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Punch Shot: Whens, wheres and whats for Tiger

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2017, 2:00 pm

Tiger Woods’ agent says the 14-time major winner is cleared to practice “with no restrictions.” senior writers Ryan Lavner and Rex Hoggard discuss what this news could mean for Tiger's future.

Lavner: Well, Rex, three weeks ago Tiger told us that he didn't know what the future held for him. Now we do: He has been cleared for full golf activity. What's your biggest takeaway from this week's news?

Hoggard: He's a quick healer. At least if I remember his tone at the Presidents Cup, which hovered between cautiously optimistic and wistful.

Lavner: This all seems a bit quick, though, no? He went from being able to only hit 60-yard wedge shots to pumping driver at Medalist, knowing full well that golf swing is going to get scrutinized by every armchair swing coach on the planet. That suggests he’s further along than he suggested.

Hoggard: That's probably a safe bet – an under-promise, over-deliver deal – but speaking with his manager last night he stressed that Tiger continues to take this most recent comeback slowly and will proceed with caution. All of which seems to mean we won't be seeing him teeing it up in December at his Hero World Challenge.

Lavner: Right, Steinberg's comment on Monday night: "[Tiger] has told me he’s going to take it very, very slowly.” This time, can we actually believe him? Tiger said the same thing at the start of the year, then clearly wasn't right at Torrey and hopped on a long flight to Dubai, where he promptly WD'd.

Hoggard: Yes? No? I don't know. One would think after going through this so many times he'd be inclined to err on the side of caution, but I've seen this show before and know how it turns out. It seems clear he should be ready to compete again by the beginning of next year, the key will be what his schedule looks like.

Lavner: And please, Tiger: Stop trying to return at Torrey! Yes, it's one of your old playgrounds, but it's always chilly in the morning and the South Course ranks annually as one of the most difficult on Tour. Perhaps I'm in the minority, thinking he doesn't need to play a full regular-season slate anymore in order to prepare for the majors, but Phoenix seems like a more safe starting point.

Hoggard: I don't think he ever played a "full" regular-season schedule, but I see where some would think less is more at this point. Phoenix is a solid option, as is the CareerBuilder Challenge. Nothing like Golf in a Dome to build confidence. It will be interesting to see if he ventures to the Middle East again. Nothing good will come from that.

Lavner: Except money, lots and lots of money.

Hoggard: No doubt, but I'm not sure there are enough zeros on those checks to justify jeopardizing another comeback. How many more of these does he have in the tank? Listening to him at the Presidents Cup, I would say not many.

Lavner: None of us are swing gurus, of course, but it was striking that Hank Haney, one of Woods' former coaches, replied to Tiger's swing video with "that's a swing he could win with." To me, that seems like a gross oversimplification. This isn't 2013: Today's Tour is insanely strong and deep, and Tiger had already begun to show issues with his mental and short game. In other words, a swing that won't wrench his back is only part of the problem.

Hoggard: That may be Haney being a tad overly optimistic. There is no scenario where he comes back and dominates like he once did, he simply doesn't have the firepower to compete against this generation. That said, Davis Love III won on Tour at 51 years old following a similar fusion surgery (beating Tiger, no less). If – and it’s a big if – he can stay healthy I do think he can win again.

Lavner: Forget winning again. Merely being a regular contender would be a Herculean feat, considering what he has been through.

Hoggard: So this is where our roads diverge? OK, I agree it's a long shot, but put him on the right golf course with a swing that's not going to send him back to the DL he can win again. You can't hide talent.

Lavner: Let's wrap this up with some rapid-fire questions. Where does Tiger come back?

Hoggard: Torrey Pines.

Lavner: I'll say Augusta.

Lavner: How many events does he play in 2018?

Hoggard: 12.

Lavner: I'll take half that – 6 – and call it a successful year.

Hoggard: How many majors does he play?

Lavner: Think he plays all of them, plus The Players and his event.

