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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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”



Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.



Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream


Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.


Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.


Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.


Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.


Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.


Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)