Woods dominating but fizzles at finish

By Randall MellJanuary 29, 2013, 2:05 am

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods limped home yet again to win another championship at Torrey Pines.

This wobbly march through the home stretch at the Farmers Insurance Open Monday wasn’t awe-inspiring like that win at the U.S. Open here five years ago, but it was nearly as head-scratching.

When Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, he made us scratch our heads at how he could hit so many brilliant shots on a left leg ravaged by a torn ligament and fractured tibia.

He brought home this latest title, his eighth at Torrey Pines, limping home figuratively, with a sprained swing and hemorrhaging scorecard.

This time we marveled at how the greatest closer in the history of the game could look so invincible for 54 holes and so vulnerable for the final 18.


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We marveled at how the Tiger Woods of old came back to us through the first three rounds, how he emerged from the ethereal mist that shrouded this place with a game that made us think he could dominate again, that he will dominate again. We marveled at how all that brilliance could give way so quickly to the same doubts that have given us pause since he returned from his personal woes.

Yeah, it’s not fair, not at all, that a four-shot victory comes with scrutiny like this, but that’s the nature of the shadow Woods casts; that’s the specter that comes with his remarkable record.

Only Woods could win his 75th PGA Tour title by four shots and leave us thinking he didn’t somehow deliver all the goods.

That’s just crazy, but we see his career as a drama larger than any single moment. He’s our Odysseus, and we’re wondering if he’ll ever make it to Ithaca. We’re wondering where this great adventure ends because the task ahead still seems so great.

We see Woods in a picture frame larger than the PGA Tour events he is playing. So, when we see flashes of Woods’ brilliance returning, we think, yes, he will break Jack Nicklaus’ record. He will leave the sport with all the records, and then we see Monday’s stumbling finish and wonder if that’s the arc the bigger picture also takes. We remember his lost weekends after taking the lead at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship last year and failing to even grab a top 10.

There are so many ways you can look at Woods’ victory this week.

You can see the hard work paying off here in that terrific stretch where he hit one long, straight drive after another. You could see the power back with his ability to dominate par 5s. You could see the great escapes, the ability to recover from impossible lies that helped him erase so many mistakes in the past. You could see the sharpening short game that has helped him keep his scorecards so clean over the years. You could see the putting stroke continuing to come back.

You see all of that and think Woods is rebuilding the greatest arsenal of shots in the game. You see him being able to get away with mistakes again because he can erase so many of them.

You also see how his swing with his driver deserted him in the final round this past week, how the big misses returned in a rush, with tee shots spraying into trees, ice plants, bunkers and fences.

Woods built his reputation closing stronger, better and more fiercely than anyone who ever played the game, but he went bogey, double bogey, par, bogey and par coming home Sunday. He turned an eight-shot lead into a four-shot lead. Yes, there’s rust in his first PGA Tour start of the year, but this was Tiger at Torrey.

So what do you take away from his 75th PGA Tour title?

“That’s a good question,” said Joe LaCava, Woods’ caddie. “I’m a bottom-line guy, and the fact that he won is all that matters to me. I take away how he drove the heck out of the ball. Going forward, that’s a positive. I think he’s very confident now.”

Woods dismissed the stumbling finish with the idea that he knew all he had to do was “stay upright” to win. The slow pace play annoyed him, and he said he lost his patience.

No matter how he finished, winning here bodes well.

In the six seasons Woods has won this event, he has gone on to win major championships in five of them.

When he wins at Torrey Pines, big years always follow. He averages 6.3 wins a year when he wins at Torrey Pines.

“I didn't know those stats, sorry,” Woods said. “Does it feel good? Yes. Does it give me confidence? Absolutely. But as far as the other stuff, as I said, I'm excited about this year.  I'm excited about what I'm doing with Sean Foley and some of the things that I've built.  This is a nice way to start the year.”

Yes, but ultimately, it’s the finish that matters and that’s what Woods is working toward, finishing his great quest.

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."