As Expected North Course Produces Leaders

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 7, 2002, 5:00 pm
Tiger Woods did what he needed to do Thursday at the Buick Invitational, Phil Mickelson did not.
Woods shot 6-under-par 66 on the easier North Course to place him two shots off the lead in the first round in La Jolla, Calif. Meanwhile, two-time defending champion Mickelson put himself in a huge divot by shooting 1-over 73 at the North.
It wasnt a good round, I dont know what else to say, said a disappointed Mickelson. To shoot 73 on the North Course puts me pretty far behind. I have my work cut out for me.
The reason Mickelson finds himself behind the 8-ball so early in the tournament is because players only get one chance at the 6,874-yard North Course. By contrast, each player will play the South Course ' measuring 7,568 yards ' three times.
Twenty-one of the top 24 players on the leaderboard played the North Course Thursday. Mark OMeara, who shot 5-under 67, Lee Porter (68) and Jay Haas (68) were the exceptions.
To shoot a low score on this side is a lot of fun, said OMeara, who is winless on tour since the 1998 British Open. It doesnt shock me to go out and shoot 67 on the South Course because there wasnt very much wind and I hit a lot of good shots.
Theres no advantage hereI still have to go out on the North Course and shoot a good number.
Thats exactly what Mathew Goggin did on Day 1. The 27-year-old Australian fired an 8-under 64 at the South. Englishman Luke Donald and Jay Williamson are close behind following a pair of 65s.
Woods got his chance on the lesser layout Thursday, recording six birdies and no bogeys.
Woods, who has four top-5s in four career Buick Invitational starts, began his day on the back nine. He first got on the board with a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-4 13th. He next drained a 12-footer for birdie on the par-4 15th.
Tiger birdied both the par-5 18th and the par-5 first by sticking his second shots to 20 feet and two-putting for birdie. He then made it three birdies in a row with a 10-foot putt at the par-4 second.
Though he completed his scoring with another 10-foot birdie at the par-4 fourth, Woods had a bit of adventure on the par-5 ninth.
Tiger blew his tee shot out to the right. With a tree impeding his progress, he chose to try and play his second shot into the adjacent fourth-hole fairway, rather than pitching out sideways and leaving himself with a long-iron approach.
Woods knocked out into the right rough on the fourth hole, 176 yards from the flag. He eventually made par.
I havent really gotten off to the best of starts of late, said the 1999 champion. I didnt hit the ball all that great today, but I hit a lot of beautiful putts.
Not all of those putts went in, however.
I lipped out about six birdie putts today, said Woods. It could have been a really low number.
Woods is seeking his first PGA Tour victory since the WGC-NEC Invitational in August ' six starts ago. He now gets the South Course, which was recently renovated to counteract todays heavy hitters ' i.e., Tiger Woods.
The South Course, you need to hit good shots, you just need to hit the ball in the fairway, Woods said. The greens are so much more firm on the South Course that you need to spin the ball on these greens. The greens are good enough. You need to control (the ball). From there, at least the greens are smooth and you can make a few putts.
Putting was a surprising adversary for Donald Thursday. The 1999 NCAA champion at Northwestern University made eight birdies ' including five in a six-hole stretch ' to just one bogey in the first round.
His run started by sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-4 13th.
That really got my round going, Donald said. Its been a while since I saw a putt drop in from that distance.
Donald, 24, is one of the overlooked members of the tours youth movement. Hes a rookie on tour ' having qualified via Q-School ' but hes very comfortable with his standing among todays young players, such as Charles Howell III.
I played against Charles for three years in college, Donald said. I had a pretty good record against him, so, if he can do well (on tour), why cant I?
Like Donald, Goggin fired his career best round on tour Thursday. He wouldnt have made it into the tournament had it not been for a tie for eighth last week at Pebble Beach.
This is the first time in 68 career starts that Goggin has led a PGA Tour event.
Its like leading the first round of the Tour de France on the flat, easy stuff, Goggin said. We have three days of the high mountains to go.
Throw out all the clichs you want. Its just the first round.
Full-field scores from the Buick Invitational
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.”