Tiger's intangibles prove he is 'back'

By Jason SobelMarch 23, 2013, 11:31 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – I don’t consider myself a hateful person. But I despise the following question. Can’t stand it. Would rather five-putt from inside the leather than ever have to hear it and think about it and analyze it again.

“Is Tiger Woods back?”

Ugh. Gag me with a 1-iron.

After a third-round 6-under 66, Woods currently leads by two strokes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, searching for his 77th career PGA Tour victory and eighth at this event. So when it comes to queries about his game, collectively we can do better.

Look, I’m all for an intriguing 19th hole debate in which both parties can state their case and make a cogent point in hopes of convincing the other to change their mind. This question, though, doesn’t do any of that, because it isn’t clearly defined. What is “back” to one person may not be “back” for another. It’s like arguing over the color gray.

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Even Woods himself, when confronted with the question earlier this week, maintained, “I think that's based on opinion.”

Me? I'll continue beating the same drum I've been hacking away at for a while now. He has five PGA Tour wins since the beginning of last year. If he's not back, then nobody else is, either.

I get it, though. Whatever “back” means to you, it’s about turning the corner, gaining confidence, getting better. That may or may not be defined in victory totals alone. For those who don’t believe Woods' two wins already this season prove that he has reached that place yet, let’s debunk that myth even further.

Here are four other ways in which Woods is “back”:

He can win without playing his best golf

Don’t believe it? Just check the numbers. At Torrey Pines, he led by four entering the final round, shot 72 and won by four. At Doral, he again led by four, shot 71 and won by two.

Some may examine these stats and contend that Woods no longer has what it takes to press down the gas pedal on Sunday afternoon and pull away from the pack. The more correct way of looking at it is that he’s put himself into positions where he doesn’t need to dominate in the final round. It takes a learned skill to understand how to play a prevent defense and still win easily. He has mastered that skill.

And if Woods goes on to win this week, too, it will only mean he played better than the other 131 players in the field, not that he played his best golf. Though he is admittedly putting extremely well, Woods ranks 75th of the 77 players to make the cut in driving accuracy (52.5 percent) and 64th in ball striking. Following a third round that saw him turn a four-shot deficit into a two-shot advantage, he described his play as “solid” and “halfway decent.”

He can turn it around in a hurry

When Woods flailed and failed in tournaments over the past few years, it was often because one missed putt led to another, or one poor swing multiplied into many.

Perhaps he hasn’t completely corrected this fault, as Friday’s round of 70 ended with three consecutive bogeys, leaving him “hot for a very long time” afterward. Anyone who witnessed the third round, however, understands that his mojo can turn as quickly as ever.

Woods showed signs of getting a little loose on the par-4 13th hole, when he hit an iron tee shot into a left fairway bunker, then a wedge into a back greenside bunker, then chunked a pitch that was slightly plugged and made bogey. Two holes later, though, he rolled in a 17-foot birdie putt with a major-winning type of fist pump, then backed it up with an eagle on the next hole.

He is hardly the only elite golfer who can bounce back from bogey with a few perfectly played holes, but it’s still a strong sign that he’s turned a corner.

He is talking the talk

As someone who has sat through a few hundred Woods news conferences over the years, I’ve played enough Buzzword Bingo to know his go-to comments when things aren’t going his way.

Following the third round, there was no explaining, “It’s a process.” He didn’t contend that he “needs more reps” or is “working on my traj.” He didn’t even implore, “It is what it is.”

What should that tell us? Call ‘em excuses or just explanations, but Woods doesn’t need to offer them up anymore. Maybe his mind is in a better place, so he’s playing better golf. Maybe he’s playing better golf, so his mind is in a better place.

Whatever the case, players on top of their game don’t preach patience about working through the process. The fact that he isn’t anymore should speak volumes.

He is turning Saturday leads into Sunday coronations

Those wins I mentioned at Torrey Pines and Doral? Go ahead and say it. It’s OK. No one will think any worse of you.

Let’s face it. They were … boring.

As much as Woods enjoys holing a 20-footer for birdie on the final green to win by a single stroke, he’s turned winning in boring fashion into an art form. With three players – Rickie Fowler, John Huh and Justin Rose – trailing by a pair entering Sunday, he may need to post another strong number to clinch the title.

But if those players falter, if they wilt in the final-round sun, Woods will again understand that steady golf will give him another W. As he knows better than anyone, there’s no reason to fire at flagsticks when mistake-free golf means more hardware.

So… is he back?

Well, five wins in the past 52 weeks – and a sixth one possibly impending – should be enough to answer that. If you need something less tangible, though, all of the signs are there. Everything Woods is doing this week – heck, this entire year – shows that he’s reverting to his former form on the course.

Please, I’m begging you: Let’s stop asking that question. I hate it. Even more than five-putting from inside the leather.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”

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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.

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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.

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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).