The Highs and Lows in Golf

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 16, 2007, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: In Front 9 and Back 9, our staff will showcase the highs and lows from the world of golf. We start with the Front 9, which offers up the top moments and stories from this previous week, and then make the turn for the lowlights.
Front 9 Hole 1
TWO THE HARD WAY: Boo Weekley is a PGA TOUR winner. Not that it came easily. Six weeks ago, he missed a 3-foot putt which would have won him The Honda Classic. He ended up falling in a playoff. Monday at the wind-delayed Verizon Heritage, he was 3-up with three holes to play, but bogeyed 16, chipped-in for par on 17, and chipped-in for par once again on 18. The two par saves gave him a one-stroke victory over Ernie Els.
Hole 2
TICKET TO AUGUSTA, PLEASE: Weekley's win was worth more than just a measure of redemption and a big, fat paycheck ($972,000 to be precise); it also got him a spot into next year's Masters field. With the announcement that all TOUR winners will once again be invited to compete at Augusta National, Weekley becomes the first player to reap the rewards of that decision. It will be his first Masters appearance.
Hole 3
WHO'S YOUR CADDY?: The Verizon Heritage marked the first week this year where the charitable foundation Caddy for a Cure was in action. The foundation, which was founded by Russ Holden (former caddy for Bernhard Langer) and benefits the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, lets the highest bidding golf fan caddy for a PGA TOUR player during a practice round. They have raised more than $75,000 in three years and have secured the services of big names such as Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Luke Donald for events in 2007.
Hole 4
ORDER THANK YOU CARDS: Starting the final round four shots behind Laura Davies and Lorena Ochoa, Brittany Lincicome survived extremely windy conditions to shoot an ever-par 72 to win her second LPGA Tour event. Only one person broke par on the day and Lincicome even bogeyed the last hole, but watched as her playing partners, Davies and Ochoa, each played their last six holes in 6 over par. The 21-year-old Lincicome picked up $390,000 for the victory.
Hole 5
SHOTS OF THE WEEK: Jerry Kelly hit a 'perfect' 4-iron at the par-3 fourth Saturday and watched as it hit the green, bounced and rolled into the cup for a hole-in-one. The shot garnered a high-five from playing partner Ernie Els and helped carry him to the 54-hole lead. Unfortunately, it did not lead to victory, nor was it even the shot of the week, or even the second best shot of the week. Runner-up in that category went to Aussie Nathan Green, who holed his approach at the par-5 second on Friday for a double-eagle 2, better known to golfers as the rarest of all birds - an albatross. And the winner is ... the aforementioned chip-in(s) for the win by Weekley.
Hole 6
WE'VE GOT DRAMA: Despite being hampered by the huge storm that affected areas all over the East Coast, both the LPGA Tour and PGA TOUR staged dramatic finishes in each of their events in Orlando and Hilton Head, respectively. At the Ginn Open, Ochoa and Lincicome came to the 18th tied for the lead, Davies one back, and a possibilty of a three-way playoff looming. It didn't pan out, but it was an exciting finish nonetheless. On Monday at the Heritage, in addition to Weekley's chipping display, Ernie Els nearly provided some fireworks. Standing in the fairway needing to jar his approach to force a playoff, Els hit a cut shot into the wind that nearly went into the hole for an eagle-2. Makes you wonder what will unfold next week?
Hole 7
THE BLACK KNIGHT: After playing in his record-tying 50th Masters two weeks ago, the World Golf Hall of Fame kicked-off a featured exhibition on Friday titled 'Gary Player: A Global Journey.' Among the many items in the display will be the all-black outfit he wore in his opening round of this year's Masters Tournament.
Hole 8
STILL NO. 1 ... FOR NOW: All in all, it wasn't the best week to be Annika Sorenstam -- what with the possibility of being sidelined for a month due to a back injury. But, while she didn't get to compete in the Ginn Open, she did get a consolation prize Sunday afternoon. Ochoa's collapse allowed Sorenstam to maintain her position atop the women's world golf rankings, if only for a few more weeks.
Hole 9
SEE ZACH WIN; SEE ZACH GO, GO, GO: A week ago Sunday, Zach Johnson held off Tiger Woods to win the Masters and don the green jacket. Monday, Zach chatted with Presidential candidate Barack Obama, met Halle Berry and made fun of himself on the 'Late Show with David Letterman.' Tuesday, Zach appeared on 'Live with Regis and Kelly,' and did a slew of other national media requests. Thursday, Zach teed it up in the Verizon Heritage where he was, for the first time, introduced as Masters champion. Despite the hectic week, Zach still managed to finish sixth. It's good to be Zach.
Back 9 Hole 10
NO SUBSTITUTE: Unlike Johnson, Morgan Pressel didn't perform very well in her first start since being crowned a major champion. The Kraft Nabisco winner had to play the Ginn Open with a new set of clubs, as the ones she used en route to the biggest win of her career were lost by an airline. Apparently, they will take a little getting used to; Pressel missed the cut by a stroke.
Hole 11
A FINE MESS: We've already mentioned Ochoa's and Davies' poor play down the stretch which cost them both a chance to win this past week. But, given what was at stake, it's worth another mention. Ochoa could have become the first player not named Annika to be ranked No. 1 in the world since the ranking's inception in February 2006. Instead, she made two double-bogeys and two bogeys over her final six holes -- and looked nothing like the best player in the world in the process. Meanwhile, Davies could have won for the first time on tour in six years and gotten within one point of automatic entry into the LPGA and World Golf halls of fame. Instead, leading by one with two holes to play, she finished double-bogey, triple-bogey.
Hole 12
NOT EXACTLY WHAT I HAD PLANNED: After being inspired by captaining the U.S. team to a win in the 2005 Solheim Cup, Nancy Lopez earmarked the Ginn Open as the place to begin her LPGA comeback in earnest. But who said comebacks can be easy? Thursday and Friday rounds of 83-80 placed her dead last in the field. It was the first time in her long and prosperous career that she has shot back-to-back rounds in the 80s in the same event.
