Tiger's back, and that's all that matters

By Jay CoffinJune 26, 2014, 8:38 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Tiger Woods walked onto Congressional’s 10th tee at 8:10 Thursday morning, decked in a spiffy green shirt and black pants, and the applause was exactly what you’d expect for golf’s alpha male, who was making his first start since being sidelined for nearly four months.

It was loud and it was appreciative.

Two minutes later came the introduction: “Now, on the tee, please welcome, Mr. Tiger Woods.”

At that split second, the following five hours were rendered inconsequential. It mattered only that Woods was back. He was one of the guys again.

Woods said earlier in the week that his expectations are the same as always – meaning he’d love to win the Quicken Loans National – although he knew it would be much more difficult than usual because of his recent back surgery. He also admitted he wouldn’t be playing this event if it didn’t benefit his foundation.

That’s all you need to know about what Woods truly expected.

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The final tally on this steamy day outside the nation’s capital was 3-over 74. Woods collected seven bogeys and a birdie on the first 12 holes, but showed his trademark fighting spirit over the final six holes by grinding out three birdies. He hit 10 of 18 greens, nine of 14 fairways and took a few sloppy swats with the flat stick on the way to 31 putts.

Most notably, though, the score recorded for number of times Woods winced from back pain was zero. Zip. Zilch.

“The back’s great,” Woods said. “I had no issues at all… It felt fantastic. That’s one of the reasons why I let go on those tee shots. I hit it pretty hard out there.”

Extremely hard, actually. He had no other option. Congressional is a brutish layout that played nearly as difficult as it did three years ago for the U.S. Open with gnarly rough and quick, firm greens. Not exactly an ideal mixture for a man looking to find form.

“There’s a difference between practice and social play and tournament play,” said Jason Day, Woods’ playing partner. “It’s just not the same. There’s no amount of practice and social play that you can do to get ready for tournaments.” 

There was good and there was bad. But the bad wasn’t terrible.

Woods hit his driver nine times, which is almost the equivalent of the number of times he hit the same club Tuesday on the practice range (11). He went after it with force most times out of the rough, especially on Nos. 15 and 18. He took a massive blow with an iron out of the fairway bunker on his final hole, the par-5 ninth, because he needed enough distance on the shot to hit wedge into the green for the third.

He appeared uninhibited.

The most curious part of the round was Woods’ short game. He was 50 feet from the hole on No. 11 and left the birdie attempt 18 feet short. Eighteen feet. He missed a couple other shortish par putts that you’d expect him to make.

Chipping was a bit of a mystery, too. Woods left a simple chip 12 feet short on No. 15 and hit a couple other uncharacteristic wedge shots that essentially equate to nothing more than competitive rust.

“That’s all I’ve been doing is chipping and putting,” Woods said. “I hit some bad shots. Those are bad pitches and those are the ones I should get up and down every time.

“I made so many little mistakes. So I played a lot better than the score indicated, which is good.”

Said Day: “You can tell that he’s hitting some good solid drives, some solid iron shots. It’s just the short game is a little rusty. It was soft bogeys out there for him. Once he sharpens it up a little bit, tighten a few things, he’ll start to play better.”

The best part of the round was the closing stretch. A 200-yard approach into the third hole (his 12th of the day) was blistered to 4 feet. The tee shot on the par-3 16th landed 4 feet from the hole and a wedge from 96 yards on 17 landed beyond the hole and spun back to 3 feet. Woods made birdie all three times to salvage a respectable score.

Afterward, Woods didn’t go to the practice range, saying instead he was heading home to get rest and treatment on his back. He’ll have 24 hours before his Friday afternoon tee time for Round 2.

Trailing leader Greg Chalmers by eight shots, Woods will likely need a round several strokes under par to make the cut.

Sure, a spot in the weekend would be nice – for TV ratings, for galleries, for those looking to report an easy story – but this week was always going to be more about the British Open and the PGA Championship than it was the Quicken Loans National.

“He just has to come out and get the competitive juices flowing,” Day said. “Whether he kicks it on and starts to play well this week, I’m pretty sure he’s just trying to get ready for the Open in three weeks.”

Whatever happens this week – good or bad – it was never going to be a surprise. Woods is back; that’s all that matters.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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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.