Tiger Woods turns his doubts into another great year

By Doug FergusonSeptember 15, 2009, 12:33 am
BMW Championship 2007 LogoLEMONT, Ill. – Tiger Woods is turning into quite the trivia buff.

During the third round of the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago, he saw a couple of familiar faces as he walked off the 10th tee and approached as if wanting to impart some important information.

“Which city sits on two continents?” he said. “And what country has the most lakes?”

His favorite golf question: The eight major champions with the letter “z” in their surname.

When it comes to his own trivia, Woods often doesn’t have a clue.

Tiger Woods BMW Championship
Tiger Woods reacts on the 18th green after winning the BMW Championship at Cog Hill. (Getty Images)

He kept track of the score at the BMW Championship, which was all that mattered to him. Woods built such a big lead at Cog Hill with his course-record on Saturday that his only goal for the final round was to break par.

He closed with a 68 and wound up winning by eight shots.

In an era when a three-shot margin is considered comfortable, this was the fourth straight year Woods has won by at least eight, and the 10th time in his PGA Tour career. He was asked if big victories like that gave him additional satisfaction.

“First of all, I did not know that,” he said with a smile that suggested he was pleased to find out.

Odds are, he isn’t aware that he tied Sam Snead with his sixth year of six victories or more. To put that in perspective, only one other player over the last 25 years has won six times in a season – Vijay Singh in 2004.

So really, has anything changed about Woods?

He makes winning look ridiculously routine. Because he usually plays only the stronger courses, his adjusted scoring average is 68.06, giving him a 1.26 margin over second place. Such a gap is not unlike Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes – or even Woods in the world ranking, in which he has doubled the lead over Steve Stricker.

So why is Woods so proud of his game? Why does he call this one of his best years when he didn’t win a major?

Only he can appreciate how badly his ligaments were shredded in his left knee. Only he knows the extent of the surgery, not to mention the eight-month recovery that allowed doubts to invade his mind about how quickly he could get back to where he was.

Woods has been saying all summer that he never could have imagined winning so much after such a major surgery. Yet the more he keeps winning, the harder it is to believe him.

“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year … any of you guys probably wouldn’t have predicted I would have had a year like I did,” Woods said Sunday. “To be as consistent as I’ve been this year, I’m very proud of that.”

Even so, consistency is nothing new.

Over the last three years, Woods has finished out of the top 10 only seven times in 40 tournaments. Go back to Hoylake for the 2006 British Open, and he has won 52 percent of his PGA Tour events.

Sure, there are some noticeable differences.

  • For the first time since he was a 20-year-old rookie, he had a lead in the final round on the PGA Tour and lost. Making it that much worse, it happened in a major for the first time ever, and it was Woods’ last chance to win a major this year.
  • He failed to win a major, which is how he typically measures a successful year.
  • He missed the cut in the British Open for the first time, including two starts as an amateur.

So what makes this year so different? His own doubts.

“There was so many uncertainties at the beginning of the season,” Woods said. “I didn’t know how the leg was going to respond. I’ve never had a leg that was stable. What kind of shots could I play? How was my recovery going to be from day-to-day? Am I going to hurt again? A lot of these things, I didn’t know.

“To come back and be, as I said, this consistent feels pretty good.”

For Woods to keep raving about exceeding expectations speaks to how low he might have set the bar after knee surgery.

Look back at his reaction, when he screamed and ran into a hug with caddie Steve Williams after making a 15-foot birdie to win at Bay Hill. Yes, it was the last hole. It was for the win. The extra emotion comes from being his first victory since knee surgery.

So even if winning this year looks routine, it isn’t to Woods.

And while the victories continue to pile up – his 71st on the PGA Tour – it is no less amazing.

After his third round at Cog Hill, Stricker headed to the range with his father-in-law and coach, Dennis Tiziani. This has been Stricker’s best year, with three PGA Tour victories and a career-high No. 2 world ranking.

His caddie, Jimmy Johnson, was chatting about the turning points in the season when he realized Stricker had won three times in his last nine starts. That’s winning at a 33 percent clip, which is strong stuff.

Then he was told Woods has won 30 percent of his tournaments over a 13-year career.

Johnson just laughed. What else can you do?

As for that trivia question? Istanbul lies between Europe and Asia. Canada has the most lakes.

What that has to do with anything remains a mystery.

But if Woods were to win the Tour Championship next week in Atlanta, he would be the first golfer to go over $11 million for a season. He probably doesn’t know that.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up right where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.