Notes: Home stretch towards the playoffs

By Doug FergusonJuly 19, 2011, 6:26 pm

SANDWICH, England – Three majors down, one to go.

And while the attention now shifts to Atlanta for the final major of the year at the PGA Championship, right behind that is the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs on the PGA Tour. With only five tournaments left in the regular season, the standings indicate what kind of year it has been.

Two of the major champions – Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke – are not PGA Tour members and won’t be there.

A 14-time major champion might not be there for long, if at all.

Tiger Woods, who hasn’t played since he withdrew from The Players Championship in May and hasn’t earned any points since The Masters, dropped three spots to No. 129 in the FedEx Cup standings. Only the top 125 qualify for the playoff-opener at The Barclays, and the fields are then trimmed to 100 players, then 70 and 30 for The Tour Championship.

Even if he returns soon, it might not be for long if Woods doesn’t play well.

But he’s not alone in his struggles. Three players who finished in the top 10 in the FedEx Cup last year are not among the top 100 in the standings, and two of them might not get to the first playoff event.

Ernie Els, who missed the cut in the last two majors, is at No. 139. Paul Casey is even farther down the list at No. 143. The other top 10 player from last year is Retief Goosen, who is No. 106.

Jim Furyk won the $10 million prize last year. He ended a streak of four straight missed cuts at the British Open, but he still is No. 76 in the standings and will have to work hard – if not over the next five weeks, then the first two playoff events – to get back to the Tour Championship.

FATHER-SON TRIP: U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein made his first cut in a major at the British Open, ending a two-week trip to Britain that was memorable not only for where he played and practiced, but the company he kept.

He played with his father, Wally Uihlein, the chief executive of the Acushnet Co., who has kept busier than usual this year preparing for Titleist’s umbrella company to be sold to a Korean group headed by Fila. Joining them were Acushnet vice president Peter Broome and his son, Matt, who plays at Furman and grew up with the Uihleins.

“It was good fun,” Peter Uihlein said. “We had a few days of good golf. We haven’t done that in at least 10 years.”

They played Kingsbarns and the Old Course at St. Andrews, along with Carnoustie and Royal Aberdeen, a key part of the trip for when Uihlein returns in two months for the Walker Cup.

Wally Uihlein referred to it as more than just a father-son trip.

Along with going to Royal Aberdeen before the Walker Cup, Uihlein thought it would be beneficial for his son to experience links golf, see the home of golf and get an appreciation of how golf is passed down from generations.

“It seemed like the appropriate thing to do,” Uihlein said. “It’s not just a son going to play golf with his father. We’re much more purposeful than that. It was as much about the culture and the emotional experience, and how people feel about their golf over here.”

His son and Matt Broome, who reached U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying this year, each opened with a 66 at Kingsbarns. As for the Titleist chief?

“My (handicap) index shows 20 rounds over the last 15 months,” Uihlein said. “I broke 80 most of the time, and I was happy with that.”

ONE-TWO KNOCKOUT: Royal St. George’s tends to produce a good leaderboard, along with a few surprises, but it sure wasn’t kind to players in the top 10 last week – starting with the top.

Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, both missed the cut.

According to Official World Golf Ranking administrator Ian Barker, it was the first time the top two players missed the cut in a major dating to 1989, which is as far back as its data base goes on such matters. The 2009 British Open also was missing the top two players on the weekend at Turnberry when Tiger Woods missed the cut and Phil Mickelson didn’t play that year as his wife was in the early stages of battling cancer.

Along with Donald and Westwood, also missing the cut last week were Matt Kuchar (No. 6), Graeme McDowell (No. 9) and Nick Watney (No. 10). The best performance from top-10 players came from Martin Kaymer (No. 3) and Steve Stricker (No. 5), who tied for 12th.

CADDIE FORTUNES: Caddies keep changing jobs this year, whether temporary or permanent, but the one with the best fortune might be John Mulrooney. He was on the bag for Darren Clarke at the British Open, but what’s amazing is how he got there.

Clarke had lined up Ricci Roberts, who won all three majors with Ernie Els, to be his caddie in Spain the week of The Players Championship. Roberts decided instead to go to Florida to watch Els get inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Mulrooney, meanwhile, was in Spain to caddie for David Howell, but the former Ryder Cup star got injured. Mulrooney then was to work that week for Maarten Lafeber until he got injured.

He wound up with Clarke, who went on to win the Iberdola Open.

“He’s a little bit different, a little bit quiet, but a very, very good caddie,” Clarke said. “He’s worked on some proper bags before. We went out that week and won, and then it was a case of having to call Ricci and saying, ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve just won with John, so with your permission I’d like to carry on with him.’ So Ricci was fine. I carried on with John, and he’s been very good for me.”

DIVOTS: A week after Steve Stricker won the John Deere Classic, he went to the British Open with an incentive to try harder. Stricker signed an endorsement deal with Avis Rent a Car, which went into effect Thursday. The deal requires Stricker to wear the Avis logo on his shirts and outerwear. … Only seven shots separated top from bottom going into the weekend at the British Open, although the R&A is not looking into a 10-shot rule. Jim McArthur, chairman of the championship committee, said the 99 players who made the cut at St. Andrews in 1995 made it difficult to get everyone around in a reasonable time. “I don’t think there’s any proposal at the moment to have another look at that just now,” he said. … More reading material on Tiger Woods is now in stores, this book loaded with pictures. He is the latest subject of Bluewater Productions’ biographical comic book series. This one is called, “Fame: Tiger Woods,” and it became available in stores last week.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Chris Kirk became the fifth PGA Tour rookie to win this year. The record for most rookies to win in one year is six in 2004. There are 14 tournaments left, including four in the Fall Series and one opposite-field event.

FINAL WORD: “There’s winning tournaments, there’s winning big tournaments, but there’s winning majors, which is just a little bit different.” - British Open champion Darren Clarke.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 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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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.