Getty Images

Tour players excited to have Woods back

By Nick MentaNovember 1, 2017, 8:38 pm

LAS VEGAS – He’s coming back.  Again.

And thus his colleagues on Tour are getting asked about him. Again.

Tiger Woods on Monday announced that he will make his return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge in Albany.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because we were all in this position one year ago, when Tiger ended another injury layoff with a start in the Bahamas. That return lasted just seven competitive rounds before he withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic in early February and underwent anterior lumbar interbody fusion surgery in April.

Thereafter, it seemed highly unlikely we would see Woods again in 2017. Even just a month ago at the Presidents Cup, the U.S. assistant captain made it clear that he hadn’t been greenlit to hit balls farther than 60 yards and admitted he didn’t know what his future held.

At the time, Charley Hoffman, one of the 17 players who will compete against Woods in Albany, had “zero” idea he would be in a field with Tiger so quickly.

“There were times, playing ping pong or doing whatever, where you could tell he had movement but that he wasn’t fully healed yet,” Hoffman said Wednesday at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. “I don’t know if Tiger knew [he’d be playing so quickly]. This is just me talking, but I think he was waiting for doctor’s clearance. I don’t think he knew if they were going to say yes, no, or indifferent.”

“But, you know Tiger, once he gets the OK to do something, he’s probably full-bore in.” 

That mindset is likely how Woods went from “there’s no rush” to “I am excited to return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge” over the course of a month.

Like Hoffman, many of Woods’ peers on Tour – those who were willing to engage in Tiger talk during practice rounds at the Shriners – weren’t surprised by Woods’ desire to come back and compete.

Shriners Hospitals for Children Open: Articles, photos and videos

That list starts with Kevin Chappell, who hit balls beside the 14-time major winner at the Tiger Woods Invitational earlier this month.

“I was fortunate enough to do a clinic with him a week [after the Presidents Cup]. I saw how good he was hitting it. I was not surprised to see him commit based on what I saw in Monterrey,” Chappell said.

“He said he’d only been practicing a few days, but we got into … not a full game of HORSE, but it was kind of like, ‘Hey, can you hit this shot? Can you hit the shot?’ He had them all. It was kind of impressive to see. It was tough to tell how far the ball was going, just because we were on the range, but I was impressed with the sound. He’s always made a special sound. To hear that, and to see the ball control he had only a few days into practicing, was impressive.”

And even if Woods’ progression from chipping to competition seems quick, Kevin Na will tell you it really isn’t.

“Once you start swinging full, for a professional golfer, I only think it takes about a month to be ready,” Na said.

Still, he stressed, there’s a difference between being “ready” and being “tournament-ready.” And the only way for Tiger to get tournament-ready, as we’ve heard him say so many times before, is to participate in actual tournaments.

Regardless of whether he’s competitive or not in his first start, Bubba Watson made it clear that it will be a treat just to see Tiger tee it up, considering how little Woods has been around on Tour the last few years.

“When Tiger Woods says he’s going to play again, how would you not love it?” Watson asked. “You always want your legends to keep playing. It’s a sad day when they hang it up.

“We should all be thrilled to see a great champion like that show up and be able to play again, not just [for his own health], but also for the game of golf.”

Na echoed Watson’s excitement, but offered reasonably tempered expectations about what’s possible for a soon-to-be 42-year-old coming off four back surgeries.

“I’m excited he’s coming back. He’s a living legend, obviously,” Na said. “Hopefully, he plays to the level that – to be honest, I don’t think he’ll ever get back to the level he once played at – but, you know, good enough to where he plays.”

Ernie Els, who’s been on Tour for Woods’ entire career and has battled him at his very best, is optimistic Woods could find his form again if his health just cooperates.

“Hopefully, the back holds up, because I do feel he can get to some of his best play, but people have to be patient with him,” Els said. “It’s been a long layoff. Out here, things have changed dramatically. Performance-wise, if he gets a couple top-20s, top-30s in his first few goes, that’s great stuff. And then, once the juices start flowing, who knows what he can do?

“He’s, mentally, the strongest player I’ve ever seen. Physically, if he can get over the hurdle, get into the swing of things out here, and get comfortable, I think he can do good things again.”

To Ernie’s point about just how much the PGA Tour has changed, Woods’ success in his early 20s was once an outlier. Instead, it’s now the norm, with guys like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas making their marks early. Woods played a big part in reshaping the Tour as more and more young players modeled themselves in his image. If he is able to once again play on a consistent basis, he’ll have to contend with monsters he helped create.

“It will be great to see him back out here competitive again among this group of young, talented individuals,” Graeme McDowell said. “I feel like he’s moved the bar to a very, very high level, and guys are stepping up.”

Unlike when guys were scrambling to keep up with Woods, it will be Tiger’s turn to catch up with the Tour. Assuming, of course, his back lets him try.

“Hopefully,” Watson added amidst his enthusiasm, “he is truly healthy enough when he gets to that moment to tee it up.”

Getty Images

Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

Getty Images

Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

Getty Images

Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

Getty Images

Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.