Defending Difficult on PGA Tour

By Golf Channel NewsroomFebruary 15, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 Nissan OpenSix years ago, on the cusp of Tiger Woods historic streak at the Bay Hill Invitational, Tim Herron was the defending champion of the Orlando event.
He strolled into the press center as carefree as a man could be. He showed no outward signs of the pressure attached to trying to defend ones title. But in his mind, there was no reason to stress out.
I dont think theres a lot of pressure because I dont think a lot of guys successfully defend, Herron said at the time. It doesnt happen very often and I dont know why. So you really dont have real high expectations, which is good.
Herron didnt defend his title that year; Woods won. Woods won again the following year, and then again in 2002, and yet one more time in 2003.
Winning the same tournament on four consecutive occasions has happened only four times in the history of the PGA Tour. Its as much of an anomaly as there is on the circuit.
But even winning two-in-a-row is a laborious and infrequent achievement.
Over the last 20 years ' and counting only tournaments on the current PGA Tour schedule ' only 35 times has a player successfully defended his title.
That includes Woods three consecutive wins at the WGC-NEC (1999-2001) and at the Memorial (1999-2001), and his four-peat at Bay Hill (2000-03).

Woods is easily the leader in the Department of Defense. Of those 35 successful defenses, Woods has 11 of them to his credit. Phil Mickelson is next in line with three. Corey Pavin and Ernie Els have each done it twice in that parameter.
I dont know why its so hard to defend, said Jim Furyk, who won what is now called the Michelin Championship at Las Vegas back-to-back in 98 and 99. You come in with a lot of confidence because youve played well there before. You like the course because youve had success there. I guess it just proves how hard it is to win out here.
Mike Weir has done it. He kept hold of the Nissan Open trophy he won in 2003 by holding off Shigeki Maruyama a year ago. Now hes back for an opportunity to join Woods as the only men to have won an event three times in a row over the last 20 years.
Woods will get a chance to add to his list of accomplishments in this category the following week, when he vies for his third straight WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
David Toms will also have the opportunity to accomplish the three-peat in May at the FedEx St. Jude.
Els had a chance at the Sony, but finished one back of winner Vijay Singh.
While history is stacked against him, Weir should have some measure of confidence as he returns to Riviera Country Club. In addition to being the two-time defending champion, the tours second all-time winning left-hander won second place at last weeks AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am ' which was the only competitive race run in Mickelson's runaway victory.
'I feel much better about my game, you know, after this week compared to maybe after Phoenix,' Weir said following his final-round 67 in very difficult scoring conditions. 'This round definitely boosted my confidence level going into next week.'
History isnt weighted in Woods favor either, but he, too, should like his chances this week.
Woods won his first stroke-play event on tour in 15 months in his last outing at the Buick Invitational. That, however, was his third career win at Torrey Pines. Hes never won at Riviera ' or anywhere the Nissan Open has been contested.
Woods has played the Nissan ' seven times as a professional ' more than any other tour event without winning. He shot a 7-under 64 ' his lowest score ever in this tournament ' in the final round a year ago to tie for seventh.
Woods grew up in the greater Los Angeles area, and competed in his first tour event at Riviera in 1992. He missed the cut that year, and did the same in 93. Hes since never finished outside of the top 20, while posting a pair of runner-up finishes.
His best chance for victory came in 1998, when he lost to Billy Mayfair in a playoff at Valencia Country Club.
It's frustrating, yes, but it's also one of those things where you have to play good for all four days, and I haven't done that, Woods said after last years final round. In order to win at this track you have to put together four solid rounds of golf, and I haven't done that yet.
The numbers back up Tigers words. Since 1997, when Woods first played this event as a professional, Robert Allenby (2001) is the only winner to have posted a single round over par. During the stretch, Woods has had at least one over-par round in five of his seven starts. The only two exceptions came in 2001, when he had two rounds at even par and tied for 13th; and in 1999, when he shot all four rounds under par, but still came up two strokes shy of Ernie Els.
This is the 79th playing of the tournament that was, for most of its existence, known as the Los Angeles Open.
Its the 43rd time that Riviera has played host. The par-71 venue, which is dubbed Hogans Alley after three-time winner Ben Hogan, who also won the 1948 U.S. Open here, measures 7,246 yards.
There is a strong European contingent on hand. Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood are on hand; as is Paul Casey, who is making his first start since withdrawing from the Buick Invitational.
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    Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

    Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

    Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

    Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

    “It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

    What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

    Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

    “We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

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    The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

    Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

    Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

    “Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

    Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

    Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

    “I’ve got a chance,” he said.

