A Return to Domination

By Mercer BaggsDecember 22, 2006, 5:00 pm
2006 Stories of the Year Editor's Note: TheGolfChannel.com is counting down its top 5 stories from the world of golf in 2006 and looking ahead to the five 'Big Questions' on the PGA TOUR in 2007. This is story No. 1 from this past season.
 
The 2006 PGA TOUR season had a defining event, the U.S. Open. It was at Winged Foot where Tiger Woods missed his first cut as a professional in a major championship. It was also where Phil Mickelson made double-bogey on the 72nd hole to lose by one.
 
For Woods, the result was disappointing. He was competing in his first event in nine weeks, his first event since the death of his father to cancer in May.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' six-event PGA TOUR winning streak began at the Open Championship.
For Mickelson, the result was disheartening. He was ready to stake full claim to Tigers throne atop the world of golf.
 
Tiger recovered. Phil did not. And the current landscape of golf can be traced back to that one event.
 
How would things have been different if Mickelson had made par? If Mickelson had won his third straight major championship? We can only wonder. Mickelson can only imagine.
 
Woods, however, does not dwell on such scenarios. He doesnt have to. He had no problem dusting himself off after being trampled at the Open. Though he had never missed a cut as a professional in a major, the aftereffects were nothing he hadnt dealt with before: frustration, anger, disappointment. Nothing that couldnt be overcome. Nothing like the pain of losing a loved one.
 
For Mickelson, it was different. Everything was going his way. He was peaking. And then he crashed. In six brutal swings everything changed.
 
Mickelson was crushed. He was a public punch-line once again. He hasnt since been the same.
 
The same can be said for Tiger.
 
Woods next emerged at the Cialis Western Open, and he was not the same player who exited early at Winged Foot. He didnt win that week, but his runner-up performance helped set the stage for his return to dominance.
 
Watching Tiger Woods play the role of superior golfer is like watching Bruce Willis in the Die Hard series. The plot is roughly the same in each movie, but the action is so captivating that you dont mind its repetitive nature.
 
Weve seen Woods dominate before, most notably in 2000. That year serves as the standard of Tigers greatness. But even he admits that what he accomplished over a three-month stretch in 2006 rivals that of six years ago.
 
'It's close,' he answered when asked to compare the two campaigns. 'Very close.'
 
The winning started at the Open Championship, where he was the defending champion. Woods conquered Royal Liverpool by executing a game plan that involved hitting only one driver all week. His performance was masterful.
 
That was the beginning of six straight PGA TOUR wins, including the PGA Championship, where he outclassed and overpowered the field at Medinah.
 
His final numbers included eight PGA TOUR victories (and one more in Dubai) and $9.94 million in official TOUR earnings. His lead in the Official World Golf Ranking, which was less than six points after the U.S. Open, is now more than double that.
 
Was it his best year ever? Not according to Woods. Not when you consider everything that took place outside the ropes.
 
If you take into account what happened off the golf course, it's my worst year, he said. I consider (this year) as a loss. In the grand scheme of things, golf, it doesn't even compare to losing a parent.
 
Tigers personal life took a very serious hit in 2006. And whether inspired or not by his fathers passing, Woods was nearly unbeatable upon his return to the game.
 
Not that he was invincible. He lost to Shaun Micheel in the European Tours World Match Play in mid-September. He also failed to win November events in China and Japan, falling to Padraig Harrington in a playoff in the latter.
 
Tiger Woods
Woods has once again separated himself from the rest of the golfing world.
However, unlike just six months ago, no one is questioning who the best player in the world is.
 
Woods got to this point, or should it be that he returned to this height of excellence, after completing his second major swing overhaul.
 
He and instructor Hank Haney spent the majority of the 2004 season defending themselves over the alterations. He won only once that year. But in 2005, he collected six TOUR trophies, including at The Masters Tournament and British Open.
 
Still, it was Mickelson who was perceived by many as The Man as the seasons second major loomed. Mickelson had won the BellSouth Classic by 13 and had claimed The Masters for his second consecutive major triumph.
 
Woods, meanwhile, had been sidelined for more than two months because of his fathers failing health and ultimate death.
 
While Winged Foot proved a back-breaker for Mickelson, it provided some much needed competition for Woods, if for only two days. Though he missed the cut, he returned to action three weeks later rarin to go.
 
And where he went was where only three men had ever gone before. Only Byron Nelson (11 straight in 1945) and Ben Hogan (six straight in 1948) had ever won six straight PGA TOUR events.
 
And, of course, Woods, who won six straight from the latter stages of 1999 to the beginning of 2000.
 
Hes now the first to accomplish such a feat twice.
 
I think it's interesting how I was getting ripped for making my swing changes, now here we are. That's why I made those changes. It's nice to have the opportunity to do the things I know I can do in this game of golf, Woods said after his sixth win-in-a-row at the WGC-American Express Championship.
 
Woods seems to have once again significantly separated himself from the rest of the TOUR pack. His chief rivals appear to once again be found in the past rather than the present ' including himself circa 2000.
 
Woods won nine times that year. He won three consecutive major championships. He finished in the top-5 17 times in 20 events played.
 
Many wonder if Woods can duplicate that season in 2007. Woods wonders if he can better it.
 
People want to compare stuff to the past, he said, and I'm trying to get better in the future, not the past.
 
Woods is again without peer, at least a modern one. Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els appear to be less of a challenge than breaking Jack Nicklaus career major victory record or Byron Nelsons TOUR winning streak or Sam Sneads career TOUR wins mark.
 
But despite them all ' those in the present and those from the past ' and despite how well he is playing entering the upcoming season, Woods knows that there will always be one against whom he will always find his truest competition.
 
It's always yourself, he said. You're always trying to better what you've done in the past, always. Hopefully that's good enough to beat the rest of the guys. But if you keep improving each and every day, then in the end you're always going to have a very successful career.
 
Related Links:
  • Previewing 2006; Reviewing 2007
  • Woods Repeats at Open Championship
  • Woods Wins Going Away at PGA
  • Tiger Woods' Bio
  • Getty Images

    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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    J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

    Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

    ''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''


    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


    Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

    Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

    Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

    She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

    ''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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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.


    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    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.”


    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    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.