat Woods in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Yang remains the only player to win a major when Woods had the lead going into final round.

His former caddie, Steve Williams, once said that what looked like the easiest of Sundays felt like one of the hardest. He was talking about the Buick Open in 2009. Woods went into the final round with a one-shot lead over a group of players that made it look like a Nationwide Tour leaderboard. Only two of the seven guys behind him had won on Tour, and none was ranked among the top 100.

The tournament, in the eyes of everyone except the players, was over.

Woods is not at that stage yet, though Saturday could go a long way toward raising the expectations even higher. Woods is known for closing on Sunday, but he traditionally has set himself up for the win on Saturday.

In his 14 major wins, his scoring average in the third round is 68.3 and he has never had a round over par. He has had the lowest score of the third round five times (despite being among the last to tee off in the afternoon), and he has not had a round over par.

Day finishes strong, leads Aussie Open by one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 6:12 am

Jason Day birdied three of his final five holes to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand in Sydney:

Leaderboard: Day (-10), Lucas Herbert (-9), Jonas Blixt (-7), Matt Jones (-7), Cameron Smith (-6), Rhein Gibson (-5), Anthony Quayle (-5)

What it means: Day has a great shot at his first victory – in his final start – in 2017. It’s been a frustrating campaign for Day, who has dropped to 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking. A win this week, in his native Open, would be a huge boost as he embarks on the 2018 season.


Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


Round of the day: Day’s 2-under 69 wasn’t the lowest of the day, but it was the most important. Day parred his first 13 holes before birdies on Nos. 14 and 15. He bogeyed the 17th, but finished with a birdie at the par-5 18th for the outright lead.

Best of the rest: Blixt’s 66 put him in position to win. Meanwhile, Japanese amateur Takumi Kanaya shot the low round of the day, a 6-under 65, to reach 4 under for the tournament.

Biggest disappointment: No one really blew it on Saturday, but Jordan Spieth was unable to make a move. His 1-under 70 has him eight shots off the lead. Herbert managed an even-par 71 but he had a two-stroke lead until an errant tee shot at the par-3 11th. Speaking of which …

Shot of the day: Not every Shot of the Day is a great shot. Herbert made a long birdie putt on the eighth and was two clear of the field through 10 holes. But he hit his tee shot long at the 11th and was not able to find it. He had to re-tee, made double bogey and lost his advantage. He’s now chasing a major champion in the final round.

Spieth stalls on Moving Day at Australian Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 4:30 am

Moving Day? Not so much for Jordan Spieth in Round 3 of the Emirates Australian Open.

Spieth, the defending champion and also a winner in 2014, continued to struggle with his putter, shooting 1-under 70 on Saturday at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.

“I was leaving them short yesterday and today it was kind of misreading, over-reading. I missed a lot of putts on the high side – playing wind or more break,” he said. “I just really haven’t found a nice marriage between line and speed to get the ball rolling.”


Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


The world No. 2 started the day eight off the pace and was unable to make a charge. He had three birdies and two bogeys, including a 4 at the par-5 finishing hole.

Spieth praised his ball-striking in the wind-swept conditions, but lamented his putting, which has hampered him throughout the week.

“Ball-striking’s been fantastic. Just gotta get the putts to go,” he said.

Spieth, who is scheduled to compete in next week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, is still holding out hope for a third title in four years at this event. He fired a brilliant 63 in very windy conditions to prevail in ’14.

“Tomorrow is forecasted as even windier than today so you can still make up a lot of ground,” he said. “A few years ago I shot a final round that was a nice comeback and anything like that tomorrow can still even be enough to possibly get the job done.”

South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team

By Randall MellNovember 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.

Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.

Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.

So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.

Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.

The fourball results:

LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def.  Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.

LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.

KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee

LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.

NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.

 

Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.


Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.