Major-less Woods Moves On

By Mercer BaggsJune 15, 2003, 4:00 pm
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- For the first time since August 1999, Tiger Woods is not the current holder of a major championship trophy.
Woods completed another disappointing major with a 2-over 72 Sunday. He finished the 103rd U.S. Open at 3-over-par 283.
Since winning the 2002 U.S. Open, Woods has tied for 28th in the British Open, finished second in the PGA Championship, tied for 15th at the Masters, and tied for 20th this week.
Tigers primary problem at Olympia Fields was on the greens. He averaged 31.3 putts per round; tied for 64th of the 68 players who made the cut.
I had a tough time getting the speed right this week, he explained. It was frustrating in general this week because I never got anything going.
This is his worst finish as a professional in this event. After winning three of his first four starts in 2003, Tiger has failed to win in his last five, recording only one top-10 in the latter stretch.
With each major, particular the Opens, U.S. fans are generally introduced to a player with whom theyre unfamiliar.
Stephen Leaney was such a man in this week. The 34-year-old Australian played in the final twosome Sunday. Starting the final round trailing Jim Furyk by three strokes, he shot 2-over 72 to claim second place.
Leaney, though a stranger to many casual observers, is no stranger to success. He has three European Tour victories, and four more on the Australasian Tour. Hes a regular on the European circuit, and finished runner-up to Ernie Els in this years Johnnie Walker Classic.
He has five times tried to earn his PGA Tour card through Q-School, and five times failed. No failure was more difficult than a year ago when he birdied his final hole, but missed by one shot.
I was really devastated last year, he said. Its always been a dream of mine to come here.'
And now he has arrived. Thanks to his quarterfinal run in this years WGC-Match Play Championship, where he lost to Woods, and his runner-up finish this week, Leaney has earned enough money to secure his tour playing privilege for next season. And he is now a temporary member this year.
'I'm happy with the status that I will have,' he said. 'I don't have to go through Q-School again. It's nice that I was able to pull through.'
Its been a long and strange road to here. Ten years ago, a blood clot in his arm made it necessary for doctors to remove two of his ribs to alleviate the problem. It took him 18 months to fully recover.
Now, if only he could find a steady caddie. Leaney had been working the last three weeks with Justin Hoyle. But Hoyle, who suffers from a heart condition, had to pull out after the first round. Matthew Goggins caddie, who just happened to be on the grounds, replaced him.
I dont rely on guys that much to pick me up or spur me on, I just want them to do a certain job, he said. Its nice to have an Australian to talk to, because Im comfortable with him on the bag.
And his name?
Al, I dont know, Im sorry, Leaney said.
It wasnt the destination Tom Watson wanted, but it was one heck of a ride. After opening in 65 to share the first-round lead, Watson slipped steadily over the final three days.
His final three scores of 72-75-72 left the 1982 U.S. Open champion tied for 28th at 4-over-par 284.
Still, it was more than he or his caddie, Bruce Edwards, could have asked for. Support swelled for Edwards, who suffers from ALS, throughout the week, culminating in a standing ovation as the partners of 30 years walked to the 72nd green.
Its been a special week, to say the least, Watson said.
Said Edwards: Ive been really lucky in my career and Im not going to let something like this get me down. Im going to carry on.
I think what he did in the first round, there was a reason for that, Edwards added. The bottom line is to get the word out about ALS.
If someone said to me we can do this all over again, youre going to get ALS down the road, would you do it? Id say, you bet, every time. Ive been really lucky.
United States Golf Association officials will have to take eraser to record book after this years U.S. Open.
Jim Furyk set a tournament record for lowest 36- and 54-hole scores, and tied the 72-hole record.
He and Vijay Singh established the midway mark with a 133 total. Furyks 10-under-par 200 was a 54-hole record in both relation to par and aggregate. His 272 finish tied Jack Nicklaus (1980, Baltusrol), Lee Janzen (1993, Baltusrol) and Woods (2000, Pebble Beach).
Singh also tied the marks for lowest nine-hole score (29) and lowest 18-hole score (63) in the second round. Friday was the lowest Round 2 scoring in Open history, with a 71.9 field scoring average. The 143 cutline was also the lowest in the 103 years of this event.
Prior to this year, the record for scores in the 60s for the entire championship was 76, at Baltusrol in 1993. Olympia Fields produced 77 rounds in the 60s through three days, and 83 by tournaments end.
Thanks in part to an eagle at the par-5 sixth Sunday, Trip Kuehne was able to take gold medal honors as low amateur in this years U.S. Open.
The Texan, who turns 31 Friday, shot rounds of 74-67-76-73 to finish at 10-over-par 290. He was a single shot lower than the only other amateur to make the cut, Ricky Barnes.
Kuehne is presently an equity salesman for Legg Mason. He is most famous for finishing runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 1994 U.S. Amateur Championship, an event Barnes won a year ago.
I was second low amateur in the (U.S.) Open in 96. Lost to Tiger in the 94 finals of the Amateur. I was medallist in the Public Links. Ive always kind of been right there, knocking on the door, but Ive never finished first in a USGA event, Kuehne said.
Granted, its not first in the tournament, but low amateur, I get a gold medal and I now have a gold medal to match my brother and sister and nobody will ever be able to take that away from me.
Keuhnes brother, Hank, won the 1998 U.S. Amateur, while his sister, Kelli, won the 1995 and 96 U.S. Womens Amateur.
Kuehne tied for 57th. Barnes, who finished as low amateur in this years Masters Tournament, shot 71-71-79-70 to tie for 59th.
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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.”

