Tiger's coming back, but which Tiger?

By Rex HoggardApril 3, 2015, 8:15 pm

Tiger Woods will return to competitive golf at Augusta National ... again.

In a statement posted on his website Friday, Woods explained, “It’s obviously very important to me, and I want to be there. ... I’ve worked a lot on my game and I’m looking forward to competing. I’m excited to get to Augusta and I appreciate everyone’s support.”

While the Masters doesn’t exactly scream “ease your way back into it,” Woods has been here before, back in 2010 following another self-imposed hiatus from the game. After five months away from the playing field he tied for fourth place. It was his best finish, along with a T-4 at the U.S. Open, that season.

While he’s talked about the importance of “reps” in recent years, after 74 tournament trips around the old fruit nursery Woods has proven himself open, and adept, at heading down Magnolia Lane cold.

But as news surfaced early Tuesday that Woods’ Gulfstream G5 had been spotted at an Augusta, Ga., airport, the question turned from whether the former world No. 1 would play the year’s first men’s major to how he will fare.

According to various reports that first test drive didn’t go well – Golfweek reported he shot 74 on Tuesday – and that likely prompted a mulligan on Friday, when Woods returned to Augusta National for a second scouting trip.

He hasn’t hit a shot that counted since walking off Torrey Pines’ North Course 11 holes into the opening round at the Farmers Insurance Open in February with a tight lower back.

A few days later Woods revealed via his website that the injury “is not related to my previous surgery,” and that he needed “a lot of work on my game.”

It was all new territory. Going behind the ivory gates to rest and recover from injury is one thing. Going on lockdown to relearn how to hit a two-skip-and-stop chip is an entirely different matter altogether.

As best as anyone can tell he’s spent the last month and a half searching for answers, short game and otherwise, in the South Florida dirt, conferring with swing consultant Chris Como and confidant Notah Begay.

Last week Begay said there was a “50-50” chance Woods would play the Masters, but that number always seemed low.

Last year Woods missed the Masters for the first time as a professional after undergoing back surgery for a pinched nerve and he never seemed to have squared himself with that decision.

Augusta National, more than any other venue, has always been central to the Tiger narrative even before he slipped a skinny arm into a green jacket for the first time in 1997.

“Arnold [Palmer] and I both agreed, that you could take his Masters and my Masters, and add them together, and this kid should win more than that,” Jack Nicklaus said ... in 1996, a year before Woods won for the first time at Augusta National.

Nickalus won six Masters. Palmer collected four. You do the math.

For a time that prediction seemed famously foreboding, with Woods winning three times in his first nine trips down Magnolia Lane as a professional, including that 12-stroke romp in ’97.

But things started to change, slowly as they always do at Augusta National. Officials began the process of “Tiger-proofing” the course with the first significant changes in 2001 and his advantage, either real or perceived, began to wane.

Next week will mark a decade since Woods last emerged victorious on a Masters Sunday and the memories of that epic duel with Chris DiMarco in ’05 have been clouded by near-misses in 2007 and ’08.

More recent accounts are of epically bad bounces and curious drops (2013), poor ballstriking (2012) and untimely miscues (2011) have become Woods’ Masters highlight reel for a generation.

Still, even during his prolonged winter Augusta National has always brought out the best in Woods – who is ranked outside the top 100 in the world. He has finished in the top five more times (six) than not (two) since 2006. It’s why Nicklaus, who is not prone to hyperbole, made that bold prediction all those years ago and why it always seemed destined to be Augusta National where Woods went back on the clock.

“When Tiger was younger we would talk about, ‘You’re going to win this thing so many times it’s unreal,’” said Butch Harmon, Woods’ swing coach for eight of his 14 major victories. “The golf course suited him because of how far he could hit it and how far he drove the ball in those days. Rory [McIlroy] is like that now.”

Of course he would emerge from hibernation just as the azaleas went to bloom. The only real question is which guy would make the trip – the champion who won three times in his first nine starts or the perennial bridesmaid for the last decade?

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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.