Woodland: 'Toughest year of my life by far'

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2017, 11:33 pm

ATLANTA – Making it to East Lake for the season send-off is a singular accomplishment for any PGA Tour player.

It validates months, years of hard work and commitment. It’s a reward for a season that ranks among the top 30 on the world’s biggest stage and brings a mountain of rewards that allow players to ease into next season with the closest thing the Tour has to job security.

But for Gary Woodland, the 6-foot-1 former college point guard whose intensity on the course is matched only by his approachability when the scorecard is signed, his fifth trip to Atlanta goes much deeper than a particular professional accomplishment.

“This year means more to me than any other, it really does,” Woodland said on Thursday at the Tour Championship. “This was the toughest year of my life by far. The little man has been dealing with a little bit of stuff, but it’s just never been easy.”

Woodland’s “little man” is his son, Jaxson, who was born 10 weeks premature in June. When the 33-year-old put himself into contention at the PGA Championship in August, Jaxson was still on a monitor that helped him breathe and had just gotten home from an extended stay at the hospital.

As hard as that would be on any parent, for Woodland and his wife, Gabby, at least Jaxson was fighting, at least he was part of their lives.

In March, Woodland abruptly withdrew from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play citing personal reasons and explained via Twitter that Gabby, who was pregnant with twins, had suffered from complications that resulted in the loss of one child.

Woodland, who had gotten off to his best season on Tour, returned for the Masters but understandably struggled on his way to a missed cut.


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Everything became harder - golf, being away from home, not knowing what would happen with Jaxson.

“Every off week since the Match Play my wife or my kid has been in the hospital,” he said at East Lake following a 67 that left him tied for sixth place. “The only week he wasn’t in the hospital we had to evacuate Florida, so it’s just been no off weeks and that’s been tough.”

Gabby and Jaxson bolted south Florida the week before Hurricane Irma cut a swath through the state and Woodland joined them in Kansas after the Dell Technologies Championship. When they returned home, they were without power and water for three days.

It’s been that kind of year for Woodland and family.

Everyone deals with life’s ebbs and flows, be they a Tour player or mechanic, and Woodland’s not big on excuses. That’s not the way when you grow up in Topeka, Kan., but he concedes that balancing life and work has been a challenge this season.

“The first couple of months after everything happened it was tough for me, mentally,” he said. “It was tough because I was playing so well leading up to that. I gave myself so many chances early in the year to win and just dealing mentally off the course, I couldn’t focus enough.”

It’s not surprising that while Gabby and Jaxson’s medical fortunes have improved - the “little guy” is home again and doing much better - so has Woodland’s competitive outlook.

He finished fourth at the RBC Canadian Open and played solidly at the PGA, where he tied for 22nd. But he began the playoffs squarely on the East Lake bubble at 34th on the points list.

Woodland rallied with weekend rounds of 67-67 at the Dell Technologies Championship and closed with a 69 last week at the BMW Championship to narrowly secure his trip to the East Lake promised land at 28th on the playoff points list.

For each of the 30 assembled this week at the Tour Championship it’s an accomplishment worth savoring, but for Woodland it’s something much more than simply a cushy reward for a season well played and a ticket into next year’s biggest events.

“I played well enough earlier in the year to give myself a little bit of a break,” he said. “To finish Boston and last week, which was a long week being right on the number, it’s definitely rewarding to be here this week.”

Not all seasons are created equal, which is why Woodland allows himself a moment to enjoy his accomplishment, and particularly his opening round.

“I probably should have took some time off and didn’t do it,” he admitted. “Coming back I just wasn’t putting up the scores and it became a mental grind all year.”

In three days, that grind ends and he can go back to Florida to a house that’s actually a home for the first time since March to be with his wife and “little guy.”

Woodland plans to cut back on his normal fall schedule, skipping the Tour’s stop in China, and may add a trip to Las Vegas to play the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open so he can get some practice time with swing coach Butch Harmon, who he hasn’t been able to work with since his world unraveled.

But for now he’s content to enjoy one of the game’s most significant accomplishments after what by any measure was the most trying of years.

 

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.


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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."