Tiger Cant Be Tamed
Friday proved to be an exhaustively long day for all involved in the 100th U.S. Open. Eighty-one players were forced to complete their first rounds early in the morning, many of who were out on the range by 5:00am PT. But due to reoccurring fog, the completion of the opening round didn't begin until 8:15am PT.
While some were finishing their first 18 holes, others were simultaneously beginning their second rounds. And though the fog was relatively non-existent, the wind certainly compensated.
One-by-one, group-by-group, players made their way out onto a biting Pebble Beach golf course. But apparently, Mother Nature is a Tiger Woods fan. Thursday, she withheld her full impact until Woods was safely in the Pebble Beach clubhouse. Friday, she blew hard for the better part of the day, and then receded before Tiger could begin his second round. Sitting back peacefully, Mother Nature became one of us -- a watcher of the world's number one player.
After waiting nearly 30 hours between stroking the final putt of his first round and hitting the first shot of his second round, Woods was ready to go. He had spent his day sleeping, eating and working out. Now it was time to play.
Woods got his round going by making a 20-foot par save on the par-4 2nd. Leading by two, Woods sank a 30-footer for birdie on the 3rd, but gave the stroke right back on the 4th. Tiger rebounded with back-to-back birdies on the par-5 6th and par-3 7th, but dropped another shot at the 9th.
As Tiger made the turn, he led Jimenez by two shots. However, Woods wasn't content.
'I wanted to get one more coming in after making the bogey at nine,' Woods said after his round.
Tiger got that 'one' at the par-4 11th. After receiving a fortunate bounce off a greenside mound, Tiger confidently sank a three-foot birdie putt to move to 8-under-par for the tournament.
At 8:15pm PT, officials suspended second round play. But, since there was no imminent danger, players were allowed to complete the holes they were on. Tiger chose to do so, calmly hitting his tee shot on the 191-yard, par-3 12th to 30 feet.
'On 12, I just wanted to get (my first putt) close,' said Woods. 'I just wanted to get out of dodge and it went it.'
Tiger's fifth birdie of the day moved him to 9-under-par for the tournament, three shots clear of Jimenez. The Spaniard teed-off an hour-and-a-half after Tiger, making pars on his first five holes of the day. Jimenez's first and only birdie, thus far in the second round, came on the par-5 6th. That six-footer allowed Jimenez to finish his day at 6-under-par through seven holes.
Jimenez isn't the only European near the top of the leaderboard. Dane Thomas Bjorn went out in 3-under-par 32, and eventually finished the day at two-under through 16 holes. He's tied with Argentine Angel Cabrera, who at one point was at 4-under-par, before bogeying the 8th and 9th.
Only 99 of the 155 players in the field have completed their second rounds. One of those is Kirk Triplett, who at 1-under-par is the low man in the house. Triplett made his way to five-under for the tournament through eight holes, but posted one bogey, two doubles and one birdie over his final ten holes.
John Huston started the day at 4-under-par, just two off the lead, but began his second round by triple-bogeying the par-4 7th. Huston's day consisted of one triple, one double, four bogeys and five birdies. In all, he accounted for a 4-over-par 75 to complete 36 holes at even par.
Due to the multiple delays over the first two days, Woods was able to showcase his talents in prime time. In fact, Tiger went head-to-head with his beloved Los Angeles Lakers, who were playing the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the NBA finals. Fortunately for Woods, he fared much better than L.A. The Lakers lost 120-87.
When asked whom he thought won the ratings war -- basketball or golf -- Tiger responded: 'I think we did pretty good since it was a blow-out, which I'm not happy about. But, we're going home.'
Yes, the Lakers are headed back to Los Angeles with a three games to two lead in a best-of-seven series. It will take a minor miracle for Indiana to conquer L.A. It might take the same to top Tiger.
NEWS, NOTES AND NUMBERS
*Completion of the second round is expected to begin at 6:30am PT.
*Bobby Clampett, who shot 68 in the first round, made several par saves on the front-9 to remain in red figures on Friday, but bogeyed three of the seven holes he completed on the back-9. Clampett is 1-over-par for the tournament through 16 holes of his second round.
*Only four players posted a second-round score under par: Lee Porter (70), Woody Austin (70), Joe Daley (69) and Dave Eichelberger (69). Daley shot 83 in the first round. Eichelberger is the reigning U.S. Senior Open champion.
*In what he says will be his final U.S. Open appearance, Jack Nicklaus shot an 11-over-par 82. It is his highest score in 160 career U.S. Open rounds.
*Likewise, Greg Norman shot 82 on Friday. It is also his highest score at the Open.
*The projected cut is at 7-over-par. Players who won't be playing on the weekend include Davis Love III (+12), Nicklaus (+13) and Norman (+17). Love only made one birdie in the 36 holes he played.
Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta
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.
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.
Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA
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.
Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic
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.
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.
Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe
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.
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.”