Punch Shot: Best pro comeback last 20 years

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 4, 2013, 1:00 pm

Henrik Stenson returned from golf oblivion to the winner's circle with his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Is that the most impressive professional golf comeback in the last 20 years? The GolfChannel.com team weighs in with their choices.


By REX HOGGARD

Lee Westwood’s ascent from the abyss that had become his career in the early 2000s is rivaled only by the free fall that precipitated his unlikely and inspiring comeback.

On May 13, 2001, the Englishman had secured his spot squarely within the game’s world order at fourth in the world ranking. Two years later, on May 23, 2003, he’d bottomed out at 266th.

Whether it was a mechanics issue or merely a loss of confidence, Westwood failed to post a single top-10 finish on the European Tour in 2002 and ’03 wasn’t shaping up to be any better with missed cuts in six of his first nine starts.

In June 2003, however, he posted his first top-10 finish in a stroke-play event in nearly two years at the European Open and two months later he won the BMW International Open followed by another victory at the Dunhill Links Championship in October.

“I have goals all the time and getting back into the top 100 in the world rankings would be a short-term one. You never know what’s around the corner,” he said on the eve of his Dunhill victory in 2003.

Within a year, he’d climbed back into the top 50 in the world and in 2010 he peaked at No. 1 in the ranking.

Few, if any, in the modern game have endured such a plummet or such a spirited comeback.


By RANDALL MELL

Johnny Miller’s career was finished.

With knee, neck and elbow injuries slowing him while still in his prime in the '80s, it was the dreaded yips that ultimately derailed him. His putting woes became so debilitating after he won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 1987, he couldn’t really compete anymore. The yips trumped his still majestic ball striking. He was through.

Or, so golf thought.

Surprisingly, in ’94, seven years after what seemed sure to be his last PGA Tour title, five years after he announced he was retiring, Miller won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He wasn’t even a part-time player after stepping away from the Tour in ’89, playing one or two PGA Tour events a year in purely ceremonial fashion. He didn’t even practice that much anymore, but somehow, some way, Miller beat Tom Watson down the stretch to win his 25th and last PGA Tour title. Miller was 46, still battling a hellacious case of the yips, but he beat them and everyone else that week imagining he was a carefree teenager over putts.

That might be the greatest comeback over the last 20 years.


By RYAN LAVNER

Steve Stricker’s comeback was so impressive, he won the PGA Tour’s award for persistence – two years in a row.

It seems unfathomable now, of course, because the semi-retired and supremely steady Stricker can take a month off, finish second and then repeat the process. But there was a stretch in the mid-2000s when his game was in such disarray, he missed 38 of 69 cuts, lost his card, dropped to 337th in the world and failed to qualify for 11 of 12 majors. To emerge from that dark period he beat balls out of a three-sided trailer in Wisconsin.

By 2006, though, he was back to 34th on the money list. That brought the first Comeback Player of the Year award. A year later, he won it again after rising all the way to fourth in earnings, including a victory at The Barclays that snapped a six-year winless drought.

Since then, he’s enjoyed success well into his 40s, playing in seven consecutive team competitions (including this year’s Presidents Cup), pushing his career victory total to 12 and amassing nearly $40 million in earnings. The only missing piece, of course, is a major title. Considering a decade ago his career seemed irretrievably lost, it’s a fair trade-off. 


By JASON SOBEL

There are golf fans who only seriously started watching the game less than a decade ago and never realized that Lee Westwood hasn’t always been among the game’s best players.

He was, of course, for a while, climbing into the world’s top five early in his career. Ten years ago, though, his game had endured such a precipitous drop-off that he fell to 266th – miles from qualifying for majors and WGC events and other noteworthy tournaments.

It is a testament to Westwood’s work ethic and innate talent that in the years since he’s become the game’s greatest recent reclamation project. His second act has proven longer and better than his first.

From Justin Rose to Paul Casey to Henrik Stenson, there have been a number of players who have gone from riches to rags and back to riches again, but none has enjoyed as steep an incline as Westwood, who continues competing at a world-class level a decade after it appeared these days could have been over.


By MERCER BAGGS

Tiger Woods. Players have overcome poor mechanics and lack of confidence, but no one over the last 20 years, perhaps ever in this sport, has battled back from what Woods endured. Embarrassment, public humiliation, the destruction of a carefully crafted image, the demise of his marriage, fodder for tabloids and late-night TV shows. That's not to mention the injuries and the swing change.

A few years ago, we were wondering if Woods would ever win anything again. He dropped outside the OWGR top 50. He needed a captain's pick to make the U.S. Presidents Cup team. He's now a five-time champ in 2013, the clear-cut world No. 1 and a legitimate threat to claim more majors than anyone in golf history.

He's also put his personal life back together. And he's marketable again. It's the greatest professional comeback since Ben Hogan.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''


Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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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?'''

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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.