Expert picks: Zurich Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2012, 5:00 pm

This week the PGA Tour heads to the bayou as Bubba Watson returns to action to defend his title at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; RotoWorld.com's Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.


Win McMurry

Group 1: Luke Donald: Simple reasoning here. After he last lost the number one ranking at the Honda Classic, he came back and won in his next start at Transitions to reclaim the top spot. He surrendered the top ranking again last Monday to McIlroy, and in this, his next start, I see him taking it back.

Group 2: Cameron Tringale: I'm sticking with my pick this week after his T-8 in San Antonio, his second T-8 finish in a row. He has solid performance stats this year and tied for 18th at this event in 2011.

Group 3: Matt Every: I'm staying with Every this week as well. His runner-up finish was his best of the season and his fourth top-8 this year. He missed the cut here last year, but enters the week this year in a much better place.

Group 4: Kyle Reifers: Last time he played TPC Louisiana, in 2007, he set the course record with a 64. That record still stands as he returns with his Tour card in hand, hoping to secure it again for next season with a good week here.


Ryan Ballengee

Group 1: Jason Dufner: He's been in the top 10 the last three years in New Orleans, including a top-3 finish last year.

Group 2: Greg Chalmers: Cashed in five of his last six stroke-play starts. He has two consecutive top-8 finishes in this event.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: Still feels like a steal. Cauley was T-18 last week and in the top 20 in four of his last five starts.

Group 4: Jason Bohn: A past winner here, Bohn has cashed in his last three PGA Tour starts.


Erik Kuselias

Group 1: Luke Donald: I know he didn't play well at The Masters or the RBC Heritage but we all saw what happened when Rory McIlroy took the world No. 1 ranking in March - Luke won the Transitions Championship two weeks later. It's been two weeks and Donald comes to a place where he finished T-8 in 2011.

Group 2: Peter Hanson: Quietly putting up a very impressive season with a runner-up finish in Qatar, T-3 in The Masters, T-4 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and T-5 at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. He missed the cut here in 2011 but especially after he hosted Morning Drive with me, I am feeling good about this Swede.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: I know it seems like I say this every week, but I am very excited about this young man. He's made his last five cuts and makes his first appearance in New Orleans coming off of a T-18 finish in San Antonio, where he closed with a 68 on a very tough course.

Group 4: Cameron Beckman: Beckman is making his first New Orleans start in four years but this 3-time PGA Tour winner has been showing signs of strong play lately. Seems to have one great round every week, and if he can build on that round he is in line for a great finish.


Gary Williams

Group 1: Jason Dufner: Dufner is one of those guys who quietly turns in some great golf, and that is especially true in New Orleans. He has three straight top-10s at TPC Louisiana, including a third place finish in 2011.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Although he's never won here, Howell tends to play well in this city. He was runner-up in this event in 2005 and in 2009 and finished T-13 in 2011. He has only missed one cut in 11 starts in 2012 and has not finished outside the top 30 in the last two months.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: Cauley has been my guy among the rookies on Tour this year and he has shown everyone that he has the potential to win on Tour. As an Alabama kid, he would take extra pleasure winning in the state of rival LSU.

Group 4: Cameron Beckman: This guy has quietly won three times on the PGA Tour and in 2012 has shown signs of playing well. If he can maintain the momentum of a solid round (like his opening 68 in San Antonio), he will play well.


Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Luke Donald: Englishman finished tied for eighth last year and is motivated to retake the top spot in the World Golf Ranking with a solid finish this week.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: He's off to the best start of his career and always plays well in New Orleans, with two runner-up finishes and not a single missed cut in nine starts.

Group 3: Andres Romero: Wishful thinking pick here. Although the Argentine has struggled mightily this season, he's won at TPC Louisiana before (2008) and finished tied for eighth here last year.

Group 4: Greg Owen: On his way to victory last year, Bubba Watson led the field in GIR and driving distance, which is Owen's forte. If the Englishman has a halfway decent week with the putter, he could win by five.


Rob Bolton

Group 1: Graeme McDowell: So many choice options this week, but I keep going back to his return to consistency and statistical splits. Renewed focus is evident.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: About as close to a sure thing as it gets in fantasy golf. No wins at this event, but he's 9-for-9 and sits second in all-time event earnings. Five top-25s this year and only one missed cut in 11 starts.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: Changed his mind late to compete. The PGA Tour rookie has posted top-20s in his last eight starts this season, too. 

Group 4: Greg Owen: Plugging in the Brit for my last pick. Owen has finished in the top 20 here in his last two trips, and he's posted top-20 finishes in two of his last three starts this season, too.

 **Join Fantasy Expert Rob Bolton for a live golf chat Wednesday at 12:00p ET at www.rotoworld.com**


Tune in to Golf Channel this Thursday-Friday from 3-6PM ET for live coverage of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

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The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 1:11 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.

Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.

Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.

The narrative wondrously started to turn here.

It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.

It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.

He is just four shots off the lead.

“I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”

Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.

“He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”

Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?

“It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”

This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.

“I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”

Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.

When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.

“It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”

Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.

“I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.

Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.

It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.

“It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”

Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.

Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.

“He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”

Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.

Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.

“I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”

Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers.  He got a standing ovation.

“I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”

So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?

Woods seems in a hurry to find out.

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List, Lovemark lead; Tiger four back at Honda

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 12:41 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Even with a tee shot into the water for another double bogey, Tiger Woods could see the big picture in the Honda Classic.

He was four shots out of the lead going into the weekend.

Luke List delivered a round not many others found possible in such difficult conditions Friday, a 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Jamie Lovemark (69). They were at 3-under 137, the highest score to lead at the halfway point of the Honda Classic since it moved to PGA National in 2007.

