Weir Charges to AmEx Victory

By Mercer BaggsNovember 12, 2000, 5:00 pm
Shock, disbelief, anger and relief. Those were the telltale signs adorning player's faces as they walked off Valderrama's 17th green on Sunday.
Free Video - Registration Required Weir Comments on His Victory at Vaderrama
Relief was the operative expression for Mike Weir. After watching the penultimate hole devour the world's No. 1 player before his very eyes, the Canadian endured with a par 5 en route to his second career PGA Tour title at the WGC-American Express Championship.
Weir fired a 3-under-par 69 to better Lee Westwood, who shot 67, by two strokes. Vijay Singh and Duffy Waldorf tied for third at 8-under-par, three shots back of Weir. Overnight leader Hidemichi Tanaka finished tied for 11th after carding a 5-over-par 77 in the final round, five strokes higher than the Sunday scores posted by Tiger Woods and Nick Price, who each shot 72 and tied for fifth.
Playing in the final group with the amiable Tanaka, Weir birdied five of his first 11 holes to take sole possession of the lead at 13-under-par. A bogey at the par-3 15th trimmed a stroke off his total, but his lead remained intact entering the 71st hole.
Approaching the par-5 17th, Weir led Price by one and Tiger by two. By the time he finished the hole, Weir's nearest pursuant was Westwood - three strokes back.
Price triple-bogeyed the treacherous 17th to fall four off the lead, while Tiger carded a double-bogey to do the same. Seemingly playing it safe, Price comfortably laid-up on the reachable par-5 to within 100 yards of the hole. Price chunked his first approach shot into the water, and then laid the sod over his next attempt, which also finished wet.
An errant tee shot forced Woods to pitch out and then lay-up before attempting to cross the pond. Playing his fourth shot, Tiger hit a wedge ten feet past the stick; and as was the case a year ago in the final round, the ball spun back past the pin, down the slope and into the water. It was the fourth time in his last five rounds at Valderrama that Tiger has been bitten by the water hazard.
'I hit two good shots in there,' said an angered Woods following an even-par 72. 'Every ball I've hit in the water there have been good shots. It's just indicative of the hole. It's not a very well-designed hole and unfortunately, if you just walk around the bank, look how many balls are in the water.'
Free Video - Registration Required Players Comment on Valderrama's 17th Hole
Fortunately for Woods, this event moves to Bellerive in St. Louis next year.
'I'm glad we're not going to come back ever again.'
Woods ends the year with nine Tour victories and nearly $9.2 million in official earnings. Though he failed to become golf's first $10-million man, Tiger did establish several Tour records, including the lowest single-season scoring average in PGA Tour history at 68.17.
Westwood had problems of his own at the 17th. He didn't find the drink, but he did card a bogey. Still, the Englishman regrouped to par the final hole and claim second place. The runner-up finish was good enough for a $500,000 payday, thus giving the 27-year-old his first Order of Merit title over Darren Clarke, who tied for 17th this week.
'Obviously, I'm delighted,' Westwood said. 'It shows your consistency throughout the year, and to do it in that fashion means even more.'
Westwood ended the season with nearly $2.7 million in earnings, some $350,000 better than Clarke. Colin Montgomerie, who tied for 25th in Sotogrande, Spain, finished sixth in yearly earnings, the first time since 1992 he hasn't topped the Order of Merit.
Free Video - Registration Required Westwood Comments on Winning the Order of Merit
'It had to end some time,' Montgomerie said of his record reign. 'You can't keep doing that. I have been fortunate to say the last 12 years I have improved every year. But this year I haven't, so it's disappointing.'
On the other end of the emotional spectrum stands Weir. The 30-year-old Cannuck collected $1 million for his first victory since the 1999 Air Canada Championship and moves into sixth place on the season-ending money list.
'Air Canada was huge at the time, but this one goes up a notch with the quality of the field,' said Weir, who posted rounds of 68-75-65-69. 'I played really well this weekend. I had that disaster on 17 Friday (a triple-bogey 8), but hung in there this weekend.'
In other news, Joe Ozaki tied for 35th and picked up $39,500. Ozaki finishes the year 123rd on the PGA Tour money list, thus bumping Joey Sindelar into 126th position. The top 125 earn full playing privileges for the 2001 season.
Free Video - Registration Required Woods and Waldorf Comment on the Final Rd.
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.”