Punch Shot: Birthday gifts for Tiger Woods

Monday is Tiger Woods' 38th birthday. To celebrate, our writers are handing out the one gift they would give the 2013 PGA Tour Player of the Year as he prepares for the year ahead. 

By RANDALL MELL

How about a healthy year?

If we could give that gift, we would give it to Tiger Woods for his 38th birthday. We all know the physical challenges he has faced. We remember him shaking his left arm in pain after shots at Merion during the U.S. Open back in June. We remember him crumpling to the turf in back pain at Liberty National during The Barclays in August, and we remember his back giving him problems near the end of the Presidents Cup in September. As Woods nears 40, those aches and pains aren’t suddenly going to disappear. If he’s going to step up his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus, he’ll need healthy knees, a healthy neck, a healthy back, a healthy body.

If Woods is healthy, that history-making pursuit becomes intriguing for golf fans everywhere.


By REX HOGGARD

What do you get the man with 14 major championships? Fifteen major championships. Ba-da boom.

To celebrate Tiger Woods’ 38th birthday, however, perhaps a more esoteric answer is in order.

Depending on who you ask, maybe a more consistent putting stroke for the world No. 1 or better accuracy with his driver would be a suitable gift. But then he did win five PGA Tour titles in 2013 and his 11th Player of the Year award with what he’s got.

Following a colossally bad bounce on Friday at this year’s Masters, perhaps Woods just needs a little luck to end his recent 0-for-18 slide in the majors. But then you don’t play your way into the record books on the good graces of Lady Luck.

And, of course, Woods would welcome the gift of good health following an eventful few years on and off the disabled list. But he largely avoided the MRI machine in 2013 and, with the help of Sean Foley, seems to have honed a swing that is both efficient and sustainable.

No, for the man that appears to have everything the only gift that would resonate beyond his birthday is the desire to keep improving. It’s what drove him to 14 majors and will be the cornerstone for No. 15 and beyond.


By JASON SOBEL

What do you get for the man who has everything? Something he already owns - but still needs. 

That might sound like a riddle, but it's really not. On this Dec. 30, I'd sneak into Woods' garage, find that old Scotty Cameron putter that won him so many majors and slip it back into his golf bag. 

I've always bought into the notion of "it's the archer, not the arrow," and with five wins last year it's not as if Tiger can't roll the rock, but I'd like to see how he'd do when reunited with an old pal. 

Maybe that magic wand is out of magic and it's better left swapping stories of the past with those other old clubs in the garage. But anyone who watched Woods putt his way to so many major wins couldn't help but be intrigued by the possibility of seeing it come out of retirement for a little while. 

Hey, even the guy who has everything sometimes just needs a reminder of what he already has. 


By RYAN LAVNER

It’s not sold in stores, and it has proved elusive for dimpleheads everywhere this holiday season, but for his 38th birthday I’d buy Tiger Woods some weekend mojo at the majors.

Yes, he’s been competitive, with six top-6 finishes in majors since the 2010 Masters. But in golf’s biggest events, 20 of Woods’ last 24 weekend rounds have been even par or worse – a startling figure for a world No. 1 who has won eight times in the past two seasons.

For whatever reason, the major magic has disappeared, at least temporarily. Some days, he looks spooked on the greens. Other times, he plays too conservatively.

Stuck at 14 majors for the past 5 1/2 years, Woods could receive worse gifts than a little weekend mojo to go along with his birthday cake. 

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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.