Tiger Close to Closing the Open
Conjuring up images of his runaway victory in the 1997 Masters Tournament, Woods is once again lapping the field in a major championship. At -8, Tiger is the only player currently under par. His nearest competitor is Ernie Els, who's at 2-over-par.
Tiger's 10-shot lead after 54 holes is a U.S. Open record. The previous margin was seven, set by James Barnes in 1921. That's not the only record Woods set on Saturday. His six-stroke lead through 36 holes is also a new record; breaking the five-stroke margin set by Willie Anderson in 1903, and tied by Mike Souchak in 1960.
Tiger's record-breaking Saturday began at 4:30am PT. After stepping off the course 10 hours prior, Tiger was forced to complete his second round beginning at 6:30am. Woods did so by posting one birdie and two bogeys over his final six holes. Ironically, the two bogeys came on the par-5 14th and par-5 18th. Still Woods' 134 total tied him with Jack Nicklaus, T.C. Chen and Lee Janzen for yet another Open record. Nicklaus' and Janzen's two-day scores both came at Baltusrol in 1980 and 1993, respectively. Chen's came in the 1985 Open at Oakland Hills.
'Well, I guess if you go on to lose, you look like an idiot,' Woods said after completing his second round. 'I'm going to play hard and do the same things I've been doing, which is hit the fairways. If I have a good situation, I'll go ahead and attack. If not, I'll dump it on the side of the green and make my par.'
Seven hours after finishing his second round, a fully rested and stomach-filled Woods once again made his way to the course. However, this time the course was waiting. Strong winds were wreaking havoc on the 61 others already out on the course. Tiger had successfully avoided such conditions through two rounds, but there was no such luck in Round 3. Of course, Tiger doesn't need much luck.
Paired with Thomas Bjorn, Woods embarked on his third round with a six-shot cushion at 8-under-par. Tiger moved to nine-under after sinking a remarkable 30-foot birdie putt on the 2nd, but trouble - and hope for the rest of the field - lurked on the par-4 3rd. Tiger's approach shot came up short and right of the green. It landed outside of a bunker, yet buried deep down in the nightmarish Open rough. Woods nearly whiffed his next shot, and then managed to barely advance his fourth. His fifth finally made the green. Two putts later, Tiger had carded a triple-bogey-7.
Woods was now at six-under, yet in the difficult conditions, no one was able to make a run at him. His playing companion, Bjorn, bogeyed two of his first three holes to remain six shots off the lead. In fact, after making a par on the 4th, Woods reached the par-3 5th as the only man under par. It would stay that way for the remainder of the day.
On the par-5 6th, Tiger escaped trouble by playing a phenomenal shot from the roughage encompassing a fairway bunker. The resultant birdie lifted him back to seven-under. Then came the short par-3 7th. The wind had been howling throughout the third round, causing near-comical miscues from the world's best players. But as Tiger reached the tee, the conditions calmed and watched as he struck an iron pin high to eight feet. Another birdie ensued, and Woods was level for the day at 8-under-par.
The wind soon returned, and Woods sandwiched a birdie at the par-4 9th between two bogeys at the 8th and 10th, with a final birdie coming at the 14th. In all, Tiger posted five birdies, two bogeys and one triple for an even-par 71. Woods finished the round where he stared, at eight-under. But though his position didn't change, his lead did.
'I knew if I shot even par or somewhere close to that, I'd probably pick up a shot or two, just because the conditions were so severe out there,' Woods said following his third round. 'Going into tomorrow, if I can just go out there and hit a lot of good solid shots, especially off the tees, I feel like if I drive the ball in a lot of fairways tomorrow, I have a pretty good chance, no matter what (Els) shoots.'
Only one player managed to break par in Saturday's third round. That was Els, who posted an early 3-under-par 69 to finish 54 holes at 2-over-par. Ernie's round included a holed wedge shot from 99 yards for an eagle-2 at the 4th. Els had started the day in a tie for 36th, but jumped into a tie for 8th upon the completion of his round. By the end of the day, he was in second place alone.
The par-71 Pebble Beach course played at a 77.124 scoring average in the third round. Sixteen players shot 80 or higher, including Bjorn. The Dane began the day tied for second at 2-under-par, but carded one birdie, eight bogeys and two double-bogeys for an 11-over-par 82. He's now tied for 22nd.
Jimenez did break 80, but he didn't fare much better. Like Bjorn, the Spaniard started his third round tied for second at two-under. But Jimenez bogeyed the first and never recovered. He posted five bogeys and no birdies for a round of 76. He's still tied for third, but is now 11 shots off the lead.
With a ten shot lead over his closest competition, Woods is a near-mortal lock to win his first U.S. Open. In his '97 Masters romp, Woods led by nine shots through 54 holes, yet still shot 69 on Sunday to increase his winning margin to 12.
In terms of Tiger, the only suspense left is to see how many records he can match or break. But there is still the matter of a $475,000 second-place check. In the event within the event, there are ten players within four shots of one another.
NEWS, NOTES AND NUMBERS
*Woods and Els will tee off at 12:40pm PT.
*The last player to win the U.S. Open wire-to-wire was Tony Jacklin in 1970.
*The record for largest winning margin in an Open is 11 strokes, set by Willie Smith in 1899.
*The record aggregate 72-hole total at an Open is 272, set by Jack Nicklaus (1980) and Lee Janzen (1993).
*The lowest 72-hole score in relation to par is eight under.
*The best comeback in a final Open round is seven strokes, set by Arnold Palmer in 1960.
*Gil Morgan holds the record for most strokes under par at any point in an Open, 12 in the third round in 1992 at Pebble Beach.
*Kirk Triplett began the third round at 1-under-par, but shot a third-round 84, including a nine on the par-5 18th to finish at 12-over-par, tied for 43rd.
*Triplett is tied with Hal Sutton, who played his first five holes in the third round at 6-over-par. Sutton shot a 12-over-par 83.
*Jim Furyk began his day with a birdie on the 1st, but then bogeyed the 2nd, tripled the 3rd and after a par at the 4th, began a stretch of eight straight bogeys at the 5th. Furyk shot 13-over-par 84 for the day.
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.”