Dramatic finish draws Tiger closer to Open lead

By Jay CoffinJuly 20, 2012, 7:05 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Hand it to Tiger Woods, he’s stuck with his game plan come hell or (pun intended) high water.

Woods hasn’t necessarily been forthright with his M.O. but best guess is he arrived at wet Royal Lytham & St. Annes this week with several strategies, none of which were drawn up for such benign conditions. Through 36 holes of this Open Championship Woods has shown flashes of his 2006 victory at Royal Liverpool, where he hit irons off the tee all week and shot 18 under par and won by two shots.

But let’s not call this Hoylake 2.0 just yet. The strategy is “brilliant” as they say in these parts, but only if Woods wins claret jug No. 4 and major championship No. 15. Anything other than that, and he likely will be criticized – rightly or wrongly – for being much too conservative.

Woods birdied two of the last three holes Friday to shoot a second consecutive 67 and is alone in third place at 6 under par. Brandt Snedeker is the leader at 10 under. Adam Scott is second at 9 under.

“My mantra all week has been to get the ball on the greens as fast as possible,” Snedeker said. “Once I'm on there I have a pretty good hand for the speed of the greens. I'm making every 25-footer I look at, so that makes it a lot easier. Just going to try and keep doing that over the weekend.”

There hasn’t been a lick of wind here in northern England for two days, only a few sprinkles during play and a heavy overnight storm Thursday that made these links soggy for the second round. Mostly, the conditions have been calm, making Lytham more vulnerable than could have been imagined.

Still, a stubborn Woods has hit driver precisely three times in two days – twice on Thursday, once on Friday. He’s content with hitting his “spots” and staying away from danger, a noble option. Woods confided Friday that he’d love to hit driver on both par 5s but the shot doesn’t suit his eye.  

While Woods is playing a version of hit-and-giggle, Snedeker and Scott have been more aggressive and haven’t been afraid to go flag hunting. Granted an iron off the tee rolls miles here but Woods has often left himself more than 200 yards into greens, making it difficult to hit the ball within birdie range.

Meanwhile, Snedeker has hit many drivers off the tee and has made 10 birdies and zero bogeys. He also hasn’t found one bunker. He’s hit a couple wayward drives but each time has been able to put a good strike on the approach. Scott has done much the same and played impressively Friday despite his lead being wiped out before he ever hit a golf ball.

“There’s only a couple of holes where I could have hit driver,” Woods proclaimed. “I had a game plan that I thought would fit well on this golf course, and I figured I could execute it.  And I've done that so far.”

It is hard to hammer the man. He has, after all, won 14 majors including three jugs on this side of the pond. And he’s done it with different methods. Through two rounds, Woods has hit 26-of-28 fairways and 29-of-36 greens and has taken 58 putts. He’s found only one bunker and that ended in birdie when he holed out from the side of the 18th green Friday, sending the British gallery into a roar.

It’s stating the obvious but we have no clue where Woods would be if he took more chances hitting driver from the teebox. More than perhaps any other time in his career, Woods is driving the ball on a rope so it’d be fun to see him test those skills here.

Part of the noise too is a competitive deal. We’re so used to watching Woods overpower a course during his heyday that it’s difficult to watch playing partners Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose consistently bomb it 50 yards past him even if they did both miss the cut by a shot.

On the par-4 15th hole, Woods hit iron off the tee and was left with 222 yards into the green, too long a distance to expect anything better than par. Iron worked off the tee at 16, where Woods drained a 20-footer for birdie and it worked off the last only because he holed out a vintage Woods bunker shot.

Woods made it clear that the leaders are not going to change his strategy, no matter how well they play or what the conditions are like over the next 48 hours.

“I'm hitting the ball in the fairway, and that's the thing around this golf course, you just have to do that,” Woods said. “You can't control it out of the rough here.

“So yeah, you can hit drivers down there, and some guys did. Or you can be more conservative.”

Come hell or high water.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.