Hoggard: Three (he hasn't played all four majors in a year since 2013).

Hoggard: Best chance to win?

Lavner: Um ... I guess the Masters? His T-17 in 2015 while battling the chipping yips showed there's still some magic in there. I imagine Jordan Spieth will have other ideas, however.

Hoggard: Agree. Can he stay healthy for an entire year?

Lavner: As healthy as a (then-)42-year-old with a million surgeries can be – assuming he doesn't make any scheduling miscues, like rushing his return or a Dubai trip or too many back-to-back starts. Those are the types of avoidable mistakes that can derail his progress, perhaps for good.

Hoggard: Relative, indeed. If he's still upright and swinging the club in September it will have been a successful season, regardless of results.

Lavner: That should do it. I win, again.

Hoggard: This is a weird game. Pleasure. 

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Tiger can't commit, goes OB on 16: 'That’s on me'

By Will GrayMarch 18, 2018, 11:05 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Standing on the 16th tee with the leaders in sight and the roars of the crowd still ringing in his ears, Tiger Woods contemplated three different options for his most critical tee shot of the week.

He couldn’t decide on any of them, and as a result deposited his chances of winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational into a backyard adjacent to the fairway.

Woods was only one shot back through 15 holes, but with the leaders well behind him on the course he knew he needed at least a birdie on the par-5 16th to keep pace. Instead, he pulled his tee shot left and out of bounds, leading to an untimely and costly bogey on the easiest hole on the course.

“I was caught,” Woods said. “I couldn’t decide what I was going to do.”

In Woods’ mind, he had three options: “fit” a driver left to right with the shape of the fairway, “bomb it over the top” of the dogleg or just hit a 3-wood “straight away.” He opted for the driver, but after missing right the first three days he sent his ball sailing left.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I bailed out and hit a bad shot,” Woods said. “And that’s on me for not committing.”

Woods went on to bogey the next hole, but after a par save on No. 18 he finished the week in a tie for fifth at 10 under for his third straight top-12 finish. Given the sizzling close of Rory McIlroy, an eagle on 16 likely would have still left him looking up at the Ulsterman on the leaderboard.

“Even though I got up there, I just knew I needed to keep making birdies,” Woods said. “Those guys had so many holes behind me, where I just birdied the same holes and so if they made birdie on those holes, I would have to keep going. I got to 16, I figure I’ve got to play the last three holes in 3 under to have a chance and probably force a playoff. And maybe that wouldn’t have been good enough the way Rory is playing back there.”

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McIlroy (64) storms to Arnold Palmer victory

By Nick MentaMarch 18, 2018, 10:48 pm

Rory McIlroy fired a bogey-free, final-round 64, birdied the 72nd hole in Tiger-esque fashion and stormed to a three-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how Rory ended his winless drought, and how the aforementioned Woods made a Sunday charge before collapsing late:

Leaderboard: McIlroy (-18), Bryson DeChambeau (-15), Justin Rose (-14), Henrik Stenson (-13), Woods (-10), Ryan Moore (-10)

What it means: This is McIlroy’s 14th PGA Tour victory and his first worldwide win since Sept. 25th, 2016. That was the day he walked away from East Lake with both the Tour Championship and the FedExCup. It was also the day Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87. With the win, McIlroy reasserts himself as a force following a winless 2017 in which he was plagued by a nagging rib injury. The four-time major winner will make one more start at next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and then make his way to Augusta National, where he looks to complete the career Grand Slam.

Round of the day: Two back to start the final round, McIlroy made his eight birdies in bunches. He circled three of his last four holes on the front nine – Nos. 6, 7 and 9 – to make the turn in 3-under 33 and work his way into the mix. Following three pars at 10-12, he caught fire, ripping off five birdies in his final six holes. He took the outright lead at 14, chipped in at 15, and sealed the deal at 18.

