'Familiarity' doesn't diminish Woods' five-win season

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2013, 7:20 pm

ATLANTA – As the esoteric debate for the Player of the Year Award reaches a crescendo this week at East Lake, so have the talking points as it applies to Tiger Woods’ 2013 campaign.

“We put Tiger on such a pedestal that the playing field for Player of the Year is different for him than anyone else,” Hunter Mahan recently said when asked about the ongoing POY discussion. “We expect more from him than just winning five times. For someone to win five times is unheard of other than him.”

While unrealistic expectations are nothing new when it comes to the world No. 1, the level of hyperbole has reached an all-time high around Tour water coolers on the eve of what many are considering a decisive Tour Championship.

The short list of POY candidates includes Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, who each have two Tour titles and a major, and this week’s finale at East Lake could be the swing vote. Yet depending on this week’s outcome, it is curious how many Tour types don’t share Mahan’s point of view when it comes to Woods, who should, by any measure, be the leader in the clubhouse for the Jack Nicklaus Award.

Sure Tiger has five wins, the detractors say, but the major mantel remains empty since 2008. His victory total may lap all comers – by three bottle caps, no less – but they all came on “familiar” venues.

This argument is particularly nonsensical. As if a quality win against a deep field on a demanding golf course is somehow cheapened by the hash tag #beentheredonethat.

Recently, even one of Woods’ Tour frat brothers challenged your scribe, “When was the last time he won a Tour event on a course where he’d never won before?”

For Trivial Pursuit types, the answer is the 2008 WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain in Arizona.

In fact, 42 of Woods’ 79 Tour titles have come at “friendly confine” ballparks including Firestone (eight), Bay Hill (eight), Torrey Pines (eight, counting the 2008 U.S. Open), Muirfield Village (five), Cog Hill (five), Doral (four) and Augusta National (four).

Statistically this is hardly surprising considering Woods’ schedule since he began his historic run in 1997 has remained virtually unchanged with regular stops at Firestone, Bay Hill, Torrey Pines, et al.

“I think over the course of years of playing on Tour, you determine your playing schedule based on courses you like. Guys go to golf courses that suit their games, courses they enjoy, even some based on the amenities,” Woods said. “Over the course of years of playing a golf course, you get to know it.”

For Woods, that comfort level equates, essentially, to demanding golf courses where par is a good score and length is an absolute requirement.

All seven of those courses measure 7,300 yards or more and of the six that were used this year on Tour (the BMW moved to Conway Farms from Cog Hill) they all rank inside the 30 toughest layouts in 2013.

Nor is this low-hanging fruit for Woods, where he is playing second-tier events against relatively weaker fields. None of the five events Woods won in 2013 received fewer than 50 world ranking points for the champion, and only the majors awarded more than three of his victories (Players, WGC-Cadillac and WGC-Bridgestone).

But more than anything, there is a familiarity for these layouts that gives Woods an advantage, be it real or perceived.

“You get to know it under different conditions. That's the most important thing, you get to see it under different conditions,” Woods said. “I think that helps over the course of time. You start to understand how to play it, and you get a feel, and there's a memory to it.”

Besides, with apologies to Brian Gay, one of the circuit’s straightest and shortest players off the tee, if the Tour schedule was dotted with Harbour Towns and Rivieras and Colonials he likely wouldn’t have much use for the Torrey Pines and Bay Hills of the golf world.

The logistical truth of Woods’ schedule is that he has found a winning formula and he has 79 good reasons not to stray from that. For the world No. 1, less is more, always has been.

His record suggests there is no reason to deviate from that formula, just as the quality of his wins this season need no apology – friendly confines or not. 

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.