Four Major Stories in 2002

By Mercer BaggsDecember 22, 2002, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)A years conclusion is the beginning of reflection. Each golfing season offers amazements to ponder, controversies to debate, and renewals, revelations and retirements to assess.
The PGA Tour delighted in the parity of a record 18 first-time winners, and distressed in a swamp of sponsorship woes.
Tiger Woods again led the tour in everything from wins to cash to Swedish girlfriends.
Arnold Palmer took his final bow at Augusta National, while Sam Snead took one last shot.
There were finishes to remember ' Steve Lowery at the International, and finishes to forget ' all not named Tiger at the Masters.
There was the technical ' club regulations, and the exceptional ' Jeff Julian competing with ALS.
Gene Sauers, Dan Forsman and Bob Burns won. David Toms, David Duval and Davis Love III did not.
The Phil Mickelson Story continued, with the latest chapter reading much the same as the first 10.
There were several headlines of note this year, but four in particular that were bold in type and lasting in longevity.
These were the PGA Tours four major stories in 2002:

Tigers Grand Slam Run
After the first day of the 2002 British Open the world's No. 1 ranked player was three shots off the lead. After Day 2 the deficit was trimmed to two.
It seemed inevitable. By Sunday evening in East Lothian, Scotland, Woods would have the third leg of the Grand Slam.
Augusta, check. Bethpage, check. Muirfield, next.
No man had been able to stop Woods from becoming the first player in 30 years to win the first two majors of the season. He squared off against five of the top-seven ranked players in the world Sunday at the Masters and defeated them all ' simply by shooting 1-under 71. He then captured his second U.S. Open crown, finishing as the only man under par at an overly vociferous venue.
However, it wasnt a man, but a figurative entity that emphatically ended Tigers Grand Slam run.
Mother Nature showed her hand Saturday off the Firth of Forth, and smacked around the worlds greatest player. Amid a darting and driving rain, wind gusts measured over 30 mph, temperatures dropped into the 40s, and Woods couldnt break 80.
Tiger, who won six times around the world in 2002, shot a career-worst 81 in the third round and eventually finished tied for 28th.
The dream had died, or at least was deferred to another year.

Ernie and the Beemer
When Tigers major monopoly ended at Muirfield, anothers career was resurrected.
It had been over five years since Ernie Els had won a major championship. He had won a bevy of tournaments around the world during that span, but there was that one glaring omission ' what defines a Hall of Fame player like Els.
The two-time U.S. Open champion started the second round of the British Open in a five-way tie for the lead. And while Woods crashed, and others burned, Els fought mightily to a 1-over 72.
That magnificent round ' under traumatic conditions ' put Els in perfect position to drench his major drought. Leading by two as the final round began, he extended the margin to three on the back nine.
Seemingly in control, Els suddenly found himself trailing after bogeying the 14th and double bogeying the 16th. He recovered, however, with a birdie on 17 and a par on 18 to force a playoff with Steve Elkington, Thomas Levet and Stuart Appleby.
What could have been his worst defeat proved to be his greatest triumph as Els won the five-hole playoff with a quintet of pars, culminated with a championship bunker shot at the last.
The 32-year-old earned the trophy he coveted most.
The seasons final major was once again the most compelling and cinematic.
When Rich Beem bogeyed two of his final five holes in the third round of the PGA Championship, he appeared to earn the 'Hey, Nice Try, Heres a Pat on the Back' award.
He now trailed Justin Leonard by three shots. A former car stereo salesman versus a past major winner. It was no contest.
Leonard shot 77. Beem became the improbable champion.
Having shelved the pressure throughout the first three days, he shouldered the load Sunday.
The 32-year-old, in just his fourth-ever major championship start, held off a furious rally by Woods, who birdied his final four holes.
Beem eagled the par-5 11th, lacing a 3-wood from 271 yards to within 10 feet of the hole to take command of the tournament. He then made a 35-foot birdie on the dangerous par-4 16th, two-putted the 17th for par, and made a harmless bogey at the last.
A star was born.

Hootie vs. Martha
Unfortunately, Annika Sorenstam wasnt the most talked about female in the world of golf as 2002 came to a close. That distinction ' dubious it may be ' belonged to National Council of Womens Organizations chairperson Martha Burk.
The Augusta National controversy began with a private letter from Burk to club chairman Hootie Johnson.
The 71-year-old Johnson fired back with a letter of his own ' publicly ' and the battle was on.
Burk wanted a woman member at the all-male club, which annually hosts the Masters Tournament. Johnson said he would not be bullied into admitting a female into its 300-male membership, and added there would be no such addition by next years event.
Sponsors were dropped, boycotts were threatened, defections were made, and players were questioned ' all ad nauseam. Everyone had an opinion ' even Rev. Jesse Jackson ' though not all wanted to express it.
Like a Ken Burns documentary, the debate wont end soon enough, and is sure to be a major story leading to the first major of next season.

Ryder Cup
The scenario was the same, and so was the end result. The Americans, champions on paper, were crumbled and tossed into golfs wastebasket by a more inspired than inferior European team in the 34th Ryder Cup.
In 1985, Sam Torrance made the Cup-clinching putt to give Europe its first victory in the biennial event in 28 years. This time he led the way as captain at The Belfry.
A year after being postponed due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the matches proved as stirring and competitive as ever.
With the two sides tied after two days, Torrance let his thoroughbreds out of the gates early in the Sunday singles. With a boisterous backing from a partisan, yet respectful crowd, the big boys did their parts, as did the unheralded duo of Phillip Price and Paul McGinley.
The Europeans won 7 of the 12 available singles points to win the event, 15 - 12.
Inasmuch as Torrance was regaled for his Sunday strategy, U.S. captain Curtis Strange was scrutinized for his. Strange allowed Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, the top-two ranked players in the world, to bring up the rear. Mickelson lost his match to Price, while Woods half against Jesper Parnevik proved inconsequential.
The Europeans have won and held onto the Cup six of the last nine competitions.
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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.

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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.”

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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.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

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Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

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But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”