Best of the rest: DeChambeau made McIlroy earn it, cutting the lead to just one when he eagled the 16th hole as McIlroy was walking to the final tee. A par at 17 and a bogey at 18 netted him 68 and solo second.

Big disappointment: This is Stenson’s fourth top-five finish at this event in the last six years. The overnight leader by one, he went 71-71 over the weekend and bogeyed 18 to finish fourth.

Biggest disappointment: Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 and a tie for fifth.The eight-time API winner was minus-5 on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par.

Shot of the day: McIlroy’s birdie putt at 18.

Remind you of anything?

Quote of the day: "It means a lot. You know, the last time I won a PGA Tour event was the day Mr. Palmer passed away, so it's a little bit ironic that I come here and win. He set a great example for all of us players to try and follow in his footsteps. If everyone on Tour could handle themselves the way Arnie did, the game of golf would be in a better place. ... To be able to win his event, I wish I walked up that hill and got a handshake from him but I'm so happy to my name on that trophy." - McIlroy

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TT postscript: Masters hype builds after final-round charge

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 10:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Here are some thoughts from walking one last loop alongside Tiger Woods on another steamy afternoon at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

• What might have been. Woods transformed Bay Hill into an absolutely electric atmosphere when he started the back nine with three birdies in four holes to get within a shot of the lead. Dressed in his traditional red and black, it was a second straight Sunday where we were treated to watching him try to catch the leaders down the stretch.

• But the momentum he had built up disappeared with a single tee shot, as Woods pulled his drive on the par-5 16th out of bounds and into someone’s backyard. His chances for a ninth tournament title were effectively ended with one errant swing, as he bogeyed the easiest hole on the course and then bogeyed the next for good measure.

• While the closing stretch was disappointing, it was still another remarkable week for Woods considering where his game stood a month ago. His 3-under 69 in the final round lifted him to 10 under for the week, and he ended up in a tie for fifth. He’s now on the cusp of the top 100 in the world rankings, and he’ll head to the Masters on the heels of three straight top-12 finishes for the first time since 2008.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

• It didn’t take long after his final putt dropped for Augusta National to become a topic of conversation. Woods has played only once since 2014, and he plans to make a return trip before the season’s first major to re-acclimate himself with the course and make sure his yardage book “is still good.”

• Taking the long view on things, Woods was all smiles about his comeback that remains a work in progress. “If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments,” Woods said, “I would have taken that in a heartbeat.”

After going T-2 and T-5 in this latest fortnight, Woods will now have two weeks off before he tees it up for a chance to win his fourth green jacket, his first major since 2008 and his first tournament anywhere since 2013. Can. Not. Wait.

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Highlights: Tiger (69) makes charge, collapses

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

Tiger Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The eight-time API winner was 5 under on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par, in a tie for fifth.

"I didn't commit to it," Woods said of his drive at 16, where he attempted to fly his ball over the fairway bunkers, rather than hitting a cut or laying back. "And that's on me for not committing."

Starting five off the lead, Tiger got rolling with with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which he walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at the par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

His momentum was slowed by his first bogey of the day at No. 9, the product of an errant drive and its ensuing complications. As a result, Woods made the turn 2 under on his round, 9 under for the week, and still five off the lead, like when he started the day.

But Woods wouldn't wait long to make up for his mistake, immediately responding with another flagged iron and birdie at No. 10.

He continued his assault on Bay Hill's par-5s at the 12th, getting up and down from the sand for a birdie-4 that moved him to 11 under par, just two off the lead.

This roll at 13 giving him his third birdie in four holes, and the charge was officially on, as Woods was suddenly just a shot back.

Just when it looked like Woods was primed for a late run at his 80th PGA Tour victory, Woods stepped to the tee at the par-5 16th, where he had missed wide right three days in a row, and ripped his drive out of bounds into a backyard miles left.

He made 4 on his second ball for a bogey-6 and dropped another shot at the par-3 17th, ending his chances.