Woods tries to get back in winner's circle at BMW

By Doug FergusonSeptember 11, 2013, 11:18 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Tiger Woods and Chicago used to be a great recipe for winning, or at least coming close.

He won two PGA Championships at Medinah. He won the Western Open three times and the BMW Championship twice, all at Cog Hill. Woods has finished out of the top 20 only one time in 15 tournaments in the Chicago area, including the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields.

But he has played the Windy City just twice since his last win (by eight shots) in 2009, and neither time was particularly memorable – a tie for 15th in 2010 that kept him from qualifying for the Tour Championship for the first time in his career, and an 0-3-1 record at Medinah last year in the Ryder Cup.

His next shot is at Conway Farms, a course Woods had never seen until the pro-am Wednesday at the BMW Championship.

''I normally don't work this hard in a pro-am, but I had to do a little bit of work because I wasn't out here yesterday,'' Woods said.

Conway Farms, a Tom Fazio design north of Chicago, becomes the third course in as many years to host the second-oldest golf tournament in America. At a time when 70 players are trying to qualify for the 30-man field at the Tour Championship, some introductions are in order.


BMW featured groups: Woods grouped with Stenson, Scott

Video: Tiger talks first start at Conway Farms

BMW Championship: Articles, videos and photos


Luke Donald is a member and knows the course better than anyone in the field. Zach Johnson is among the few who played Conway Farms when it hosted the NCAA Championship in 1997. Steve Stricker drove down from Wisconsin on Sunday to see the course for the first time. A Western Golf Association official said about half the field was practicing Monday, a large number compared with other events, especially this late in the season.

As for Woods?

He sent out his caddie, Joe LaCava, to scout the course ahead of him.

''It helps that Joey has been out here a couple days getting the lines, and we were discussing a lot of it today,'' Woods said.

Woods said it was different from Cog Hill and Medinah but a ''nice track.'' He mostly remembered how confined the layout is on the front nine, restricting gallery movement on a couple of holes. And the closing stretch of holes – a reachable par 4 with water down the entire left side, a strong par 4 at No. 16, a downhill par 3 framed by mounds, and a par 5 closing hole at 570 yards with water in front of the green.

Adding a wrinkle to a new course is that blistering hot conditions earlier in the week were supposed to yield to cooler temperatures – the low 50s in the morning – the rest of the week and a wind out of a different direction.

''That's where I have to rely on Joey a little bit, and we were discussing the weather forecast and how it's going to change a little bit, and discussing the different lines and different options,'' Woods said. ''As I said, we did a little bit of work today, more so than we normally do.''

Woods has won five times this year, bringing his PGA Tour career total to 79 as he closes in on Sam Snead's record of 82. Woods doesn't stray much from his schedule, and because he wins so often, he tends to win at the same courses. The last time he won on a golf course he had never played was at The Grove outside London for the 2006 American Express Championship.

The BMW Championship is the third FedEx Cup playoff event, and the hardest to get some separation. The field has been reduced to 70 players, so for the first time during golf's version of the postseason, there is no cut.

The goal is to get into the top 30 for the FedEx Cup finale at the Tour Championship, where everyone will have a shot at the $10 million prize, and they are guaranteed a spot in at least three of the major championships next year.

Better yet is getting into the top five in the FedEx Cup standings – those players only have to win at East Lake to capture the FedEx Cup.

Henrik Stenson, coming off a win at the Deutsche Bank Championship, is No. 1 by a small margin. Masters champion Adam Scott is right behind. The onus is on Rory McIlroy, who is No. 41 and figures a seventh-place finish is needed to get into the Tour Championship, a consolation prize for a season gone wrong. Donald, meanwhile, is No. 54 and faces a tougher task to avoid missing the Tour Championship for the first time in five years.

''I guess if there was ever a year to struggle, to coming into an event needing a big week, this is a good one to come to,'' Donald said.

Getty Images

Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

<
Getty Images

DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

Getty Images

Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”