Missing Tiger dominating buildup to Masters

By Rex HoggardApril 9, 2014, 4:15 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Welcome to the missing Masters.

Perhaps Thursday’s ceremonial send off by Jack, Arnie and Gary will wrest things back onto script - action between the ropes has a tendency of dominating the conversation when the whistle sounds - but the buzz surrounding this year’s event on the eve of opening day has been akin to a bizarre version of “Where’s Waldo?”

Forget the favorites, the first-timers, the flawless golf course. The headline this week has been about what is missing from the manicured grounds – a pair of iconic giants felled by time and pressure.

Gone from this year’s proceedings are Tiger Woods and the Eisenhower Tree, one was “irreparably” damaged by an ice storm in February while the jury is still out on the former.

“I half expected to show up this week and see a bigger tree,” smiled Steve Stricker when asked about the missing loblolly pine that had guarded the left side of the 17th fairway.

Whether Woods returns a better player remains to be seen, but his empty locker in the Champions Locker Room was a stark reminder of the significance of his absence.

The last time Woods missed a Masters, Jordan Spieth, among this week’s lengthy list of possible contenders, was 8 months old. Rory McIlroy, the betting favorite, was 5 and the golf course played to just 6,925 yards.


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The Masters was the one major Woods had never missed in his career, the one place that defied injury and ignominy.

In 2009 he tied for sixth fresh off the DL for a broken leg and ailing knee. In 2010 he finished fourth in his first tournament following a scandal that led to a divorce and a five-month hiatus from professional golf.

Through it all, Woods was as much a part of the Masters as blooming azaleas and rules. His first victory in 1997 was historic, a 12-stroke romp that changed the game, while his 2001 triumph was equally tectonic because of how it prompted officials to change the golf course, an overhaul widely dubbed “Tiger proofing.”

All total, Woods has won the Masters four times, the same number of times he’s finished outside the top 10 as a professional. Augusta National, more so than any of the four Grand Slam gatherings, has always been central to the theme of Tiger’s pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories.

It’s why this week is historically hollow. And why conversations from the towering oak tree behind the clubhouse to Amen Corner have fixated on the missing major winner.

Nearly every player who marched into the press center this week was asked about Woods. Some, like Phil Mickelson, didn’t need to be asked about the empty spot on the tee sheet.

“It’s a weird feeling not having him here, isn’t it?” Mickelson asked unprovoked. “He’s been such a mainstay in professional golf and in the majors. It’s awkward to not have him here. I hope he gets back soon. I hope he’s back for the other majors. As much as I want to win – and I know how great he is and tough to beat – it makes it special when he’s in the field and you’re able to win.”

It only adds to the intrigue - or emptiness depending on one’s point of view - that Mickelson could match Woods with four green jackets with a victory this week, that Woods could be dethroned atop the Official World Golf Ranking by not one but three players depending on the math and Sunday’s outcome, that McIlroy could come within one leg of a career Grand Slam with a victory.

Even in his absence, Woods’ shadow looms large over the manicured grounds for competitors, patrons and officials.

“We miss Tiger, as does the entire golf world. What I like best about Tiger no matter where he is on a specific day he is such a competitor. He is always a threat to do well and win. He could putt the greens blindfolded, so we miss him very much,” club chairman Billy Payne said.

Even on Woods’ worst day at Augusta National he has found a way to compete as evidenced by his tie for fourth in 2010 when he began his season at the Masters amid plenty of distractions and little preparation.

Regardless of form, Woods’ Augusta aura always remained unchanged by time or circumstance.

“We all know his record around here. When he’s playing well, he wouldn’t be your No. 1 pick to have breathing down your neck on the back nine at Augusta would he?” Henrik Stenson said.

“Of course he’s going to be missed at this event and he would’ve been one of the challengers whether he’s playing his absolute best or playing average. You would still not count him out around this golf course.”

The conversation will change - it always does - the golf course will see to that. But for three days this Masters has been about what’s missing, what’s different.

It’s not better or worse, just different.

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.


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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).