Open Closed

By Mercer BaggsJune 18, 2000, 4:00 pm
With no peers in the present to battle, Tiger Woods had but one foe on Sunday -- history. Woods made a run for the records in the final round of the 100th U.S. Open, and successfully finished the race. Woods shot a record-breaking 12-under-par total to win his third professional major championship by a never before seen 15-stroke margin.
Tiger began the day at 8-under-par, ten shots clear of his nearest competitor. The trophy was his. The $800,000 winner's check was his. A place in history was his. He just had to play 18 holes to make it official.
Tiger's day began with nine consecutive pars. Certainly, it was good enough to win the title, but it wasn't good enough to break the records -- and that's what this round was all about. Don't let Tiger fool you. He might appear aloof when asked about his place in the game's record books, but there's a white-hot fire burning inside of him that belies his demeanor. After all, you don't get that perturbed by making pars in the final round of the U.S. Open, particularly when you have a double-digit lead!
Woods finally broke his string of pars with a birdie at the par-4 10th to move to 9-under-par. But the game didn't truly begin until the par-3 12th. It was there that Tiger sank an 18-footer for birdie, thus becoming just the second man in history to reach double digits at any time in a U.S. Open.
Twelve-under was the next goal for Woods. That was the height reached by Gil Morgan in the third round in the Open at Pebble Beach in 1992.
Woods came within one of that number by nearly holing his approach at the par-4 13th. The resulting birdie moved him to 11-under for the tournament. One hole later, Tiger reached the 12-under total by birdying the par-5 14th.
Now that he had tied the lowest score at any point in Open history, the next step was to break it. He nearly did on the 15th, but left his birdie attempt inches short.

The par-4 16th looked to be a pitfall for Woods. He missed the green long, and pitched past the hole 15 feet. Faced with that putt to remain at 12-under, Woods forcefully rolled it in. He called it the high point of his round.
Tiger safely parred the 17th, and then approached the par-5 18th. There wasn't quite the atmosphere experienced on the 72nd hole as there was a year ago at Pinehurst, but there was still some drama. You knew Tiger was going to break a number of records, but which ones? And, how many?
In the end, Tiger mercifully ended the 100th U.S. Open by sinking a three-footer for par. He shot a 4-under-par 67 on Sunday. Not just a bogey-free round, but also the best of the day by all involved. He finished the tournament at 12-under-par 272 - 15 shots beyond Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who tied for second.
'The day, and all week, I had a sense of calmness that I haven't had in quite a while,' Woods said. 'It was reminiscent of Augusta in '97. No matter what happened, I was able to keep my composure and focus on the shot I needed to make.'
The U.S. Open records Tiger set are as follows: largest 36-hole lead (6 strokes), largest 54-hole lead (10 strokes), largest winning margin (15 strokes; breaking not only the Open record, but the major championship record which was previously 12 strokes, held by Old Tom Morris at the 1862 British Open), lowest 72-hole score in relation to par (12-under).
In addition, Woods tied the 36-hole total of 134 set by Jack Nicklaus (1980) and Lee Janzen (1993). He also tied the same two with a 72-hole total of 272. He became just the fifth wire-to-wire winner (no ties) in the U.S. Open, and the first since Tony Jacklin in 1970. Tiger also established himself as the first man in golf history to win the U.S. Junior-Am, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open.
Some may feel that records are just numbers, and can't be used in determining greatness. But when there's no one at your present level, what else can you use but the past as a barometer.
How great can great be? It's fun to speculate, but difficult to answer; especially when you can't fully understand how great Tiger Woods is right now.
'The guy's unbelievable, man,' said Els, a two-time Open champion himself. 'I'm running out of words. Gimme a break. The guys unbelievable.'
Even the greatest wordsmiths are running out of adjectives to describe Tiger. And he's only 24-years-old.
Yes, this was a U.S. Open. Yes, this was Pebble Beach. Yes, Tiger won by 15. It wasn't competitive, but it was astounding. Simply put, Tiger Woods was and is too dominant to comprehend.
*Tiger Woods adds the 2000 U.S. Open to his major resume, which includes the 1999 PGA Championship and 1997 Masters Tournament. He will try to complete the career Grand Slam in next month's British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
*John Huston was the only American besides Tiger who finished in the top-7.
*Retief Goosen holed an approach shot on the par-5 18th to finish the tournament in a tie for 12th, thus earning an exemption into the 2001 U.S. Open.
*How important is hitting fairways? Colin Montgomerie led the field by hitting 82%, but finished tied for 46th in the event.
*Woods led the tournament in greens hit in regulation (71%) and driving distance (299.3 avg.)
*Nick Faldo led the tournament in putting, averaging 26 putts per round.
*The par-71 Pebble Beach course played to a 75.355 overall scoring average.
*Holes 8-10 ranked 2nd, 1st and 5th respectively in overall difficulty.
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.”