Expectations in overdrive as Woods eyes Merion

By Rex HoggardMay 29, 2013, 7:12 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Not since 2009 have the expectations been this high, and maybe not since that late spring four years ago has the hyperbole been so justified.

For the first time in his historic career, Tiger Woods begins the week at Jack’s place with four Tour bottle caps already on the shelf this calendar. Not in 2000, when he won nine times and the front end of the “Tiger Slam”; not in 2008, when he collected eight Tour titles and a U.S. Open on one leg; not in ’09, when he won six times and lost his first major (PGA) when leading through 54 holes.

As Paul Goydos once famously figured, Woods is once again the most underrated player in the game, and for good reason in spite of runaway expectations entering the year’s second major.

Critics will nitpick, pointing out his victories at the Farmers Insurance Open in January and WGC-Cadillac Championship in March weren’t exactly walk-offs. But that fixation on Woods’ late stumbles in both events is a disservice that confuses execution with ego.


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When his career is over, the record books will not add up the “pretty” wins and discard those of lesser quality.

Some even suggest that victories on friendly confine venues (Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill) aren’t the best gauge of long-term success, but that conveniently ignores his Sawgrass special earlier this month when he punched his way to his first Players victory since 2001 largely with fairway woods and wedges.

Even his most ardent detractors will struggle not to grasp the elephant in the room; not since 2009 has Woods been this poised, in body and mind, to dominate when it counts – at a major.

Back in 2009, Woods arrived in Ohio having won at Bay Hill (sound familiar?), and scorched the field with a closing 65 at Muirfield Village that included a filthy 49 of 56 fairways hit for the week.

Bring on Bethpage, were the not-so-subtle undertones; much like this week’s focus is squarely on Merion and next month’s U.S. Open.

Three of the first four questions during Woods’ Wednesday meet and greet with the media were about Merion, which he visited on Tuesday on his way to the Memorial.

With apologies to the Memorial, Woods’ play the last four months has created a collective ADD that is completely understandable.

“If (Merion) dries out and plays firm and fast it will be very similar to what we play in the sand belt (of Australia),” Woods said.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Woods will be able to pick apart Merion like he did the Stadium Course earlier this month, opting for 3- and 5-woods off many tees and playing angles, not attack.

It’s worked before (see Open, British 2006), and there is a level of confidence with his Sean Foley swing that we haven’t seen since, well, 2009.

“I feel confident with the motion,” Woods said. “In all the stretches where I played well, I felt good about what I was able to do and I was able to fix it on the fly. ... The work with Sean now is more about alignment.”

For good measure, Foley walked with Woods during his Wednesday pro-am at Muirfield Village and the extent of their work was on alignment. That he is healthy – the last event Woods withdrew from with injury was the 2012 Cadillac – and happy also adds to the enthusiastic equation.

All of which makes the runaway expectations so expected.

There are no assurances in golf. They tend to play all 72 regardless of the betting line and even the best scripts are subject to last-minute edits by karma.

It was 2009, after all, when Woods bolted the Memorial riding what seemed like an unstoppable wave of momentum. But rains and Lucas Glover happened at the Bethpage Open, and he ended up on the wrong side of the forecast at Turnberry, Y.E. Yang at Hazeltine National and life in November.

Paper lions are subject to the same capriciousness as longshots, regardless of pedigree. But those truths do little to diminish the unbridled expectations that have been caused by Woods’ scorching start.

When Woods won that one-legged Open in 2008 at Torrey Pines, Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships seemed one surgery and a few weeks of physical rehab away.

The possibilities in 2009 seemed limitless, much like they do now. Hype doesn’t get you into the Hall of Fame, but it certainly makes things more interesting.

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Rahm (62) takes early lead at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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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.


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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."