Positives for Tiger on Day 1 despite being 9 back

By Jay CoffinApril 10, 2015, 12:55 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods’ game either has been poked and prodded or hailed and lauded following every round of his professional life.

Perhaps for the first time ever, we should do none of the above regarding his opening 73 Thursday at the Masters. Sit back and appreciate the fact that an aging champion returned to his favorite playground and gave it a go.

Two months ago, when last we saw Woods, he was an absolute mess. He couldn’t hit a green with a pitching wedge from the middle of the fairway. The most elementary of chip shots provided hold-your-breath moments. He went out of his way to hit bump and runs from around the green instead of attempting flop shots for fear of hitting nasty skulls. And we will never forget the worst moment, when Woods withdrew after 11 holes at Torrey Pines because his glutes failed to activate.

Since Woods announced he was going to play the Masters last Friday, the golf world has gone haywire with prognostications. It was ratcheted up Monday when he played 11 holes in a practice round and was several shots under par. Some of that subsided Tuesday when he hit a few more wayward shots. Woods went for a back-nine stroll with Jordan Spieth and Ben Crenshaw on Wednesday and Gentle Ben gushed about how well Woods played.

Still, those practice-round performances coupled with a newfound happy-go-lucky attitude has seemingly made Woods the de facto Mayor of Augusta this week. The betting public was so smitten with Woods that his odds of winning dropped from 40-to-1 to 25-to-1 overnight.

Now that the first round is in the books, there’s no real hope that Woods is going to contend, especially with the New Kid on the Block doing his thing in just 64 shots at the top of the leaderboard. That Woods returned at the Masters, after missing last year because of injury, was the story.

“I felt good,” Woods said. “I felt like I hit the ball well enough to shoot 3 under par.”

That’s certainly one way of looking at it. Woods also played poorly enough to shoot 3 or 4 over par.

First, the positives.

Woods’ short game, of all things, bailed him out again and again. He short sided himself on the monstrous par-4 10th hole and got up and down from a bunker when he converted a 5 footer for par. On the next hole, he blew his approach well right of the green and got up and down again for par.

On the historic par-3 12th hole, Woods hit a terrible tee shot short and the ball rolled back into the water. After a drop he pitched the ball to kick-in range and made bogey. Next he hit his second shot left of the par-5 13th hole and got up and down for birdie by making a putt from 8 feet.

“It’s my strength again,” Woods said matter-of-factly about his short game, almost as if he doesn’t realize how poorly he played mere months ago.

“That’s why I’ve busted my butt. That’s why I took time off. That’s why I hit thousands and thousands of shots to make sure that it’s back to being my strength.”

Many of the mistakes can be chalked up to competitive rust. It’s also abundantly clear that Woods focused so much on cleaning up his horrid short game that he failed to pay more attention to some of the other aspect of his game. There was a sloppy three-putt on the first hole, a poor bunker shot on the fourth, two terrible swings on the ninth hole where Woods was lucky to escape with bogey.

Simply, though, it was a bizarre day at the office.

Is all of this progress? Considering where he was, absolutely it is. But this is still Tiger Woods and it’s exceedingly difficult to swallow that a 73 at Augusta National is an acceptable result. He’s hovering around the cut line for goodness sake. There used to be times when Woods could overpower these hallowed grounds, but we knew down deep, as much as we wish it weren’t true, that he was going to struggle to break par.

“I’m glad he’s back,” said playing partner Jimmy Walker. “He had some good pars where he got up and down. It was good to see him playing good.”

That seemed to be the theme of the day for everyone but Woods.

He grinded all day, blamed slow green speeds for the reason he didn’t putt better and threw out various expletives along the way. Those were all shades of the old Woods. Nothing, though, was more vintage Woods than a never-say-die comment in a post-round interview.

“You know, I’m still in it. I’m only nine back,” he said as he sits in a 41st-place tie. “And we have a long way to go.”

He’s come a long way already.

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.