    And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

    It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

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    DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

    By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

    DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

    DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

    “It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

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    DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

    “I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”

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    Woods fielding Masters practice-round requests

    By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 10:50 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Heading into what is likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Tiger Woods is starting to set up his schedule for the days leading into the season’s first major.

    Woods has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005, and in the wake of a runner-up at the Valspar Championship and a strong showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he’ll head down Magnolia Lane with more momentum than he’s had in years. As a result, it’s not surprising that he has received more than a few inquiries about a possible practice round at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week.

    “I’ve gotten a couple requests here and there,” Woods said with a grin after a third-round 69 at Bay Hill.

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    Woods has played the Masters only once since 2014, but don’t expect him to try out some unfamiliar pairings on Tuesday and Wednesday amid the azaleas. Woods still plans to rely on a rotation he’s had for several years, playing with former champs Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara. O’Meara, who received his green jacket from Woods in 1998, plans to make this year his final Masters start.

    “I traditionally have played with Freddie, if he can. We’re hoping he can come back and play again and play Augusta. I’ve played with Mark just about every single year,” Woods said. “It’s generally been those two guys, and those are the two guys I’ve grown up with out here on Tour. We sit next to each other actually at the champions’ dinner, and so we have known each other for a very long time.”

    While Woods is no stranger to fielding offers for tips and advice from younger players, especially on a course he knows as well as Augusta National, one top-ranked name continues to stick out among the requests he’s received in recent weeks.

    “Just the normal JT (Justin Thomas),” Woods said. “He’s always trying to get some practice rounds in.”

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    Stenson one clear of loaded leaderboard at Bay Hill

    By Nick MentaMarch 17, 2018, 10:10 pm

    Four of the top 15 players in the world and two men with stellar amateur resumes will do battle Sunday to win Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how things look through 54 holes at Bay Hill, where Tiger Woods sits five back at 7 under par.

    Leaderboard: Henrik Stenson (-12), Bryson DeChambeau (-11), Rory McIlroy (-10), Justin Rose (-9), Ryan Moore (-9), Charley Hoffman (-8), Rickie Fowler (-8), Talor Gooch (-8), Ben An (-8)

    What it means:  For the second straight day, Stenson (71) will go off in the final pairing with DeChambeau (72), after both players failed to separate themselves from the field in Round 3, shooting a combined 1 under. Stenson really should have a win at Bay Hill by now. He finished in the top-10 four years in a row from 2013-2016, with three top-5s. The closest he came to victory was in 2015, when he lost to Matt Every by one shot after being put on the clock and three-putting the 15th and 16th greens. If he’s finally going to close the deal Sunday, the world No. 15 will need to hold off challenges from three of the top 13 players in the OWGR – No. 5 Rose, No. 7 Fowler and No. 13 McIlroy – and two men who won both the NCAA individual championship and the U.S. Amateur – DeChambeau and Moore.

    Round of the day: John Huh and Austin Cook both made the 1-over cut on the number and shot 66 Saturday to move into a tie for 18th at 5 under.

    Best of the rest: McIlroy, Rose and Jason Day (-5) all signed for 67. McIlroy remains in search of his first worldwide win since he walked away from East Lake with the Tour Championship and the FedExCup in 2016.

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    Biggest disappointment: Fowler was 11 under for the week but dropped three shots in his last two holes. He failed to get up and down from the front bunker at 17 and then had his ball almost fully bury in the lip of a greenside trap at 18. With only a small portion of the ball visible, Fowler took two to get out of the sand and two-putted his way to a double-bogey 6, dropping him to 2 under for the day and 8 under for the championship.

    Shot of the day: Woods’ 210-yard 5-iron from the fairway bunker at the par-5 16th:

    Quote of the day: "I'm going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow, and probably get a little bit of help. But my responsibility is to go out there and shoot a low one first." – Woods