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Tiger's U.S. Open win at Torrey is why we hold out hope

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 9:41 pm

SAN DIEGO – Even after 10 years, the memories flood back with surprising clarity.

It’s been a decade since the roars echoed through the canyons all the way down to Black's Beach, and for many in this week’s field at the Farmers Insurance Open, it probably feels like a lifetime has passed.

But for anyone who was lucky enough to have attended the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, the total recall is uncanny.

Even on Wednesday, as Tiger Woods slowly made his way around the North Course – which doubled as a staging area and parking lot for the ’08 Open, albeit a parking lot with idyllic views – one couldn't help but think back to that historic major that no one wanted to end.

For all of Woods’ accomplishments at Torrey Pines, where he’s won the Farmers Insurance Open seven times, it’s the ’08 U.S. Open that defines his legacy; and as he readies for yet another comeback from injury and surgery, it’s why so many fans remain enthusiastically optimistic.

The ’08 Open is where he endured a broken leg and severely damaged ACL to force a playoff against a most endearing antagonist, Rocco Mediate. It's where the duo finished 72 holes tied at 1 under par on a brutally difficult South Course and remained all square after an 18-hole playoff on Monday. And it's where Tiger finally prevailed on the first sudden-death hole for his 14th and (to date) final major championship.

Asked what he remembers from that historic week, Woods on Wednesday offered a somewhat subdued response: “How much it hurt," he said. "Yeah, no ACL and broken leg, it didn't feel very good.”

Those who watched him make the amazing look almost mundane offer a different take.

“I remember seeing him in a practice round and you could see how he was limping,” recalled Brandt Snedeker, who tied for ninth that week. “I was thinking there’s no way he’s going to play with that knee. He’s not going to make it, from what I saw of him, walking around and hitting balls and wincing.”

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On Saturday, when Woods charged into contention with a birdie-eagle finish to take the 54-hole lead, Snedeker was just a few groups in front of the then-world No. 1. He was in The Lodge just up the hill when Woods chipped in for birdie at 17. He didn’t see it, he heard it.

“It was one of those things that only Tiger had the ability to do, and I remember thinking it was unbelievable,” Snedeker said. “I remember watching and hearing the roars and seeing the highlights. How did he do that?”

And, of course, there was Woods’ birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff. It’s become an iconic moment, shown repeatedly in slow motion, as his golf ball tumbled over countless bumps to somehow drop into the hole and spark a vicious double fist pump.

Being the ultimate competitor, Woods’ mind isn’t drawn to such moments. Instead, he recalls the things he could have done better.

“I do remember starting off every day either with a double bogey or bogey on the first hole, so I think I was 7 over par in just my first hole I played in that day,” Woods said with a smile.

It’s not the chip-in late Saturday or the countless recovery shots that saved his title chances from the jaws of defeat that stand out to Woods. His mind doesn’t work that way.

“I made everything that week. I really putted well,” he said. “I hit it okay, but if it wasn't for my putting, I wouldn't have won that Open.”

What Woods did a decade ago at Torrey Pines redefined the game. On one leg, against golf’s deepest field, on what is widely considered the most demanding U.S. Open venue in years, he moved within a Grand Slam of equaling the most unbreakable of records – Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major championships.

It’s not as though Woods has been completely absent since that glorious summer day in ’08. He claimed his second FedExCup in 2009. He won five times on the PGA Tour and took home the Player of the Year Award in 2013.

But if this Tiger, reborn following lower back fusion surgery last April, is to resume his quest for major No. 15, the ’08 Open will be remembered as the line of demarcation, the moment when everything stopped being easy, or at least the moment everything stopped looking easy.

The current generation of stars remember that U.S. Open only as a footnote in history. The likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm had just reached their teenaged years in ’08. There's already a generational gap. But for those who were there, who watched Woods make the impossible seem insanely probable, that Sunday and Monday featured the kind of moments that define a career, even a career as decorated as Tiger’s.

On Monday morning, as Mediate and Woods set out for the final chapter in an epic text, Snedeker was sleep walking his way through the San Diego airport when he noticed a large crowd gathering around a television.

“Everybody in the airport was in the bar watching the playoff,” Snedeker said. “You don’t realize when you’re in it what a big deal it is when Tiger is in it. But there were people missing their flights watching that playoff. People standing in bars, 10 deep, watching that. It made me realize what an impact he has on golf.”

Being back at Torrey Pines a decade removed from that instant classic also makes one realize why the idea of Tiger 2.0 is so intoxicating.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''

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Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.