Woods winning, looks to be back in happy place

By Doug FergusonMarch 26, 2013, 9:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Life must be going well for Tiger Woods when he can make headlines in the gossip pages for dating Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn and in the sports pages for winning Bay Hill and returning to No. 1 in the world.

All in the same week.

The studio photos of Woods and Vonn that were posted on their Facebook pages looked more suitable for a catalog showcasing their clothing sponsors. Far more natural were the poses Woods struck Monday afternoon with Arnold Palmer after winning his tournament - left arm draped around Palmer's shoulder, both unable to contain their laughter over whatever was said that could not be repeated.

''But it was funny,'' Woods said, breaking into a broad grin as he replayed the exchange in his mind. ''Really funny, actually.''

Yes, Woods appears to be in a happy place.

Winning does that, and Woods is starting to win with alarming frequency. In the one year and two weeks since he limped off the course at Doral with tightness in his left Achilles tendon - the same injury that forced him to miss two majors in 2011 - Woods has won six times in his last 20 starts on the PGA Tour. In his three wins this year, no one got closer than two shots at any point in the final round.


Punch Shot: How long will Tiger remain No. 1?


The limp has been replaced by a swagger.

''He looks a lot more comfortable out there. He doesn't really miss many shots. And if he does, it's not by a whole lot,'' said Rickie Fowler, who played with Woods in the final group and has seen plenty of him at practice at The Medalist in South Florida, where both are members.

''You know when another guy is playing well and he's on top of his game,'' Fowler added. ''He's got a little something.''

Haven't we heard this before?

Remember, Woods won Bay Hill a year ago and was declared the favorite to win a fifth green jacket at the Masters. Instead, he never broke par and wound up with his highest score as a pro at Augusta National and tied for 40th. He won the Memorial in his final event before the U.S. Open, and then shared the 36-hole lead at Olympic Club. He failed to finish in the top 20.

It's easy to get caught up in the hype because we know how good he was and believe he can be that good - if not better - again.

This latest win at Bay Hill, however, was different. It gave Woods consecutive wins for the first time since August 2009. Asked the last time he felt this good going into the Masters, he said, ''It's been a few years.''

''I think it shows that my game is consistent,'' Woods said. ''It's at a high level.''

Woods lost part of his mystique when he stopped making putts. Now he seems to make everything. Fowler learned that on the 12th hole Monday after making a 40-foot birdie putt to get within two shots of Woods, only to stand on the edge of the green and watch Woods match it with a 25-footer of his own.

The last time Woods won back-to-back tournaments heading into Augusta was in 2001, the year he won the Masters to compete his unprecedented sweep of the majors. Winning cannot be overstated, even for a guy who has won more than anyone in PGA Tour history except for Snead.

Woods walked into his winner's press conference with his cellphone in hand, scrolling down to read the messages, most of them from his staff. Rory McIlroy, whom he replaced at No. 1 in the world, sent him a text Tuesday morning.

Vonn shared her thoughts on Twitter: ''Number 1 !!!!!!!!!!!!!''

It wasn't long before Woods was asked the correlation between going public about dating Vonn and winning a tournament to go back to No. 1 for the first time since October 2010. There was a time when Woods answered questions about his personal life by saying, ''That's none of your business.'' But he had fun with this one.

''You're reading way too much into this,'' he said with a grin.

The trouble with Woods is that he has never been an open book. Only he knows how badly his leg was injured. Only he knows how far along he was in the latest swing change under Sean Foley. Only he knows how much life as a divorced father of two has affected his game.

The greatest temptation Woods faces now is to resist wagging his finger at anyone who doubted whether he could get back to No. 1 in the world, whether he could challenge Jack Nicklaus and his record 18 majors. Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since 2008.

The majors will be the ultimate measures. The Masters starts April 11, and if Woods isn't wearing a green jacket in Butler Cabin on Sunday night, it won't mean this was another false alarm. Golf is still hard. Woods only has a way of making it look easy.

Think back to one of the most dominant phases of his career. From August 1999 through March 2000, Woods won or finished second 10 times in 11 starts on the PGA Tour. The Masters was his next tournament, and it didn't look like there was any way he could lose. In the opening round, he three-putted for double bogey on No. 10 and three-putted from 12 feet for a triple bogey on No. 12. Woods shot 75 that day, never caught up and tied for fifth. That summer, he won the next three majors.

For Woods, it has always been about giving himself chances.

The Masters might be his best chance since 2009, when he coughed up a two-shot lead to Y.E. Yang on the last day of the PGA Championship. Everything fell apart soon after that – revelations of his extramarital affairs, losing his wife in a divorce, finding a new swing coach, coping with more injuries to his left leg.

Woods never liked the notion that this is a comeback. When he won the Chevron World Challenge at the end of 2011 – his first trophy of any kind in the two years since his car hit the fire hydrant and his personal life imploded – he cited the lyrics of LL Cool J: ''Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years.''

But that wasn't necessarily true. He wasn't No. 1 in the world. He wasn't even the best player in golf. That was McIlroy, who won the U.S. Open by a record score in 2011 and the PGA Championship by a record margin a year later. McIlroy was looked upon as the favorite at the Masters until Woods won his last two tournaments.

If it's McIlroy in a green jacket at Augusta National, the road back for Woods will look longer than ever.

At the moment, Woods has turned the corner and is picking up speed.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.