Europe in Control Early

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 27, 2002, 4:00 pm
SUTTON COLDFIELD, England ' Paul Azinger drew the wrong club, Europe drew first blood, and the Americans drew another early deficit.
The Europeans won three of the four morning four-ball matches to take a 3-1 lead heading into the afternoon foursomes.
'It was very surprising to me. I put up my best teams and they played very, very well,' said U.S. Captain Curtis Strange. 'Just the way it fell.'
Over 40,000 fans were present on a chilly, overcast morning at The Belfry. The crowds were boisterous and partisan, but respectful.
Its unbelievable, said Bernhard Langer. We (Colin Montgomerie and I) were talking going up the fairway that its the best crowds weve ever seen at any golf tournament.
Dane Thomas Bjorn and Northern Irelands Darren Clarke gave the home team an enormous boost by going out in the first match of the day and defeating world No. 1 Tiger Woods and Paul Azinger, 1-up.
Bjorn and Clarke combined to shoot a better-ball 10-under 62, while the Americans shot 63.
Spains Sergio Garcia and Englishman Lee Westwood teamed perfectly ' each complementing the other ' in routing David Duval and Davis Love III, 4-and-3.
They netted the first point of the Matches. Garcia made a pair of pars at the ninth and 10th holes to maintain a 1-up lead.
The 10th hole was a point of controversy earlier in the week, as European Captain Sam Torrance elected to have the hole played exclusively from the back tees, which made it far more difficult to attack the green with a drive on the short par-4.
Garcia was the only player of any in the morning matches to go for the green off the tee, but came up a few feet short, and in the water. Still he got up and down for a half.
I made some good putts at 9 and 10, and then Lee took over, Garcia said.
Westwood, who, due to his poor play the past two seasons, was a question mark at the start of the week, birdied 12, 13 and 15 to seal the victory.
Germanys Langer and Scotlands Montgomerie never trailed in beating Scott Hoch and Jim Furyk, 4-and-3.
The two, who now have a combined Ryder Cup record of 32-23-9, made numerous putts outside of 15 feet to coast to victory over the U.S. squad.
'It's important for us to get off to a good start and that's exactly what we've had,' Montgomerie said.
The Americans lone saving grace was the combo of Phil Mickelson and David Toms. Toms, the only rookie to go in the morning for the U.S., birdied the first two holes. They led 3-up with six to play, but held off a furious rally to defeat Irelands Padraig Harrington and Swedish rookie Niclas Fasth, 1-up.
Harrington had a putt to halve the match, but his 12-foot birdie lipped hard out of the hole.
Mickelson is still the lone U.S. team member with a winning four-ball record. He is now 4-2-1.
The U.S. hasnt had the lead after the Day-1 morning session since 1991 at Kiawah Island.
Awarded the stomach-churning task of hitting the first shot of the 34th Matches, Azinger chose the wrong club off the first tee. He made the switch, but pushed his drive well right.
It proved to be one of only a few mistakes by any of the players in the foursome.
The morning sessions most anticipated match was easily the most compelling. Both teams made four birdies in the first five holes to keep the match all square.
Woods made a 20-footer for birdie at the par-4 eighth to give his team their first lead of the match, but Bjorn responded by sinking an 18-footer for birdie at 10, and a 25-footer for birdie at the 12th.
Trailing 1-down, both Woods and Azinger peppered the flag at the par-4 13th. Clarke, however, made his fifth birdie of the day by draining a 20-footer to essentially halve the hole.
The next two holes were halved. Bjorn then ran his approach shot at the par-4 16th to within two feet of the hole. He tapped in for the birdie, his fifth of the day, to go dormie.
Woods kept his team alive by drilling a 12-footer for birdie at the 17th, directing a fist pump towards the hole as the ball tumbled in.
Azinger then responded by hitting his approach shot at the last to a foot.
But as had been the case the entire round, the Europeans were slightly better with the putter. Bjorn poured in a 20-footer for the victory, leaping in the air and embracing his partner.
It was just our day, said Bjorn. We mix very well together.
Woods career Ryder Cup record dropped to 3-7-1, while Azinger fell to a career 1-5-1 in the four-ball format.
Clarke is now 3-1-0 in four-balls, while Bjorn is 2-0-0.
'I'm surprised. I still don't believe that they're better in best-ball,' said Strange. 'And historically it shows that, but I'm sorry, you've not convinced me.'
The Americans, who entered the morning matches 7-22-5 as a 12-man team in four-balls, compared to 16-13-6 for the Europeans, are better in foursomes, with a combined 15-13-3 mark.
Thats the good news.
The bad news for the U.S. is that the European team has a combined 23-13-3 record in alternate shot.
Full coverage of the 34th Ryder Cup Matches
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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.