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How the time flies: Tiger returns to Riviera

By Rex HoggardFebruary 13, 2018, 8:33 pm

LOS ANGELES – Cypress, California, is about an hour drive in L.A. traffic south of Riviera Country Club.

But for a teenaged Tiger Woods, it must have felt like a different world.

Throughout the early 1980s and into the ’90s, Woods’ father, Earl, groomed his soon-to-be world-beating son at the Navy Golf Course near his childhood home. A testament to his time is still kept on the Navy’s Destroyer Course, the “Tiger Tree” next to the 18th fairway where the teen would land monstrous drives.

By the early ’90’s, Woods had established himself as a local legend, a golf prodigy whose renown had grown beyond Cypress and the Navy course. He first ventured to Riviera to play a junior event and on Tuesday recalled playing the drivable par-4 10th hole with a persimmon-headed driver.

“No one really went for it because at the time I first played here as a junior, most of the professionals were first using persimmon and balata balls; the balls weren't going very far,” he recalled. “Obviousl the game's changed. Today I hit 3-wood, landed on the green and it went over.”

Woods made his Tour debut here in 1992 as a 16-year-old amateur, and still refers to the event as the Glen Campbell, which the tournament used to be called until the early 1980s. Although he long ago moved east to Florida to begin his pursuit of history as a professional, this place is home. Or at least as close to home as the Tour gets.

Woods’ career is a collection snapshot moments at places like Augusta National, Torrey Pines and Muirfield Village, where he’s won with historic regularity. Alas, Riviera is not one of those places.

Woods is winless Genesis Open after 11 tries, his most at-bats in a PGA Tour event without win. It’s why many think Woods stopped playing the L.A. event in 2006, even if that is likely an oversimplification.

“I love the golf course. I love the layout. It fits my eye, and I play awful,” said Woods, whose best finishes at the Genesis Open are a pair of runner-up showings in 1998 and ’99. “It's very simple. It's just one of those weird things. It's a fader's golf course for a righty. A lot of the holes, you hit nice soft cuts, and I used to love to hit nice soft cuts, and for some reason I just didn't play well.”


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But the times have changed for both Woods and the Genesis Open. His foundation, renamed the TGR Foundation on Tuesday, began running the event last year. It's an event that has benefitted in recent years from victories by the likes of Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson.

It’s cool to be in L.A. again, and for Woods, it’s convenient. It’s been five years since Tiger played a full Tour schedule and after undergoing fusion surgery on his lower back last April, his most recent comeback is in full swing, following his tie for 23rd last month at Torrey Pines. Riviera was a perfect second chapter in that story, even if the course has had his number, and even if it's a little different.

“This is a whole new game. Everything's bigger now,” said Woods, who played a nine-hole practice round on Tuesday. “The bunkers are deeper; they seem to be bigger. The greens have gotten more pin locations than I remember. So I've got to do a little bit more homework tomorrow in the pro-am.”

There is no denying Woods is in the field this week to support his foundation, but there is also no denying some nostalgic significance considering where he now finds himself in his career.

It was just four months ago at the Presidents Cup, where he served as a vice captain, that Woods seemed to acknowledge his competitive mortality.

“The pain's gone, but I don't know what my golfing body is going to be like, because I haven't hit a golf shot yet,” he said in late September at Liberty National.

Woods covered the same ground on Tuesday but this time with a sense of optimism born from his play at Torrey Pines and at the Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth place in an 18-man field.

Although he’s never been prone to bouts of sentimentality, and he probably won’t make the drive down to Cypress to visit the old Navy course and recall those early years, there is a significance to his start this week that’s impossible to ignore.

Woods flew to California with Justin Thomas, the 24-year-old reigning player of the year and FedExCup champion, who inadvertently forced a moment of retrospection.

“He asked me when did I play in this tournament as an amateur. I said, ‘Yeah, I was 16, 1992,'” Woods smiled. “He said, 'That was the year before I was born.' I'm sorry, but that really put things in perspective really fast.”

It’s no surprise that Woods’ return to Riviera also puts an eventful few years into similar perspective.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).