Inspired by Love, Woods co-leads the Wyndham

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2015, 11:05 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Let the record show that Tiger Woods began his historic assault on the history books with Davis Love III playing his reluctant wingman.

So it only seems apropos that the two would cross paths again as the former world No. 1 appears poised to launch a new chapter in his storied career.

The first time was at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational, when Woods outdueled Love in a playoff for his first victory on the PGA Tour.

Seventy-eight Tour victories, 14 major titles, three swing changes and multiple injuries and ailments later, the two seem to be on a collision course at a hot and humid Sedgefield Country Club.

Woods ignited a record crowd with a second-round 65 at the Wyndham Championship to take a share of the lead alongside little-known rookie Tom Hoge, while a resurgent Love was just a shot back after a 66 on Friday.

It’s something of a throwback title chase that both veterans have embraced, although for vastly different reasons.

“These last couple of days have been nice. I’ve put the ball in the right spot but also I’ve got a few nice bounces and lies here and there and it’s very close,” said Woods, who moved into the lead at a Tour event for the first time since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “You don’t realize how close it is from switching.”

Although Woods ventured to the Piedmont Triad because of his position on the FedEx Cup points list - he’s currently 187th and needs to win or possibly finish alone in second place to advance to the playoffs - it was likely Love who persuaded him to play the Wyndham Championship for the first time.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The two played multiple practice rounds together last week at the PGA Championship and again late Tuesday afternoon when they arrived at Sedgefield.

It’s become an expanding relationship born from necessity.

Late last year, in the aftermath of the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s loss at Gleneagles, Love and Woods were named to the Ryder Cup task force, and their friendship has grown from there one text message at a time.

“This whole task force, all of us, I’ve spent more time talking to Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods this year than I ever have,” Love said. “We asked, 'What is wrong with the Ryder Cup?' What we realized is that the guys didn’t talk. We’re all getting to know each other better.”

For Love, the practice round with Woods on Tuesday inspired the 51-year-old to stop worrying about making cuts and start focusing on winning tournaments again. As for Woods, well, he doesn’t seem to need much inspiration at this point.

After opening with his lowest Tour round in two years, a 64 on Thursday, Woods played a scrappy opening nine before turning back the clock on the inward loop, making back-to-back birdies at Nos. 12 and 13 and producing a familiar roar when he rolled in a 10-footer for eagle at the par-5 15th to grab a share of the lead.

Although Woods was in a similar playoff position in 2011, when he was 129th in points, he chose not to play the Wyndham Championship. With much longer odds this time, it’s not a stretch to consider Love’s influence on Woods decision to play the North Carolina event and give his season, not to mention his swing, one final chance.

In what could best be described as a symbiotic relationship, Love was inspired by Woods’ unwavering competitive outlook, while Woods may have discovered that classic doesn’t necessarily mean confining when it comes to golf courses.

“I learned a lot playing with Davis,” Woods said. “This golf course is speeding up. That’s where the practice round with Davis helped, because of some of the irons he told me he hits off tees. It definitely helped playing with him.”

If he continues to play the way he did on Friday, when he hit 8 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation, he may also credit next year’s Ryder Cup captain an assist late Sunday afternoon.
Just imagine what could have been if Woods hadn’t avoided the cozy confines of Sedgefield – or Harbour Town and Colonial, for that matter – for the better part of his Hall of Fame career?

The way he’s picked apart this classic Donald Ross design, Woods might not be chasing Sam Snead for the all-time Tour victories mark. He might be ahead of him.

In another twist of fate, Snead won his 80th Tour title in Greensboro 55 years ago. Woods, who trails Slammin’ Sammy by three titles, would win his 80th Tour event this week if he can hold off the likes of Hoge.

Following his round, Woods was asked if he knew anything about Hoge, a rookie who, as fate would once again have it, has played 79 Tour rounds?

“No, what is it, or him?” Woods replied.

In Woods’ defense, he was probably more interested in Love’s fortunes and a possible sequel to that Vegas bout 19 years ago, a precursor of what was to come and what could be again on Sunday at Sedgefield.

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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.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)