Woods, field ready for tough Congressional

By Doug FergusonJune 27, 2012, 11:08 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Jim Furyk must feel as if he's going from one U.S. Open to another one.

During a practice round at Congressional for the AT&T National, he stood on the first tee and planned to hit driver over the right edge of the bunker, bouncing it up the fairway toward the green, just like he has the other three times he played it as a PGA Tour event.

Only there was one problem.

The bunker no longer hugged the left side. The fairway was so narrow that the bunker was 10 yards into the rough.

''I went, 'Oh, wow.' Looked at my caddie and said, 'The cut lines are still the same as they were at the Open last year,''' Furyk said.

On the par-3 second hole, the wind was so strong into him that he hit a 3-wood onto the front of the green. A year ago at the U.S. Open, the greens were so soft from heavy rain that it would have taken a few hops and rolled to a stop.

''It ended up on the back of the green,'' Furyk said. ''And it was into the breeze. I said, 'OK, game on.' Now I realize what I have to get ready for this week.''

Congressional looks more like a U.S. Open course than the U.S. Open did last year.

The fairways are tight. The rough is thick and ankle-deep in spots, and this was after they cut it down a few weeks ago. The greens are firm and bouncy. It has all the trappings of a U.S. Open, and Congressional has hosted three of them.

But this is just the AT&T National.

''I'm sure we'll see U.S. Open-type conditions, probably a lot firmer and faster than they were here when we played the U.S. Open,'' Davis Love III said. ''I think it's going to play tough.''

The USGA was at the mercy of the weather last year – difficult conditions during the growing season, overnight rain during the championship that didn't allow the course to dry out. The result was a record score by Rory McIlroy, who finished on 16-under 268 for an eight-shot win.

McIlroy isn't back this year because he loves home just a little more than he loves Congressional. The Irish Open is this week at Royal Portrush in his native Northern Ireland, a revered course that has produced the first four-day sellout in European Tour history.

Tiger Woods is back, even though he wasn't at Congressional last year.

Woods wound up missing the middle two majors in 2011 to fully recover from injuries to his left leg, so all he could do was watch from home as McIlroy shattered his U.S. Open scoring records. Woods previously was the only player to finish a U.S. Open in double figures under par (12 under), and he tied the Open scoring record at 272.

McIlroy beat both those marks by four.

In some respects, Woods can consider himself the defending champion. The last time the AT&T National was played at Congressional was in 2009, when he closed with a 67 to finish on 13-under 267 for a one-shot win.

But this isn't the same course.

It was played as a par 70 in 2009, with the sixth hole a long par 4. Now, the course is playing the same length as the U.S. Open, a par 71 at 7,569 yards, using some of the new tees the USGA had built for its premier championship.

That includes the 466-yard third hole, the 470-yard fourth hole, and a 523-yard hole on the 18th.

''I like it quick because it certainly puts a premium on shaping shots, and more than anything, keeping the ball under the hole,'' Woods said. ''We've seen what this place can do when it gets soft, and what the guys can shoot.''

Whether it stays fast when the AT&T National gets under way on Thursday remains to be seen. No rain was in the forecast, but the temperatures began climbing into the 90s on Wednesday, and with hot weather, officials might have to keep more water on the greens to keep the grass alive.

Woods was asked what he would like to see as the winning score, and he cut off the question when a reporter said, 'Would you like it to be below ...''

''Below 16 under?'' he said, smiling in reference to McIlroy's record score.

''As long as I'm that person,'' Woods added, ''yes.''

Woods is following his script from 2009, when he started the year by winning at Bay Hill and Memorial, hosted by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. He also won the AT&T National that year (he was the official host), though he never won a major.

He is coming off a U.S. Open at Olympic Club by taking a share of the 36-hole lead, only to stumble badly on the weekend and tie for 21st.

''I've won major championships, and I haven't done it since '08,'' Woods said. ''We all go through periods where that doesn't happen. Some periods are entire careers. But I think I understand how to win major championships. The key is just giving yourself chances.''

Nick Watney is the proper defending champion, winning last year at Aronimink, where the tournament went for two years because of the U.S. Open. The field also includes Hunter Mahan, a runner-up to Woods in 2009, Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott.

Getting most of the attention in the days leading up to the tournament was the golf course, which should present the kind of test the U.S. Open wanted last year.

''It's set up more like a major,'' said Marc Leishman, coming off a win last week at Hartford. ''Obviously, the weather had a lot to do with it last year. It's definitely going to be tougher. I don't think 20 under is going to be winning, or 15 under, or whatever on the U.S. Open last year. I don't think that's going to happen again.''

Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 8:52 pm

The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:

Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)

What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.

Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.

Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.

Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.

Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.