Just like old times: Vintage Woods on display Monday

By Rex HoggardApril 6, 2015, 11:54 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Time stands still at Augusta National.

Each year, on cue, the azaleas bloom, the patrons gather and the hills pop with emerald green. And despite injuries, indifferent play and an inexplicable short-game swoon in recent years, the clock also appeared turned back for Tiger Woods on Monday, as he turned in the kind of round one would expect from the four-time Masters champion.

In a relaxed practice round, Woods played the outward loop in a loosely scored 3 under par, although counting up a score seemed to take a backseat to creating some momentum heading into his first event since withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open with a tight back in February.

It was vintage Tiger. A drive blown almost into the ninth fairway at the first followed by an approach shot to 3 feet for birdie. A deft chip (that’s right, deft chip) to a foot at the third for another. A wedge that spun to 3 feet at the seventh for birdie.

Even Woods’ playing partner, Mark O’Meara, was a familiar face from the past.

For a time, O’Meara and Woods were inseparable on the PGA Tour. But the two grew apart, O’Meara graduated to the Champions Tour, Woods into a tightly confined circle of confidants.

But on Monday it was like old times with Woods smiling, and giving his older friend plenty of grief, like at the fourth when O’Meara said he hit his Sunday best hybrid to 9 1/2 feet only to have Woods carve an iron 2 feet closer to the hole.

“Some things never change,” Woods smiled.

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The round, the conversation, the release appeared to be exactly what Woods needed. After weeks of speculation, the former world No. 1 announced last Friday he would return to golf this week. Early on Monday he texted O’Meara asking if he’d already played.

“I told him, if you want to play a couple of holes that’d be great,” O’Meara said.

The two embraced on the sprawling Augusta National practice range at about 3:30 p.m. ET. After an extended session in the short-game area (Woods hit 69 mostly solid chips) the two headed out into a warm afternoon.

The duo laughed and talked for more than two hours, mostly – according to O’Meara – reconnecting after a lengthy absence.

“He hasn’t had a normal 39 years,” O’Meara said. “To be a little off and struggle a little bit, sometimes in life it’s good to struggle.”

All told, Woods played 11 holes, circling down the 10th and then back up the 18th hole under darkening skies, and walked away from his first public display of golf in eight weeks surprisingly confident.

“It’s progression. I felt like I had to get my game into a spot where I could compete to win a golf tournament and it’s finally there,” Woods said.

O’Meara was even more confident following his nine holes with Woods: “He didn’t look too rusty and hit a lot of real quality shots out there,” he said.

Mostly, however, O’Meara said he wanted to see if he could help Woods find a way out of the short-game woes that led to a missed cut in his only complete start this season, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

“Confidence is a crazy thing in golf and it takes years and years and years to develop confidence,” O’Meara said. “Slowly but surely, confidence will come back.”

That Woods will begin his quest to shore up his confidence on one of the game’s most exacting golf courses, particularly around the greens, is an indication that he’s at least somewhat hopeful he is closer to that epiphany than when he was at Torrey Pines.

O’Meara and Woods plan to reunite again on Tuesday for another practice round in what will likely be Woods’ final tuneup before show time. Monday’s abbreviated round, particularly the company, seemed to give Woods a sense of calm during what promises to be an extremely intense week.

“I miss [O’Meara]. I miss him out here playing practice rounds,” Woods said. “You forget, I must have played probably a decade of practice rounds at every major with him. Now he’s 58, so he’s almost 60, so we joked about that.”

Whether all this nostalgia leads to a throwback Thursday for Woods remains to be seen, but on Monday at Augusta National it certainly felt like old times.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.