Punch Shot: How will Woods fare at the Masters?

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 8, 2015, 3:30 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods is making his first competitive start since February at the Masters. He's also a four-time winner at Augusta National. How will he fare this week? The on-site team offers up their thoughts:

By REX HOGGARD

There will be no green jacket waiting on Sunday afternoon, no fifth Masters title, no 15th major championship for Tiger Woods, but that doesn’t mean it will be a lost week.

Regardless of how he played on Monday and Tuesday –surprisingly well, actually – the field this week at Augusta National is simply too deep.

He may be able to beat the odd Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson, but he can’t outplay all of them, not with the game that’s been on public display lately.

That’s not to say Woods will serve a ceremonial role this week. In 2010, after a five-month hiatus from the game, he tied for fourth at Augusta National, and in 19 starts at the year’s first major he’s missed the cut just once.

If he stays healthy, and that’s a big “if,” he will play 72 holes. He may even find himself somewhere on the leaderboard late on Sunday afternoon, but it’s hard to imagine the guy who couldn’t break 80 on Friday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open can conjure enough Masters magic to add to his green jacket collection.

He is Tiger Woods, however, and that means things are always interesting.


By RANDALL MELL

Tiger Woods looks better in his practice at Augusta National, on the course and on the range, than he did at the Hero World Challenge, the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Farmers Insurance Open.

Hearing Woods talk about the commitment he made to improve, all the hard work he put into fixing his chipping problems, leads you to believe he won’t endure the depth of struggle to get the ball in the hole that he did in his last three starts.

Still, you can’t help wondering how recently the fix kicked in, given he skipped the Arnold Palmer Invitational three weeks ago. And you can’t help wondering how rusty he would be with all the time away from competition, even if he didn’t have the chipping issues. The nerves will be challenged Thursday a lot more than they were in practice rounds. Woods may be better, but it’s hard to fathom he’ll leap into contention with his fixes. Better may not even translate into making the cut. In fact, given the magnitude of his struggle and his time away, it will feel like a bonus if he simply gets to play the weekend of a PGA Tour event for the first time in nine months.


By JAY COFFIN

After Monday’s practice round I thought Tiger Woods could finish inside the top 25. After Tuesday’s practice round I thought he would miss the cut. Truth is, Woods only played 20 holes combined on those days and those performances won’t amount to a hill of beans once the first round starts.

That’s what makes this week so utterly fascinating – we have no clue what’s going to happen. But this is Tiger Woods, and this is the Masters, a place where he’s never missed the cut as a professional. Deep down my gut tells me he finds a way to hit enough good shots to play two more rounds on the weekend.

It seems silly to be excited about the prospect of Woods making the cut, or to think it’s an acceptable goal, but it’d be huge progress from where he was two months ago. Simply qualifying for the weekend wouldn’t make Woods happy one bit, but it would show the world that he did what he said he’d do, return only when he was tournament ready.


By JOE POSNANSKI

So, here’s the thing about Tiger Woods: I’m hoping he contends. I’m praying he contends. As a sportswriter and a fan of the sport, nothing would thrill me more than a rejuvenated Woods hitting breathtaking shots again and making Sunday at Augusta magical.

But … I can’t see it happening. In truth, I’d be surprised if Woods was even in the state of Georgia on Sunday. Yes, I know he looked good in a practice round. Yes, he seemed confident and revived in his news conference. Trouble is, professional golf – especially Masters golf – is still about putting a little white ball in a little hole under extreme duress.  You get no credit for history, no points for confidence, no referee looking the other way because you’re a legend who happened to travel.

Woods didn’t win four Masters because of his extraordinary mental toughness. He won four Masters because of his extraordinary mental toughness AND the fact that he hit the ball longer, higher and straighter than everyone else, and his touch was unmatched, and he never missed a putt that mattered. That Tiger Woods, I fear, is gone. He might reemerge for a day or two, here and there, he might pop up some week in Charlotte or Orlando. But the guy just spent two months trying to make his game good enough to be seen in public. I hope I’m the entirely wrong. But he’s not contending at the Masters.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."