Hole 13
SOUTHERN DIS-COMFORT: The PGA and LPGA tours both held events in southern states this past week. And thanks to the '20-Year Storm,' as some called it, both experienced weather problems on Sunday. The PGA TOUR's Verizon Heritage was suspended due to high winds which blew steadily from 25-35 mph and gusted up to 50 mph, and play was wrapped up Monday. The LPGA's Ginn Open had two weather delays totaling two hours and 40 minutes and wind gusts up to 40 mph. Thirty-five mph wind gusts also greeted the Nationwide Tour field on Sunday, which only made a very, very long course play that much more difficult.
Hole 14
CAN WE AT LEAST GET A CART?: This past week's event on the Nationwide Tour was held on the Davis Love III-designed Kinderlou Forest course -- a 7,781-yard layout, the longest ever to host a TOUR-sanctioned event. Unfortunately for the field, the course is in Valdosta, Ga., which isn't exactly at mile-high elevation.
Hole 15
COME CRASHING BACK DOWN: The aforementioned Kelly started Monday's play with a one-stroke lead and then promptly eagled the par-5 second. He then proceeded to make six bogeys and one double-bogey en route to a 6-over 77 He tied for eighth to remain winless on TOUR since 2002. Stephen Leaney also got off to a torrid start, going 6 under through six holes. He led at one point on the back nine, but bogeyed the par-5 15th and doubled the par-4 16th on his way to a solo third finish.
Hole 16
BUSINESS ... BUT PERSONAL: The rumors continue to swirl that Phil Mickelson will sack longtime friend and swing coach Rick Smith for Butch Harmon, Tiger Woods' former swing coach. A story in Golf World says that Mickelson is struggling with the decision because of his relationship with Smith. It also quotes Smith as saying: 'Butch probably wants to get back at Tiger and maybe he thinks he can do that through Phil.'
Hole 17
WAR OF THE ROSE: One week after contending for the Masters title, Justin Rose was forced to withdraw from the Verizon Heritage due to a reoccuring back injury. It's the same ailment which forced the Englishman to skip, among others, the WGC-CA Championship at Doral. Now a war of words is brewing. According to the Daily Mail, Rose's old swing coach, David Leadbetter, is claiming the changes his new coach, Nick Bradley, has implemented are causing harm to Rose's body. Bradley, a one-time Leadbetter apprentice, has dismissed the claim.
Hole 18
WELCOME BACK: Natalie Gulbis is becoming an all-too-frequent contributor to the Back 9. She started the weekend three off the lead, was four back after Saturday, and then started Sunday with five bogeys over her first nine holes. She dropped three more strokes on the back nine on her way to an 8-over 80. In the three tour events in which she has made the cut this year, her final-round scoring average is 76.7.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Verizon Heritage
  • Full Coverage - Ginn Open
  • More Headlines
  • Getty Images

    Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

    By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

    Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

    ''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

    Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

    Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

    ''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

    It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

    Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

    The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

    ''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

    PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

    Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

    ''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

    It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

    He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

    ''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

    Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

    Later, he laughed about the moment.

    ''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

    Getty Images

    Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

    Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

    Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

    The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

    “They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

    The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

    “Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

    “As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

    Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

    “Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

    McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

    “It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

    He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

    The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

    The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

    Getty Images

    Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

    It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

    Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

    He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

    It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

    And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

    Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

    The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

    “I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

    “I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

    The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

    But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

    The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

    So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

    “That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

    "I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

    To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

    They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

    A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

    “He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

    Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

    But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

    Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”