So bunched were the scores that Woods was four shots out of the lead and four shots from last place among the 76 players who made the cut at 5-over 145. More importantly, he only had 13 players in front of him.

''This is a difficult golf course right now,'' Woods said. ''Making pars is a good thing. I've done that, and I'm right there with a chance.''

And he has plenty of company.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Tommy Fleetwood, who won the Race to Dubai on the European Tour last year, scratched out a 68 and was one shot out of the lead along with Webb Simpson (72), Russell Henley (70) and Rory Sabbatini (69).

Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger each shot 72 and were in a large group at 139. They were among only 10 players remaining under par.

Fleetwood laughed when asked the last time he was at 2 under after 36 holes and only one shot out of the lead.

''Maybe some junior event,'' he said. ''It's good, though. These are the toughest test in golf. Generally, one of the best players prevail at the end of weeks like this. Weeks like this challenge you to the ultimate level. Whether you shoot two 80s or you lead after two rounds, you can see what you need to do and see where your game is. Because this is as hard as it's ever going to get for you.''

The difficulty was primarily from the wind, which blew just as hard in the morning when List shot his 66 as it did in the afternoon. More aggravating to the players are the greens, which are old and bare, firm and crusty. It's a recipe for not making many putts.

Defending champion Rickie Fowler had six bogeys on his front nine and shot 77 to miss the cut.

''It's unfortunate that the greens have changed this much in a year,'' Fowler said. ''They typically get slick and quick on the weekend because they dry out, but at least there's some sort of surface. But like I said, everyone's playing the same greens.''

It looked as though List was playing a different course when he went out with a bogey-free 32 on the back nine, added a pair of birdies on the front nine and then dropped his only shot when he caught an awkward lie in the bunker on the par-3 seventh.

''It's very relentless,'' List said. ''There's not really too many easy holes, but if you hit fairways and go from there, you can make a few birdies out there.''

List and Lovemark, both Californians, have never won on the PGA Tour. This is the third time List has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead, most recently in South Korea at the CJ Cup, where he shot 76-72 on the weekend.

''It's kind of irrelevant because there's going to be 30 guys within a couple shots of the lead,'' List said. ''It's going to be that type of week.''

He was exaggerating – there were 11 players within three shots of the lead.

And there was another guy four shots behind.

Woods brought big energy to a Friday afternoon that already was hopping before he overcame a sluggish start and holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to make the turn at 1 under for his round, and leaving him two shots out of the lead. Everyone knew it just from listening to the roars.

Woods had his chances, twice missing birdie putts from inside 10 feet at Nos. 10 and 12, sandwiched around a 12-foot par save. His round appeared to come undone when he found the water on the 15th and made double bogey for the second straight day.

Then, he hit out of a fairway bunker, over the water and onto the green at the dangerous 16th hole and faced a 65-foot putt. He misread the speed and the line, so badly that it was similar to a car driving from Chicago to Denver and winding up in Phoenix. A bogey dropped him to 2 over.

The big moment was the 17th hole, 184 waters into the wind and over water. That's where Rory McIlroy made triple bogey earlier in the day that ruined his otherwise solid round of 72, leaving him seven behind. Making it even tougher for Woods is the Brandt Snedeker hit 5-iron before him to about 6 feet. Woods got to the tee and the wind died, meaning 5-iron was too much and 6-iron wouldn't clear the water.

He went with the 5-iron.

''I started that thing pretty far left and hit a pretty big cut in there because I had just too much stick,'' Wood said.

It landed 12 feet below the hole for a birdie putt.

Thomas made 17 pars and a double bogey when he three-putted from 6 feet on No. 16. He felt the same way as Woods.

''I'm in a good spot – really good spot – going into this week,'' Thomas said.

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Woods to play with Dufner (12:10 p.m.) in third round

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 12:10 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods will play alongside Jason Dufner in the third round of the Honda Classic.

Woods and Dufner, both at 1-over 141, four shots back, will tee off at 12:10 p.m. ET Saturday at PGA National. They’re in the 10th-to-last group.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Co-leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark will go at 1:40 p.m.

Some of the other late pairings include Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who will be playing together for the third consecutive day, at 1 p.m.; Louis Oosthuizen and Thomas Pieters (1:10 p.m.); and Webb Simpson and Russell Henley, in the penultimate group at 1:30 p.m.

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Woods doesn't mind 'fun' but brutal 17th hole

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods doesn’t mind the boisterous crowd that surrounds the par-3 17th hole at PGA National.

And why should he?

When the wind died down Friday afternoon, Woods played a “big ol’ cut” with a 5-iron that dropped 12 feet from the cup. He made the putt – one of just nine birdies on the day – and when he walked off the green, the fans gave him a standing ovation.

The scene is expected to be even more raucous Saturday at the Honda Classic, especially with Woods in contention.

There is a Goslings Bear Trap tent just to the right of the tee. The hole has become a hot topic in recent years, after a few players complained that the noise from the nearby crowd was distracting as they tried to play a wind-blown, 190-yard shot over water.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Woods was asked his thoughts on the party setup after finishing his second-round 71.

“As long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, we’re fine,” he said. “They can be raucous. They are having a great time. It’s fun. They are having a blast, and hopefully we can execute golf shots, but as long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, everything’s cool.”

After the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open, a few players told Woods that fans were trying to time their screams with the players’ downswings.

“There’s really no reason to do that,” Woods said. “I think that most of the people there at 17 are golfers, and they understand how hard a golf shot that is. So they are being respectful, but obviously libations are flowing.”

The 17th played as the most difficult hole on the course Friday, with a 3.74 scoring average and a combined score to par of 104 over. More than a quarter of the tee shots found the water.