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    Players honor victims of Parkland school shooting

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:36 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA Tour players are honoring the victims in the Parkland school shooting by wearing ribbons on their hats and shirts.

    Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located about 45 miles from PGA National, site of this week’s Honda Classic.

    “It’s awful what happened, and anytime the Tour can support in any way a tragedy, we’re always going to be for it,” Justin Thomas said. “Anytime there’s a ribbon on the tees for whatever it may be, you’ll see most, if not all the guys wearing it. Something as simple and easy as this, it’s the least we could do.”

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    The school shooting in Parkland, which claimed 17 lives, is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.

    Tiger Woods, who lives in South Florida, offered this: “It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives that we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all. It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”

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    Thomas' game on track for Masters

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 8:22 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas likes where his game is trending.

    He said that on the eve of the Honda Classic.

    With the Masters just six weeks away, that’s where trends are aimed as the Florida swing makes its start.

    Thomas made another encouraging move Thursday to get his game ready for a chance at winning back-to-back major championships.

    A 3-under-par 67 moved him a shot off the lead in the first round at PGA National’s Champion Course.

    Thomas, who won five times on his way to winning PGA Tour Player of the Year honors last season, is feeling something special brewing as he seeks to claim his first title of this calendar year.

    “I've been playing well all year,” Thomas said. “Just haven't had much to show for it. I feel like I'm close to reeling off a couple tournaments here. I just need to stay patient.”

    Thomas put together a strong start playing in a pairing in front of Tiger Woods, a spot that comes with challenges, with galleries on the move setting up to watch Woods.

    Thomas, who played with fans causing problems at Riviera last week, said galleries weren’t an issue.

    The Honda Classic isn’t a major, but it looks like it will present the sternest test of the year so far.

    The Champion Course is always a brute, but it sets up as a particularly grueling test this year, with Florida’s winter winds blowing briskly right from Thursday morning’s start.

    “It was a very tough day out there, very windy, tough crosswinds,” Thomas said. “I was a little bummed to see that the weather showed a little bit more wind in the morning than the afternoom.”

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    The course is also playing firmer and faster than it typically does.

    Thomas, 24, confirmed how solid his ball striking is in a round of six birdies and three bogeys.

    “The players know it's a tough golf course,” Jack Nicklaus said earlier this week. “It's going to be a handfull this week, with a dry golf course. This golf course plays much more difficult when it's dry ... and it's a little breezy.

