Woods up to old tricks at familiar stomping ground

By Jason SobelAugust 1, 2013, 7:42 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Forget about Inbee Park. Tiger Woods is the one going after a “slam” this week.

Granted, it’s not the slam he most covets. And sure, the term Tiger Slam already has a different connotation. But Woods is trying to complete a quartet of trophies that have had his name etched into them more often than not over the years.

Three of the four tournaments he’s won this season – at the Farmers Insurance Open, WGC-Cadillac Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational – have accounted for 22 of his 78 career PGA Tour titles. Now he’s trying to claim the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational for an eighth time. If it happens, that would mean those four tournaments will have comprised 38 percent of his lifetime total.

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Woods is beyond being a horse for these courses. He’s officially a thoroughbred.

And he’s already off to a strong start this week, producing a ball-striking clinic in an opening-round 4-under 66 here at Firestone Country Club that included a personal-best 16 of 18 greens in regulation on this course, including an inward nine where he didn’t miss a single one.

“I've played terrible coming in here and I've played really well coming in. And for some reason this golf course, I just see it. It's just one of those venues,” he explained. “Luckily over the years I've taken advantage of it. I have played well and I've scored well, and I've won my share of tournaments here.”

Woods’ opening round can best be summarized thusly: When he hit it close, he would make birdie and when he didn’t, he wouldn’t. That may not qualify as expertise analysis, but there were few surprises on this day. No dramatic 50-footers that found the bottom of the cup to raucous applause. No 3-foot gimmes that inexplicably burned the edge.

On the heels of a third consecutive major championship two weeks ago where he criticized himself for failing to adjust to green speeds, Woods continued to have ’em figured out here. He carded six birdies, though none from farther than 8 feet.

His play recalls an old Ben Hogan quote: “If you want to improve your putting, hit the ball closer to the hole.”

On this day, every time he hit an approach shot close, he made the putt. And while many of his 20- and 25-foot birdie attempts slid agonizingly past the hole, none of them dropped in.

“I feel very good about what I'm doing with basically my whole swing,” said Woods, who also hit 10 of 14 fairways, including five of eight when using his driver. “I hit a lot of good shots. I had a really good feel for the distance today.”

Of course, as is often the case with Tiger, even a low round comes shrouded in questions. Why couldn’t he do this on the weekend at Muirfield two weeks ago? Will he be able to do this next week at Oak Hill? We’ve seen this success on courses like Firestone over and over, but it’s been more than five years since he’s put together a winning weekend at a major.

There’s little doubt Woods would like to bottle his Thursday performance and carry it with him to Rochester, N.Y., for next week’s PGA Championship. In fact, in a cruel bit of irony, his play in the opening round was the exact type of play that wins majors. He largely stayed out of trouble and took advantage of birdie opportunities when they were available rather than trying to force the issue.

It is a blueprint that wins majors, but as he knows all too well, it also wins WGC-Bridgestone Invitationals, not to mention Farmers Insurance Opens, WGC-Cadillac Championships and Arnold Palmer Invitationals, too.

“It’s hard to explain, but I just feel comfortable seeing the shots here,” he said. “Still have to execute, obviously, and over the course of my career here, I've done all right at doing that.”

A continent away, on a course where Woods has claimed two major titles, Park is trying to win a fourth in a row as the world debates whether it would be a true Grand Slam or not.

Meanwhile, Woods may be in the process of clinching a “slam” of his own, seeking a fourth in a row in a foursome of tournaments where he always seems to dominate.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.