Woods maintains control amid windy conditions at Sherwood

By Jason SobelDecember 8, 2013, 1:55 am

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - If you're reading this from a winter wonderland like Denver or Duluth or even Dallas, if you're scrolling this page with a lone fingertip cut out of your fleece-lined mittens, if all you've had to eat today were the marshmallows floating in your hot cocoa, well, those probably aren't sympathy pains you're feeling for some of the world's best golfers right now.

I know, your heart isn’t exactly bleeding for the 18 players competing in this week’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. Even though they’ve already endured hour-long frost delays before each of the first two rounds and Saturday’s third round featured - hold onto your furry hat – gusting winds of more than 20 miles per hour.

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On the final hole, holding a two-stroke advantage, Tiger Woods stood over his ball in the fairway, cocked his club back and did one of those things that only he does. Just as he started his downswing, Woods recoiled, feeling another gust howling through the trees. After a few more minutes of guessing and gauging, he finally hit the ball. Ten minutes later he rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt to match that of Zach Johnson and retain the lead, and 10 minutes after that he was sitting in the tournament’s interview room, hands cradling a cup of coffee so hot it was still steaming.

Yes, my frozen friends, this was a day that required some heat, as the sun only thawed conditions to brisk temperatures in the mid-50s. Surely you can relate. Some locales are afflicted by two feet of snow and some are afflicted by a two-club wind, but hey, we’re all in this together, right?

After the round, in between sips of coffee, Woods was still so focused on the breezes that had baffled him all day that he uttered the word “wind” nine separate times during his news conference. It affected his drives; it affected his approach shots; it even affected his putting.

“The wind was all over the place,” he maintained, and those words were more description than hyperbole.

One day after posting a 10-under 62 that was so good it looked easy, Woods’ even-par 72 might sound sloppy by comparison, but not when we consider how Mother Nature turned Sherwood Country Club into an entirely different golf course.

OK, so it wasn’t hurricane-type conditions. It wasn’t even Carnoustie-type conditions. What is was, though, was unsettled and unsteady. There was no consistency to the wind. This was no toss-some-grass-and-take-an-extra-club wind. This was the kind of wind that if you didn’t like which way it was blowing, you just had to wait a few seconds and it would change direction.

“Well, it's just trying to get a bead on this wind because it literally is going all over the place. It gets in these canyons and it starts swirling all over the place,” Woods explained. “You miss the ball in the wrong spots here, you're making bogeys. It's very difficult to save pars. And with conditions like this, it's very difficult to make birdies. So you want to be conservative on some of the iron shots in there, but you look at, ‘Where am I going to go?’ Because the target areas are so small around this place.”

Two by two, the windblown players trudged off the course, shaken if not stirred. Only three of them – in a field consisting of nothing but top-30 players – broke 70 for the day. On the devilish par-3 15th hole, with the wind huffing and puffing, eight of them found the hazard and three of those eight found it again.

When it was all over, when the dust had figuratively settled and literally kept blowing through the air, Woods held the same two-stroke advantage he’d owned entering the day, leaving him with an opportunity to win his own tournament for a sixth and final time before it leaves for theoretically benign climates in Florida next year.

This is the time when it’s appropriate to remind you that his record when holding the outright 54-hole lead in PGA Tour events is a not-too-shabby 39-for-41. And while this one may not be considered official, he doesn’t plan on treating it any differently.

“If you get the lead it's totally different; they’ve got to come get you,” he said. “If Zach and I go out there or any of the top guys go out there and shoot the same score, I win. … I'd always much rather protect leads when the golf course is hard, because you know that pars - dump it in the fairway dump it on the green, make it par after par after par - will win the golf tournament.”

Here in the dead of winter, where it can be a little chilly and the wind blows a bit, Woods has already dealt with plenty of adversity. Certainly you can empathize, even if it’s in between shoveling mounds of snow away from your own frosty troubles.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.

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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.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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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?”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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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.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

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.”