Tiger's 36-hole lead doesn't ensure victory

By Randall MellJanuary 26, 2013, 1:08 am

SAN DIEGO – Back in the day, this is over.

At the height of Tiger Woods’ powers, his name is already being engraved on the Farmers Insurance Open trophy.

There’s a white flag being hoisted over the Torrey Pines clubhouse.

Blindfolds and cigarettes are being handed out on the first tee to the rest of the field.

Back in the day, death and taxes were barely a more certain outcome than Woods winning with a 36-hole lead.

Yeah, that’s over the top, but Woods once reigned as the fiercest frontrunner the game has ever seen.

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That’s worth remembering with Woods shooting a 7-under-par 65 Friday on the North Course to seize the lead halfway through this tournament. With Woods at 11-under 133, the question is if Woods remembers. The question is whether he is putting back together the game that made victory feel almost inevitable when he was out front on a weekend.

“I said earlier this week, I’m excited about this year,” Woods said. “I had a good year last year. I won three times and was in contention in a few others, and that’s a pretty good year.”

Woods dismantled the North Course, shrinking the layout with a driver that looked like it’s becoming a dangerous weapon. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, slamming one tee shot after another straight down the middle.

Though the South Course is 600 yards longer than the North Course, Woods actually hit more drivers on the North Course Friday than he did on the South a day earlier.

Caddie Joe LaCava said Woods hit 10 drivers on the South Course, 12 on the North.

“They’ve lengthened the North Course, and with the course being so wet, it kind of forces your hand,” LaCava said. “And, he’s just driving the ball really well.”

Woods used that big stick to devour the par 5s. He eagled the 18th Friday, his ninth hole of the day, to take sole possession of the lead. He birdied the other three par 5s. He hit driver and just an 8-iron onto No. 1, a 519-yard par 5.

Dominating the par 5s was always a big part of Woods’ formula, but not so much the last couple years.

A more obedient driver is bringing that back.

Woods leads the field this week in driving distance at Torrey Pines (318 yards per drive), but, more impressively, given how much he is hitting driver here, Woods is tied for fourth in driving accuracy (19/28 fairways hit). That makes him No. 1 in total driving this week.

Woods used his driver to shrink the par 4s, too. At the second hole, he hit driver and then knocked a little flip sand wedge off the flagstick to set up birdie. He nearly holed a wedge at the seventh. He looked like the same guy who has reigned so dominantly at Torrey Pines.

“I hit good shots all the way,” Woods said.

If Woods can win for the eighth time as a pro at Torrey Pines this weekend, it bodes well for a big year. A win here is typically his warning shot across the bow of the rest of the PGA Tour. In the six seasons Woods has won this event in the past, he has gone on to win a major championship in five of them, including ’08, when he won here and then won the U.S. Open when it returned nearly six months later.

When Woods has won here at year’s start, he has never failed to win at least four times overall for the year. He won eight times in ’99, five times in ’03, six times in ’05, eight times in ’06 and seven times in ’07. When he won twice here in ’08, he won four times overall, but that was in just six starts with Woods shutting down his season in June for knee surgery.

There’s still scar tissue at issue now, though, scar tissue that goes beyond the knee.

With Woods creating doubt with weekend stumbles in big events last year, with a fearless new generation eager to make its mark, that same old sense of inevitability isn’t there with Woods atop the leaderboard.

Last year, Woods held a share of the 36-hole leads at the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship but didn’t even record a top-10 finish in those events. He has closed the door when leading halfway through an event just twice in his last six tries.

That’s a stark contrast from his best days.

Woods once went more than four years without failing to close the door on a 36-hole lead in a PGA Tour event. From the ’99 Memorial through the ’03 WGC-American Express Championship, Woods closed the door 18 consecutive times when holding the lead halfway through a PGA Tour event. He closed the door 12 consecutive times during a run in the same position between ’05 and ’09. He was 30/32 closing the door on 36-hole leads in that span and overall is 34/44.

Woods’ body language spoke volumes about the returning state of his confidence. A big part of that is comfort with the changes he and swing coach Sean Foley made.

“Yeah, I’ve had another year in the system of working with Sean,” Woods said. “It’s not something that you can do overnight and make changes and all of a sudden it’s great. From where I came from, to where I’m at now, it’s a big change.”

It’s a change that could make this weekend feel like the same old thing for Tiger at Torrey.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.