Give Us Something to Talk About
There was a lot of talk prior to the start of this past weeks Mercedes Championships about what a wonderful season for which we were in store. And it must be said ' or written ' that so far, so good.
While its still a little early to get super pumped up about a PGA Tour season in its infancy, we can only hope that the majority of the golf tournaments to which we will bear witness in 05 can match the Mercedes ' at least in terms of seeing the big names near the top of the leaderboard.
The talk before Ryan Palmer struck the opening salvo of the season was that this year had the potential to be a blockbuster ' a year in which the top players in the world had all the possibility of playing up to their prolific potential.
We talked about Vijay Singh perhaps even surpassing his accomplishments of a year ago, which will certainly be difficult to do, since he will have to work like a hummingbird ' how their wings flap a million miles per hour just to stay fast ' just to stay in the place he has carved out for himself.
We talked about Tiger Woods returning to his 2000 form. We talked about Ernie Els topping both Woods and Singh for No. 1. We talked about Phil Mickelson making the Big Three a Big Four. We talked about Retief Goosen making the Big Four a Big Five. We talked about Sergio Garcia being a Major player.
But we didnt do a lot of talking about one Mike Weir.
Vijay talked about him, and so did Ernie. But we, the media, didnt have much to say.
Lets start talking.
Weir, much like Goosen and even David Toms, often gets overlooked when we debate as to who are in golfs upper echelon. Hes won seven times on tour, including the Masters Tournament, the Tour Championship, a WGC event and back-to-back Nissan Open titles.
However, even the diminutive and reserved Canadian knows hes not quite on the same level with the likes of Singh, Woods and Els. But hes not too far removed. And this he also knows.
Yeah, I think Im real close, he said following his second-round 10-under 63 at Kapalua. I need to have a very good year this year.
That 63 was Weir peak effort for the week. On the heels of tying his personal best on the Plantation Course, he entered the weekend two back of Singh. He then shot 71-76 to finish tied for 13th.
Weir was on the minds of many after winning three times in 2003, including the Masters. But he slipped from many of those minds after winning only once in 04.
Weir successfully defended his title last year at Riviera, but then missed the cut in his defense at Augusta. He went on to earn a couple of top-10s in the U.S. Open and British Open, yet never really contended at either.
However, it was his Bell Canadian Open collapse thats yellow highlighted.
Weir had a three-stroke lead entering the final round in Ontario, and was looking to become the first Canadian in 50 years to win his National Championship. But, with an entire nation leaning on him and some 25,000 fans vocally backing him first hand, he made three back-nine bogeys on that Sunday and missed three putts that would have awarded him an unparalleled personal victory.
He admitted that he took the loss to heart, much more so than after other tournaments he had lost.
It was a little more to recover from than maybe, you know, probably the PGA, he said in reference to the 1999 PGA Championship, when he was tied with Woods entering the final round at Medinah, only to shoot 80.
I think looking back if I could have done something different, I would have been a little bit more focused, he said of his Canadian Open setback. I think I was interacting with the crowd so much that possibly that may have been a factor. Maybe I did get caught up in it a little bit, because I was having funYou know, you live and learn every tournament.
That loss may have turned out to be Weirs gain, because he said he learned more from that defeat than just maintaining focus ' he learned that he had to improve his putting.
The way I was playing, it was one of those weeks that was magical, ball-striking-wise. I just had everything working together that week and had a lot of close shots but didnt capitalize on hardly any of them, he said. If I would have been putting like now ' I guess thats the Holy Grail of golf, to get everything going together at once.
Weir, whose proficiency with the putter won him the green jacket in 03, ranked 21st on tour in putting average a year ago. Thats a good number. But for a guy who ranked 138th in driving distance, 101st in driving accuracy and 95th in greens hit in regulation, it wasnt enough ' at least not enough to move him into the atmosphere of rarefied air taken in by the worlds top 5 players.
He now believes he can once again reach that upper plateau ' if he can be a little less fidgety on the greens.
Im a real feel-oriented putter, and when I get into a feel, it lasts for a while, he said. The feels Ive used for certain tournaments and the thoughts Ive had for certain tournaments that have won me tournaments were not carrying over last year very consistently, so I had to make a change.
