It All Began in Las Vegas
The year was 1996, and Woods was six weeks removed from winning at the pinnacle of his amateur career ' the third win, as a matter of fact, at the U.S. Amateur. That happened at the end of August. Then he turned professional and finished in a tie for 60th at Milwaukee. The next week he was at the Bell Canadian, where he leaped up to tie for 11th. Then it was on to the Quad City, where he held 36-hole and 54-hole leads before finally succumbing to Ed Fiori and a tie for fifth place. Next up was the B.C. Open, his fourth tournament in as many weeks, and Woods was almost there, tying for third.
Las Vegas, then, was the place. He took a week off to rest, even though he received a world of criticism for skipping the Buick Challenge ' and therefore missed the Fred Haskins Award ceremonies for being the top college player. But rejuvenated by that one week of rest, Woods came to Las Vegas refreshed and ready, playing for the first time against the tours A-Team as a pro. Six of the tours top-10 money-winners were on hand, including names like Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and Davis Love III.
Tiger made an adjustment before the tournament began, noting that he was 134th in putting on the tour. He practiced with a Scotty Cameron putter the Tuesday before the tournament, and it worked wonders for his confidence. He put it in his bag before the tournament began, and it continued to get the ball in the hole for the entire week.
He started play at the Las Vegas Hilton course, considered the easiest of the tournament courses, and could do better than a 70. That placed him well back in the field, eight shots behind Keith Fergus. After that, though, there was no catching him.
Tiger leaped into contention with a 63 Thursday, normally when a tournament starts but the second day of the five-round Las Vegas Invitational. His 63 included 12 straight threes. But Rick Fehr had tied an all-time PGA Tour record by shooting 64 in the opening round and 62 in the second, and he was the leader going into the third round Friday.
Woods crept up the ladder a little more with a third-round 68, then followed with another solid round, a 67, on Saturday. So beginning Sunday he was at 268, but still four shots out of the lead and with six players standing between him and leader Ronnie Black.
Tiger opened fast in the fifth and final round. A wedge to 15 feet and a bullseye putt meant a birdie at hole No. 1. But something was obviously wrong ' Woods was fighting a groin injury and it didnt look like a title was in his immediate future on this day.
Tiger was en route to shooting a 64, though, and nothing like a little groin injury was going to stop him this day. He already had the lead midway through the back nine, and it was just a case of continuing steady play as first one player and then another fired and fell back. Black. Kelly Gibson. Dave Stockton, Jr. Mark Calcavecchia. All tried their best to close the gap, and none could do it ' save one. Love.
Love scrambled back with a birdie on 16 and after 90 holes, they were all tied. It was to be a playoff between the 20-year-old youngster who had played exactly five tour events, and a 32-year-old 11-year veteran who had already won 10 times.
Woods went with a 3-wood in the playoff at the par-4 18th and hit it just short of Loves driver. Tiger then lofted a 9-iron to 18 feet of the flag, but Love pulled his 8-iron approach into the back bunker.
Love blasted from the bunker to six feet. Tiger putted it close and made his par, then settled down with the whole world to watch Love. Davis par try slid by the hole, and just like that, Tiger had the first win of his victory-filled career.
He is obviously the next great player, Love said after it was over. We are going to try to beat him just like were trying to beat Phil Mickelson. I think everybody better watch out. Hes going to be a force.
Before he started his unlikely run ' he also won in his next tournament, Disney ' Justin Leonard made a comment that was definitely untrue. Itll be very difficult for Tiger to make $150,000 (before the end of the 96 season), said Leonard. Thats a lot of pressure riding on a 20-year-olds shoulders.
Untrue. Tiger did manage $150 thousand. In fact, he managed $790,594.
Oh gawd, said Peter Jacobsen. If this is how he is every week, then its over. Hes the greatest player in the history of the game.
And that was true, spoken when Tiger was still a 20-year-old.
Yes its true, as Tiger is now 26 and the owner of those 34 titles plus seven others from around the world. But it had to start somewhere, and it all began in Las Vegas.
Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational
Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.
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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course
ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.
McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.
“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”
This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.
A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.
McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.
“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”
As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.
“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”
Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders
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.”
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.
Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead
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.
“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.”