De-Ja Vu All Over Again

By Mercer BaggsJuly 21, 2000, 4:00 pm
Here we go again. Just as he did at Pebble Beach, Tiger Woods is threatening to run away with the British Open.
Woods, who went to bed trailing Ernie Els by one, stepped on the first tee Friday three strokes back of David Toms, who shot an early-morning 5-under 67 to move into the overall lead at 8-under-par. However, Tiger wasted little time establishing himself in the second round.
Woods birdied the 1st hole with a 12-foot putt, tapped in for another birdie at the 4th and nearly holed an eagle putt at the par-5 5th. His second consecutive tap-in gave him three birdies in five holes, and a share of the lead with Toms.
Aside from a half-hour wait on the 5th tee, all went according to plan for Woods on Friday. After a birdie at the 9th, Woods drove through the green on the 314-yard par-4 12th. He successfully got up and down for his fifth birdie of the day, then picked up No. 6 at the 14th to move three shots clear of Toms at 11-under. The only time he sniffed bogey was at 'The Road Hole' par-4 17th. Just off the road in two, Woods chipped past the flag, into a sloping backboard and watched as his ball came to rest within eight feet of the hole. He then sank a double-breaking par save and pointed with controlled enthusiasm at the cup. He parred out on 18 to shoot 6-under 66. Through 36 holes, he has yet to record a bogey.
'What you try to do in any tournament is not make a mistake,' Woods said. 'Bogeys aren't good for your scorecard.'
With a three-stroke lead and 36 holes to play, Woods was asked if he thought the tournament was over. He replied: 'Over? I don't have the trophy sitting next to me.'
Nicklaus waves goodbye to the Open ChampionshipAs was the case at the U.S. Open, where he won by 15, Woods began his second round as Jack Nicklaus was finishing his. Nicklaus said prior to the tournament, this would be his final Open appearance. Unfortunately, the three-time champion shot 77-73 to miss the cut. But before he bid adieu, Nicklaus stood on the Swilken Bridge, doffed his cap and waved it to the crowd. After missing a birdie putt on the 18th, the 60-year-old Nicklaus walked arm-and-arm with his son and caddie, Steve, blowing kisses to an appreciative crowd.
'St. Andrews always has a special place in my heart,' said Nicklaus, who won at this venue in 1970. 'For 20 years I was in contention almost every year. I will have great memories of playing here and the galleries have always been great to me.'
Many players were able to take advantage of the docile Scottish conditions in the second round, however, Els was not one of them. The overnight leader squandered opportunities early. He began his day by missing from six feet for birdie at the 1st. He then lipped out a 12-footer for birdie on the 2nd; and continued by three-putting for bogey at the 3rd.
'When you do that, those things really stop your momentum,' said Els. 'I thought I hit the ball well on the range but when I three-putted there I just stepped out of my rhythm a little bit.
'Then I three-putted the 9th as well, really from nowhere. I was very concerned about that because I fell back to 4-under and really way out of contention.'
Els rescued his round on the back nine with birdies at the 10th and 12th, but he completed his day by parring his final six holes to shoot an even-par 72, and remain at 6-under.
'It just wasn't a comfortable day, just one of those funny days,' Els said. 'Today was my bad round. I know I can play better than that over the weekend and I'll do that.'
Els is in a five-way tie for 6th with Fred Couples, Thomas Bjorn, Tom Lehman and Phil Mickelson. Mickelson was even par for the day, and the tournament, entering the inward half on Friday, but shot a back-nine 30 to climb into contention. The highlight of his day came at the par-4 12th, when he rolled in a 60-foot putt for eagle.
Woods will play the third round paired with Toms. In his first Open Championship, the 33-year-old had five birdies in an eight-hole stretch on Friday, beginning at the par-5 5th. Toms has had major success before. He shares the Masters record of 29 on the back nine at Augusta National, which he fired in 1998. He also finished tied for 16th at this year's U.S. Open.
'My first goal was to play on the weekend, just to see that experience with all the people out there,' Toms said. 'Now, looking at the whole experience, I guess I was a little cheap over the years and I did not want to spend the money to come over here to qualify.
'Looking back, I wish I would have,just to have the opportunity to have played it before. This is totally different. It is fun to see all the shots you can play.'
One shot back of Toms are Steve Flesch, Loren Roberts, who won last week's Greater Milwaukee Open, and Sergio Garcia. Garcia is certainly liking St. Andrews better than Carnoustie. This year, the 20-year-old Spaniard has shot rounds of 68-68; compared to last year when he shot 89-83.
Last year's lovable loser, Jean Van de Velde, is in a tie for 11th at 5-under-par. He's fared much better through two days than 1999 champion Paul Lawrie. Lawrie's reign as Open champion has come to an end after shooting 78-75 for a 9-over-par total.
The cut line fell at even par. Aside from Lawrie, Michael Campbell, who tied for 3rd at St. Andrews in 1995, 1994 champion Nick Price, 1995 champ John Daly and all four amateurs in the field failed to qualify for the weekend.
Getty Images

Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

Getty Images

Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

Getty Images

Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

Getty Images

Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”