As I processed it in this off-season, looked at some video of my putting throughout last year, I noticed that some things were a little sloppy. I was moving around a little bit; I noticed there was a lot of movement in my posture.
Im working on ' I dont know what the word is ' maybe grounded, or I think stable might be the best word I could use.
Weir worked diligently on his game in the off-season with swing coach Mike Wilson, rather than chasing Dollar Bill around the globe like he did the year prior, when he was a newly anointed major champion.
In addition to stabilizing his putting, he also tried to tighten his swing.
I was getting a little bit of a reverse pivot, and the length of my swing was getting very long, he said. It was causing me some problems.
Weir entered the Mercedes eighth on the world ranking list. And if he can continue to putt like he did in his first outing this season ' particularly the second round, when he needed only 24 swipes on very suspect surfaces ' he should be able to move back into the top 5, and back into the forefront of peoples minds who reside outside of the Great White North.
Such an ascent would delight his legion of fans. Its almost impossible to comprehend just how popular he is north of the American border (as Paul Casey pointed out, Americans are quite insular, after all).
He's a sporting national hero ' heck, even Singh was almost apologetic after denying him his country's most prestigious golf title.
In Utah, where I live now, I can pretty much go unrecognized, unless Im at the golf course and golf fans are around. Where in Canada, I think Im probably a little more recognized, not only by just golf fans, but by everybody, said Weir, who was voted the countrys Athlete of the Year in 2003.
Canadian sports fans are currently deprived of professional hockey. They just lost one of their professional baseball teams. Canadian football season is over. They have but one sorry professional basketball team for which to root.
All they have right now, sports-wise, is Mike Weir ' and curling season. And while golf might not be the most galvanizing sport, it sure beats watching a bunch of people in matching sweaters try and brush-sweep ice.
Hopefully, Ill give them something to cheer about (this year), Weir said.
And plenty to talk about.
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The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.
Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.
Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.
The narrative wondrously started to turn here.
It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.
It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.
He is just four shots off the lead.
“I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”
Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.
“He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”
Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.
How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?
“It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”
This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.
“I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”
Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.
When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.
“It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”
Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.
“I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.
Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.
It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.
“It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”
Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.
Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.
“He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”
Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.
Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.
“I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”
Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers. He got a standing ovation.
“I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”
So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?
Woods seems in a hurry to find out.
List, Lovemark lead; Tiger four back at Honda
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Even with a tee shot into the water for another double bogey, Tiger Woods could see the big picture in the Honda Classic.
He was four shots out of the lead going into the weekend.
Luke List delivered a round not many others found possible in such difficult conditions Friday, a 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Jamie Lovemark (69). They were at 3-under 137, the highest score to lead at the halfway point of the Honda Classic since it moved to PGA National in 2007.
So bunched were the scores that Woods was four shots out of the lead and four shots from last place among the 76 players who made the cut at 5-over 145. More importantly, he only had 13 players in front of him.
''This is a difficult golf course right now,'' Woods said. ''Making pars is a good thing. I've done that, and I'm right there with a chance.''
And he has plenty of company.
Tommy Fleetwood, who won the Race to Dubai on the European Tour last year, scratched out a 68 and was one shot out of the lead along with Webb Simpson (72), Russell Henley (70) and Rory Sabbatini (69).
Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger each shot 72 and were in a large group at 139. They were among only 10 players remaining under par.
Fleetwood laughed when asked the last time he was at 2 under after 36 holes and only one shot out of the lead.
''Maybe some junior event,'' he said. ''It's good, though. These are the toughest test in golf. Generally, one of the best players prevail at the end of weeks like this. Weeks like this challenge you to the ultimate level. Whether you shoot two 80s or you lead after two rounds, you can see what you need to do and see where your game is. Because this is as hard as it's ever going to get for you.''
The difficulty was primarily from the wind, which blew just as hard in the morning when List shot his 66 as it did in the afternoon. More aggravating to the players are the greens, which are old and bare, firm and crusty. It's a recipe for not making many putts.
Defending champion Rickie Fowler had six bogeys on his front nine and shot 77 to miss the cut.
''It's unfortunate that the greens have changed this much in a year,'' Fowler said. ''They typically get slick and quick on the weekend because they dry out, but at least there's some sort of surface. But like I said, everyone's playing the same greens.''
