Woods is feeling major pressure

By John HawkinsAugust 10, 2013, 12:19 am

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – It rained hard all morning, one of those why-are-we-still-out-here downpours that would have halted play at a standard PGA Tour event. At about the same time Tiger Woods pulled into the Oak Hill parking lot, however, the sky relented. Mother Nature smiled. And Sergio Garcia was just pretty darn happy he was on Tiger’s side of the draw.

Perhaps some of you don’t remember Garcia’s rant at the 2002 U.S. Open, when he accused the golf gods of giving Woods all the weather breaks. Just a month later, a Scottish monsoon rolled into Muirfield and supposedly destroyed Tiger’s Grand Slam aspirations, but let’s not get carried away with any of this stuff.

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My point? Back when he ruled the earth, Woods seemed to compete not against other golfers, but higher powers. This caused guys like Sergio to hallucinate, exaggerate, and eventually, hyperventilate. He’s no Ordinary Joe now, but Woods used to jump on opportunities like the one he got Friday. Anyone who hit fairways would have a marvelous opportunity to make up ground. If you made a few putts, they might even reserve you a first-class seat heading into the weekend.

Air Red Shirt never got off the tarmac Friday afternoon. Woods’ 3-wood off the first tee vanished in the high grass 5 yards right of the first cut. His frustration was plainly obvious – Tiger spent maybe two seconds over the next shot before chopping his ball back into play. On a 460-yard hole yielding 8 inches of roll, you can’t hit a 3-wood and miss the fairway when a creek traverses the entire width of the green.

Either smash your driver and wedge it over the water from any lie – or choose a club that guarantees a second shot from the short grass.

Tiger basically did the same thing to start the final round of the British Open. Iron off the tee on a par-4 playing straight downwind – a lot of guys hit driver – leaving Woods a sand wedge from about 150 yards. He hit it straight up in the air, which seemed to make sense, but it landed about 100 feet short of the hole and did nothing, which eventually necessitated a 5-footer for par. He missed.

Woods has always admitted to first-tee jitters. Was the grotesque hook at Muirfield three days earlier responsible for the lack of confidence that Sunday? In a game of red light/green light, the Tiger of 2013 bears little resemblance to the Eldrick Almighty of 2000 – or the clever cat who picked his spots so well during the heart of the Hank Haney era. The aggression is gone, the swagger on a long-term siesta. Has a lack of confidence bred this misplaced conservatism, or is it the other way around?

Back to Oak Hill. At the par-5 fourth, Tiger’s wild lash with a driver ultimately cost him an easy scoring chance, and by then, his body language was spewing obscenities. Friday was a waste of time for a man with 14 major championships and 14 billion eyeballs glued to his back. Woods’ even-par 70 leaves him 10 back going into the weekend. He would have to leap 25 guys to have any kind of shot Sunday.

More than any round he has played since his personal crisis in late 2009, Tiger looked like a man burdened by the task at Oak Hill. The greens were marshmallows, the air perfectly still. The afternoon half of the draw had it easier than the guys who played in the morning. On my live chat, someone suggested that it took Woods awhile to regain his form in regular events, but once he did, he was as good as ever.

I see the opposite. Events like Firestone offer no competitive challenge to Woods at this point. Sure, a win is nice, and winning by seven shots is always lots of fun, but the primary purpose of such an exercise is to reach and maintain one’s peak form at the upcoming major.

When four weeks each year are the only ones that matter to you, the feast-or-famine mentality creates a poisonous type of pressure. No question in my mind, Tiger Woods is feeling it. He’s living it, breathing it, and at this point, doing his best to cope with it. Think of it as a little icy patch at the three-quarter pole on Mount Nicklaus.

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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.