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Tight-lipped Thomas' No. 1 goal should be obvious

By Rex HoggardFebruary 27, 2018, 9:53 pm

MEXICO CITY – It wasn’t the moment Justin Thomas’ legend was born, but it certainly added to the young man’s lore.

For months, Thomas had been asked his goals for the 2017 season and for months he’d offered only vague answers.

Every time he was asked for specifics, he would politely decline, explaining that they were personal. That was until his runner-up finish at the Tour Championship propelled him to his first FedExCup title and he finally relented.

Thomas flashed his cellphone to reporters and started reading what turned out to be a lengthy list: win at least once, be in the final two groups of a major on Sunday, win a major, make the U.S. Presidents Cup team, finish in the top 30 in scrambling, etc.

Back in 2015, your scribe had a similar conversation with then-Tour rookie Thomas. Again he offered only oblique responses, revealing a telling part of a detail-oriented mind.

Now fast forward to Tuesday’s press conference at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Once again he was asked about his goals, but this time the circumstances suggested a new answer, even if Thomas’ response was predictable.

Do you have a date set to reach world No. 1?

“Whenever and if ever that day comes, I'll be perfectly fine with that date,” he smiled. “You can't control what other people can do; I can only control what I can do and the work that I'm putting in. So I'm going to continue to practice and prepare and get myself as ready as possible to keep climbing the rankings every way that I can.”

WGC-Mexico Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Mathematically, Thomas’ point is valid.

With his playoff victory on Sunday over Luke List at the Honda Classic, Thomas jumped past Jordan Spieth to third in the Official World Golf Ranking, just behind No. 2 Jon Rahm and 1.93 average ranking points behind No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

To put that in context, he can’t overtake Johnson this week even with a victory against a world-class field in Mexico (where he finished tied for fifth last year). Nor does it seem like Johnson is anywhere close to giving up his reign, having won the Sentry Tournament of Champions last month and finishing second at Pebble Beach.

But at this juncture, it’s not when Thomas may be able to ascend to the top spot that’s important, it’s what he needs to do to get there.

Like the majority of those goals on his list last year, becoming world No. 1 is as nebulous as, say, finishing in the top 30 in scrambling. But when it comes to specific ambitions, it’s the hundreds of little things that it would take to achieve those goals that will equate to success, not the actual accomplishment.

As clichéd as it sounds, it’s the journey, not the destination, particularly when the distance between victory and a tie for 10th is a missed putt on Thursday morning or an ill-timed gust of wind on Sunday afternoon.

It should be no surprise, but Thomas adheres to a strict policy when it comes to victories.

“I've always liked what [Alabama] coach [Nick] Saban says. They have the 48-hour rule at Alabama. They get to enjoy their win and then it's on to the next one,” said Thomas, who played college golf at Alabama. “That's in the past and all you can focus and work on is your process and getting ready for the next event.”

Following Sunday’s victory at PGA National, he enjoyed an impromptu dinner celebration with some family and friends at The Woods Jupiter, Tiger Woods’ South Florida restaurant, before catching his flight to Mexico with a clean slate.

Finding motivation has never been difficult for Thomas, even after winning five times last season and claiming his first major at the PGA Championship. But when you start collecting titles at the clip he’s been on the last year or so there’s always the danger of complacency, and now that he’s moved to the world ranking doorstep, ascending to No. 1 fits perfectly with Thomas’ play and his long-term plans.

Even if that means he holds the top spot for just a single week, it’s a goal that is at once simple and sustainable.

“It is bizarre just because there's so many players right now, and there always is, but so many players right now that can kind of change that,” Thomas said of the world ranking. “To do what anybody who's hung in there for a year like DJ has is extremely impressive. But just the fact that if and when it does happen, to be able to say that you have been [world No. 1], is a pretty cool accomplishment.”

To be clear, his system has worked flawlessly to this point, but whatever list of goals Thomas concocted for 2018 and thumbed into the notes app on his cellphone, there’s one accomplishment that would check all the right boxes – becoming world No. 1.

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Watch: Tiger throws dart, pours in birdie at 8

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 7:31 pm

Starting Sunday five off the lead, Tiger Woods teed off his final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which we walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

(More coming...)

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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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.