It looked as though List was playing a different course when he went out with a bogey-free 32 on the back nine, added a pair of birdies on the front nine and then dropped his only shot when he caught an awkward lie in the bunker on the par-3 seventh.
''It's very relentless,'' List said. ''There's not really too many easy holes, but if you hit fairways and go from there, you can make a few birdies out there.''
List and Lovemark, both Californians, have never won on the PGA Tour. This is the third time List has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead, most recently in South Korea at the CJ Cup, where he shot 76-72 on the weekend.
''It's kind of irrelevant because there's going to be 30 guys within a couple shots of the lead,'' List said. ''It's going to be that type of week.''
He was exaggerating – there were 11 players within three shots of the lead.
And there was another guy four shots behind.
Woods brought big energy to a Friday afternoon that already was hopping before he overcame a sluggish start and holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to make the turn at 1 under for his round, and leaving him two shots out of the lead. Everyone knew it just from listening to the roars.
Woods had his chances, twice missing birdie putts from inside 10 feet at Nos. 10 and 12, sandwiched around a 12-foot par save. His round appeared to come undone when he found the water on the 15th and made double bogey for the second straight day.
Then, he hit out of a fairway bunker, over the water and onto the green at the dangerous 16th hole and faced a 65-foot putt. He misread the speed and the line, so badly that it was similar to a car driving from Chicago to Denver and winding up in Phoenix. A bogey dropped him to 2 over.
The big moment was the 17th hole, 184 waters into the wind and over water. That's where Rory McIlroy made triple bogey earlier in the day that ruined his otherwise solid round of 72, leaving him seven behind. Making it even tougher for Woods is the Brandt Snedeker hit 5-iron before him to about 6 feet. Woods got to the tee and the wind died, meaning 5-iron was too much and 6-iron wouldn't clear the water.
He went with the 5-iron.
''I started that thing pretty far left and hit a pretty big cut in there because I had just too much stick,'' Wood said.
It landed 12 feet below the hole for a birdie putt.
Thomas made 17 pars and a double bogey when he three-putted from 6 feet on No. 16. He felt the same way as Woods.
''I'm in a good spot – really good spot – going into this week,'' Thomas said.
Woods to play with Dufner (12:10 p.m.) in third round
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods will play alongside Jason Dufner in the third round of the Honda Classic.
Woods and Dufner, both at 1-over 141, four shots back, will tee off at 12:10 p.m. ET Saturday at PGA National. They’re in the 10th-to-last group.
Co-leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark will go at 1:40 p.m.
Some of the other late pairings include Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who will be playing together for the third consecutive day, at 1 p.m.; Louis Oosthuizen and Thomas Pieters (1:10 p.m.); and Webb Simpson and Russell Henley, in the penultimate group at 1:30 p.m.
Woods doesn't mind 'fun' but brutal 17th hole
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods doesn’t mind the boisterous crowd that surrounds the par-3 17th hole at PGA National.
And why should he?
When the wind died down Friday afternoon, Woods played a “big ol’ cut” with a 5-iron that dropped 12 feet from the cup. He made the putt – one of just nine birdies on the day – and when he walked off the green, the fans gave him a standing ovation.
Bounce-back— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) February 23, 2018
That gets Tiger back to +1. pic.twitter.com/l1yix0hzig
The scene is expected to be even more raucous Saturday at the Honda Classic, especially with Woods in contention.
There is a Goslings Bear Trap tent just to the right of the tee. The hole has become a hot topic in recent years, after a few players complained that the noise from the nearby crowd was distracting as they tried to play a wind-blown, 190-yard shot over water.
Woods was asked his thoughts on the party setup after finishing his second-round 71.
“As long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, we’re fine,” he said. “They can be raucous. They are having a great time. It’s fun. They are having a blast, and hopefully we can execute golf shots, but as long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, everything’s cool.”
After the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open, a few players told Woods that fans were trying to time their screams with the players’ downswings.
“There’s really no reason to do that,” Woods said. “I think that most of the people there at 17 are golfers, and they understand how hard a golf shot that is. So they are being respectful, but obviously libations are flowing.”
The 17th played as the most difficult hole on the course Friday, with a 3.74 scoring average and a combined score to par of 104 over. More than a quarter of the tee shots found the water.