Not even West can woo Tiger to Riviera

By Randall MellFebruary 13, 2013, 1:16 pm

LOS ANGELES – Jerry West knew how to score.

He could deliver in the clutch as well as anyone who ever played the NBA.

Beloved here in the City of Angels, West was brought in a little more than three years ago as the executive director of the Northern Trust Open to restore some of the luster that this tradition-rich tournament enjoyed for all those years as the L.A. Open. The star power Riviera Country Club attracted went beyond Hogan, Nelson and Snead. This club was home to the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, Dean Martin and Vic Damone.

By all accounts, West has scored big points for this event, drawing important new corporate support, boosting charitable efforts and the Legends Club, improving the tournament field and generally elevating enthusiasm for the event with his elegant presence. He came out of retirement to pour his passion into a sport he has come to love and into the giving PGA Tour golf uniquely specializes in.

Yet for all his heartfelt devotion and commitment, the NBA Hall of Famer and Lakers legend hasn’t been able to deliver the one commodity this event most needs to vault back to elite status.

As much as he’s tried, West hasn’t been able to deliver Tiger Woods.

Born and raised just 40 miles south of Riviera Country Club, Woods played his first PGA Tour event at the L.A. Open. He was 16 when the tournament offered him a sponsor’s invite. He got another one when he was 17.

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Woods played this tournament 11 times. He finished second in ’98, and he tied for second again the following year. He tied for fifth in ’03 and tied for seventh in ’04, but the hometown kid never broke through to win here.

Back in ’06, Woods pulled out of this event after 36 holes with the flu.

He hasn’t been back since.

Riviera has the distinction of being the venue Woods has played most without winning.

West, now 74, isn’t sure how much longer he will continue in this tournament role. There’s speculation this could be his last year. If it proves to be, Mr. Clutch will have delivered everything but Tiger to this event he’s come to care so much about.

Still, if it frustrates West to any degree that he couldn’t woo Tiger, he doesn’t betray it.

“I really respect Tiger a lot,” West told as he made his way to the practice putting green Tuesday morning. “He has a lot of people pulling and tugging at him. Obviously, it’s disappointing he’s not here, but that’s his prerogative, OK. Trust me, I hold no animosity or ill will against him.”

West didn’t land Woods for lack of trying. He knows Tiger, and he plays in Woods’ World Challenge pro-ams.

“I would hope Tiger would play here someday,” West said. “He has so many fans, and they gave him his first opportunity to play here. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t, but I admire him as a golfer. I very much like him as a person. That has no bearing on whether he’s going to play in the golf tournament for me.”

It doesn’t help the Northern Trust Open that Woods has found a new hometown event. Now that he’s living on Jupiter Island, Woods is in The Honda Classic’s backyard. He played it for the first time last year, finishing second to Rory McIlroy, and he is committed to playing it again this year.

If Woods played the Northern Trust this week, he would be playing four weeks in a row, five of the next six weeks.

Corey Pavin, who played for nearby UCLA, is playing this tournament for the 30th time this year. He won it in ’94 and ’95 and was paired with Woods here a couple times.

Pavin doesn’t know why Woods abandoned trying to win this event, but he suspects Woods lack of success at Riviera might be a contributing factor.

“I’m sure not winning here, or playing as well as you would like, is a factor,” Pavin said. “We always want to play at courses where we’ve done well. Maybe there’s something he feels uncomfortable with here, I don’t know. I think it’s more a scheduling issue. He has to figure out what’s the best thing for him and best way to perform.”

Even Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, put in a strong word for the Northern Trust Open with Woods this year. LaCava watched his former player, Fred Couples, thrive at Riviera, winning twice. 

Padraig Harrington was asked how much influence a tournament director or caddie actually have in wooing players to events. He wasn’t speaking about Woods, but Harrington offered this: “A tournament director is massive to an event. A personal relationship between a tournament director and a player can make all the difference. The player will make an extra effort when there's a face to the request to come to a tournament . . .

“The feel of the golf course, your good memories of the golf course; that's a big determinant. Your past performances will bring you back to a golf course, but no doubt a tournament director can build a relationship that a player will always want to, certainly do his utmost to keep that on the rota.”

While West knows Tiger’s good for Riviera, he’s still searching for ways to persuade Woods that the event will be good for Woods. He’s still figuring out how to deliver that last big score.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”

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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.

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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).