    “You're going to see some very interesting rounds. You might hear a couple complaints.”

    Not from Thomas, who lives in nearby Jupiter.

    “Any time you're even or better on this course, on a day like today, was definitely positive,” he said.

    Thomas’ 67 is confirmation his game is shaping up for the test at Augusta National, where he will be looking to add a green jacket to the Wanamaker Trophy he won at the PGA Championship last August.

    “I love where my game is trending for Augusta,” Thomas said Wednesday. ”I feel like I'm getting, just very, very slowly, better every week ... I'm improving on the things I need to improve on.”

    A victory would be the ultimate confirmation he’s getting major championship ready.

    “I'd like to have a chance to win one of these next three events before Augusta,” he said.

    Thomas is coming off a tie for ninth at the Genesis Open last week. He was T-17 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open before that and T-14 at the Sony Open before that.

    Thursday’s round heated up with Thomas making four birdies in the middle of the round. He chipped in for birdie at the seventh (his 16th hole of the day) to get to 4 under before making bogey at the difficult 17th, where he just missed the green short playing into the wind and left his chip 20 feet short.

    “I hit probably one of my better shots in the Bear Trap, that just ended up in a horrible lie,” he said.

    Thomas headed home eager to keep his promising trend going.

    “It's definitely a little better feeling going to sleep and waking up in your own bed,” Thomas said.

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    Hoffmann's goal: Use golf to cure muscular dystrophy

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 7:17 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Morgan Hoffmann sees more opportunities on a leaderboard than ever before.

    His run into early contention at the Honda Classic Thursday gives him more than a chance to win a trophy and a big check.

    He sees it as a chance to change more than his life.

    Hoffmann has muscular dystrophy.

    He shared that news with the world at the end of last year in a heart-rendering fashion.

    “Today I know that am so damn lucky,” he wrote about his opportunities as a PGA Tour pro in a first-person story for The Players’ Tribune in December. “Because I’ve found my calling, and it’s one far beyond golf.”

    With a 3-under-par 67 at PGA National’s Champion Course, Hoffmann moved into contention to win his first PGA Tour title. He also moved into position to advance his cause.

    “Hopefully find a cure,” Hoffmann, 28, said after a round of four birdies and a bogey left him a shot off the lead.

    Hoffmann believes that is why he was put on this earth.

    “So that when a child is diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, there will be a cure,” he says.

    Hoffmann has to overcome some physical challenges to keep playing, and he has been struggling with his game this year, but he says that is more about the dynamics of the swing than the disease. He arrived at the Honda Classic off five consecutive missed cuts and a first-round withdrawal from last week’s Genesis Open.

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    “I've lost a lot of speed in my swing, but my swing is still there,” Hoffman said. “I'm on plane. It's not like it's really killing my golf game. This isn't the reason for the last missed cuts. I've been working on a lot of things.”

    Hoffman’s type of MD causes degeneration of muscles in the chest, back, neck, arms and sometimes the legs. He has particularly struggled with his pectoral muscles.

    With a special diet, he’s attacking his issues. And with the help of his team of family and friends, he’s fighting for the larger cause. He’s aiming to build a wellness center, a kind of health superstore. He’s planning an inaugural fundraising pro-am Aug. 20 in Paramus, N.J.

    Hoffmann was shaken by the blow when a doctor delivered the diagnosis in 2016, but his attitude since has been inspiring.

    “The doctor wasn't nice,” Hoffman said. “He was like, `Yeah, you have it.’ I went, `Well, all right, I'm speechless . . . What can I do?’ He's like, `There's no cure,’ and he basically hung up. I was pretty pissed off.”

    But Hoffman came out of that quickly. He’s excited about the doctor he’s working with today and the health and wellness plan he is following.

    “I could become a recluse and feel bad for myself, but what's that going to do?” he said. “I love being out here, and I love playing on the PGA Tour, and that's my dream. To help people, ultimately, is my goal. I think I can do really special things with this platform.”