A tale of two years for McDowell and Woods

By Rex HoggardDecember 6, 2010, 6:24 am

Chevron World ChallengeTHOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – For the second time in just over a year Tiger Woods rode a commanding lead into Sunday and for the second time he spit up that advantage to a scrappy challenger. That’s where the similarities between the 2009 PGA Championship and 2010 Chevron World Challenge end.

Woods, the competitor, will stew on that reality until he sinks a peg in his next PGA Tour tee next year at Torrey Pines. For Woods, the comeback, Sunday at Sherwood Country Club was nothing short of one giant leap in the right direction, one small step for rebuilt legacies.

That it was Graeme McDowell doing the chasing only added to a script already rich with storylines. For Woods and G-Mac it’s been a tale of two vastly different years.

It was 12 months ago that McDowell was holed up in a Los Angeles hotel room, fresh from China, waiting to hear the news that he would replace Woods – embattled by a scandal that had erupted just days earlier – in the 18-man field. 

Tiger Woods
All that was missing from Tiger on Sunday was a trophy. (Getty Images)

From there one would go on to a career year, win a major, the Ryder Cup and exceed all expectations. The other was Woods.

Seems about right then that for two SoCal days it was the prince and the punch line, one happily closing out 2010, the other still waiting to exhale.

“2010 has been the stuff of dreams, I’m not sure why,” said McDowell, who began Sunday four strokes back, closed with 69 and holed 55 feet of putts over his last three holes to clip the host. “It felt like a year like this one was coming, but obviously a script like this is amazing.”

Fitting that McDowell’s journey, which began and ended in Tinseltown, would be categorically rejected by the Hollywood establishment – too farfetched even for the City of Angels.

McDowell’s climb started when he replaced Woods in last year’s Chevron field, finished second to Jim Furyk to crack the top 50 in the World Ranking and never looked back.

Even on Sunday at Sherwood McDowell was at ease with whatever the golf gods had in store for him. “I figured he had more to lose then I did. Whatever happened I was going to have a cold beer tonight,” he said.

The Northern Irishman lives in Orlando, Fla., but considering his SoCal record of late he may want to consider property in the other Orange County. Following his runner-up last year at Chevron he won the U.S. Open up the coast at Pebble Beach and Sunday’s shootout makes him 2-for-3 on the Left Coast.

McDowell want so far as to compare his final-round play at the Chevron to the U.S. Open and Ryder Cup – dubbing his 20 footer at the 72nd hole to force extra holes and 30 footer to clip Woods in extra frames the “two greatest putts I’ve ever made.”

That’s not to mention the 5 footer he made from Ventura after airmailing the 17th green and scrambling for bogey to keep pace with Woods.

Not that McDowell’s heroics at No. 17 looked as if they would matter when Woods carved his 8-iron approach shot to the 72nd green off a hanging lie to 2 feet. It was quintessential Woods, fist pump and all, and will help validate the world No. 2’s ongoing swing change with Sean Foley.

“The shot I hit at 18 in regulation, especially after struggling in the middle part of the round when I wasn’t swinging very good, was something,” said Woods, who closed with a 73, his only over-par card of the week, for a 16-under total. “When I needed it the most it was there. That’s a good feeling.”

Even in the playoff Woods split the middle of the fairway and hit a similar approach shot to 12 feet only to come up one clutch putt short.

For Woods, the Chevron was a “silly season” event in name only. The host needed this one, not for the Tiger Woods Foundation or even to get off the victory schnied, but for his own piece of mind heading into the off season.

Just ask his stable mates. As Woods rehearsed his swing to the last hole in regulation Hunter Mahan, another Foley charge, watched intently.

“Under pressure to do that, wow,” Mahan said. “You can tell a win means a lot right now.”

The OT loss will linger for Woods. They all do, it’s in the DNA. And on Sunday the man who has preached “baby steps” since he started working with Foley at this year’s PGA wasn’t enamored with the long view, but the progress is unmistakable.

“It was an excellent week I thought,” Foley said. “Tee to green was great. We just have to keep working hard and smart.”

Woods’ runner-up, his best finish of the year, combined with Lee Westwood’s runaway, eight-stroke victory at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa guarantees that Woods will finish the year No. 2 in the World Ranking.

It will mark the first time since 2004 someone not named Eldrick finished a calendar atop the mathematical mantel. Either way, Woods would have only been renting the space and would have gotten the boot before the end of the year because of the math.

Still, there was progress. Solid ballstriking, missing for much of the season, returned. As did the twirl, Woods’ signature move following good shots that had been MIA. Asked the last time he enjoyed so many twirls Woods could only laugh, “Usually it's pointing which way the ball is going to go, incoming somewhere.”

Now it seems Woods’ game is finally going somewhere.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.