Woods rule over Pebble Beach overstated

By Doug FergusonFebruary 10, 2010, 12:39 am
2007 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-AmPEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Two years ago on a course along the Pacific, the U.S. Open winner was never really in doubt.

And that was four months before the U.S. Open was played.

Tiger Woods opened the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines with a 67 on the South Course, prompting a caddie watching from behind the 18th green to declare, “He just won two tournaments with one round.”

Sure enough, Woods went on to an eight-shot victory that week, his fourth straight at Torrey Pines and sixth overall, not including a Junior World Championship title. And when the U.S. Open rolled around that summer, Woods won again, even on a shattered left knee.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods won twice at Pebble Beach in 2000. (Getty Images)
No one will make such a prediction this week at Pebble Beach, mainly because Woods isn’t here.

Nor should they even if he were.

His 15-shot victory in the 2000 U.S. Open remains the most dominant performance in major championship history. Woods became the first player to finish the toughest test in golf at double digits under par (12 under), and no one else managed to break par. That’s why this year’s rotation of the majors – Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews – looks so appealing.

But the mistake is putting more emphasis on the golf course than the golfer.

Jack Nicklaus is among those who are overstating how much of a personal playground Pebble Beach is for Woods. He was asked last month about Woods’ return from a sex scandal, and how it would affect his pursuit of Nicklaus’ 18 majors.

“This year with where the majors are … he basically owns all three places,” Nicklaus said. “If Tiger is going to pass my record, this is a big year for him in that regard.”

Most everyone agreed.

He has won half of his 14 majors at Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, just as Nicklaus won half of his 18 majors on those three courses.

Woods has been the favorite at the Masters since his record 12-shot victory in 1997 and the three green jackets he added over the next eight years – although it’s worth noting that Phil Mickelson has nearly the same record at Augusta National since the last of the significant course changes for the ’02 Masters.

St. Andrews? Woods might as well have his mail delivered to the home of golf. He has won twice on the Old Course by a combined 13 shots, and another victory would make him the only player to win the British Open three times at St. Andrews.

Pebble Beach deserves closer inspection.

It only appears that Woods owns America’s most famous seaside course because of one magical season 10 years ago.

When he won the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, despite trailing by seven shots with seven holes to play, it was his sixth consecutive PGA Tour victory. Then came a performance close to perfection. He played bogey-free over the final 26 holes and set U.S. Open records for largest margin after 36, 54 and 72 holes.

But what if that U.S. Open had been played at Winged Foot instead of Pebble Beach?

The way Woods was hitting the ball and making every putt in sight, he probably would have won by at least 10 shots, maybe more. Ditto if it had been held at Shinnecock Hills or Southern Hills, Olympia Fields or Olympic Club.

True, he also won at Pebble during the regular PGA Tour stop in February, just as Nicklaus won Pebble twice in one year in 1972. But that victory was made possible by a hole that got in the way of a good shot (Woods holed out for eagle on the 15th), and Matt Gogel shooting a 40 on the back nine as he tried for his first PGA Tour victory.

Woods had only one other top-10 at Pebble Beach, finishing in a tie for second behind Mark O’Meara in 1997. When he was still working on his first big swing change, Woods shot 40 on the back nine and barely made the cut in 1999.

Nicklaus’ relationship with Pebble was far stronger. He was a three-time winner of the PGA Tour event, won the 1972 U.S. Open with that majestic 1-iron off the pin at the 17th, finished runner-up in the 1982 U.S. Open to Tom Watson and his famous chip-in on the 17th, and won his second U.S. Amateur title in 1961 with an 8-and-6 victory.

To be considered a favorite for this U.S. Open, Woods first has to play.

His indefinite break after confessing to infidelity began Dec. 11, and there is no indication when he might return. Even if he does get back to golf, no one is certain how much the public ridicule will affect him.

Pebble Beach is among his favorite courses, but it does not belong – at least not yet – in the same “horses for courses” conversation as Torrey Pines and Firestone, where he has won seven times each and has never finished out of the top 10. It’s not even as good as Medinah, where Woods has twice won the PGA Championship.

Remember, Bethpage Black was supposed to right up his alley at the U.S. Open last year because of his three-shot victory in 2002. One tournament is hardly much history, however, and Woods tied for sixth last year when he couldn’t make a putt, his theme for ’09 majors.

Chalk up Pebble Beach as a coincidence.

For now.


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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.