Like Tiger of old, Woods pleads for tougher Augusta

By Randall MellApril 10, 2015, 10:43 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods punched the air with a wicked right cross after his putt nosedived into the hole at the 17th Friday at the Masters.

The strength of the emotion seemed curiously bold in the moment.

It was a putt for par, after all, to keep Woods within 12 shots of a runaway train named Jordan Spieth.

Woods looked a little bit like a football receiver on the wrong end of a 49-7 rout celebrating a touchdown just before going in for halftime.

The story of Woods so far in this Masters, however, was there to see in the boldness of that right cross. Woods actually believes he can still win this thing. You saw it in the emotion at the 17th, and you heard it in Woods’ voice after the round.

That’s the turn Woods is taking here through two rounds of the Masters.

A week ago, we were all wondering if he was going to embarrass himself, or if he was going to limp away yet again, wincing in pain and holding his surgically repaired back in another withdrawal. And now he is talking as if he really thinks he’s got a shot this weekend.

“I'm still right there,” Woods said. “I'm 12 back, but there are not a lot of guys ahead of me. And with 36 holes here to go, anything can happen, you know – '96 (when Greg Norman blew a six-shot, 54-hole lead) proved that. So we have a long way to go. There are so many holes.”

That’s why Woods spent a little extra time in scoring after his round, telling Augusta National officials that they ought to seriously consider turning on their subterranean turf conditioning system to suck some of the moisture and forgiveness out of the greens here.

Woods thinks Augusta National is playing too easy.

Yeah, the guy who shot 82 in his last full round in a PGA Tour event before coming here wants it playing tougher. That’s because he believes it’s easier to carve into a big lead when a course is on the edge, when misses court more disaster and when the possibility of collapse plays heavier on a leader’s mind.

“The scoring conditions were there because the greens were soft,” Woods said after shooting a 69, his best round in four years at the Masters. “We could be aggressive.

“The balls were spinning back, 5‑irons were making ball marks, things like that, things that you just don't normally find here. But it's up to the committee, if they want to make this golf course a little drier ... I was telling the guys earlier, it's quiet out there. There are no Sub-Airs going. If they turn on the Sub-Airs, they can suck the moisture out of this thing and get them firm. Or, they can live with it like it is, and we can go out there and make a bunch of birdies.”

Given the absolute disarray of his game this season, the lingering questions about the health of his back, the waywardness of his driver and the yippiness of his chipping, it’s seems nutty that Woods is practically begging Augusta National’s competition committee to make the course tougher.

This day should have ended as a moral victory for Woods.

Yes, he doesn’t believe in those, but there was a lot to celebrate Friday in the Woods camp, mostly in how this day didn’t end.

It didn’t end in a missed cut.

It didn’t end with a withdrawal because of injury.

It didn’t end in a withdrawal with a segment of media wondering if the injury was due more to emotional pain to embarrassing performances than to physical pain

It didn’t end in a scrum in the parking lot.

No, for Woods, it ended with him lobbying Augusta National members to make the golf course harder. While most of his fellow players were ending their rounds raving about what the young dynamo Spieth was doing, Woods was plotting a comeback that reaches beyond this being merely a stepping stone to future runs into contention.

There was a bounce in Woods’ step again Friday, returning confidence in his body language. He told us this week he worked his butt off to feel that again.

“Very proud of what I've done, to be able to dig it out the way I have,” Wood said. “I told you guys on Tuesday, I was at a pretty low one in my career, but to basically change an entire pattern like that, and put it together, and put it in a position where I can compete in a major championship like this, is something I'm very proud of.”

Woods stubbed one chip Friday, but it was a delicate shot at the sixth green, a nearly impossible play to a tricky pin. His chipping looked really solid for two days. He hit some wayward tee shots, but he has hit a lot more good ones.

This week is a large turning point for Woods, so far. He can change the nature of the questions looming over him with a strong finish this weekend, whether it ends in a victory or not.

And then again, he could leave wondering if he should be careful about what he wishes for should Augusta National become too tough for his rebuilt game.

Augusta National knows how to deliver right crosses, too.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x