Woods appears happy, relaxed in Masters preparation

By Rex HoggardApril 7, 2015, 7:07 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – With apologies to first impressions, the optimism that marked Tiger Woods’ first two days at the Masters has little to do with longer drives and more repeatable release patterns.

As encouraging as Woods’ limited play at Augusta National has been, a total of 20 holes through two practice days, it was the broad smile and relaxed shoulders that spoke more to what one can expect from the four-time Masters champion this week.

Through two days, Woods has smiled and laughed and hugged his way around the rolling hills. He signed up to play Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest for the first time since 2004; he engaged galleries with every step; he even jokingly gunned a 3-foot birdie putt at No. 7 on Monday some 10 feet past the hole before flashing his signature grin to a stunned gallery.

Who is this guy and what has he done with Tiger Woods?

As encouraging as his play has been for two days – for those interested in such things, he hit 69 chip shots on Monday without a single skull or chili dip – it’s been the often-hard-to-interpret body language that suggests things are indeed better.

In short, he appears to be a man who, at least outwardly, is at ease with his own fate.

After eight weeks of seclusion, Woods has emerged from his South Florida beat lab secure in the notion he has arrived here honestly.

“I worked my ass off. That’s the easiest way to kind of describe it. I worked hard,” Woods said when asked how he had been filling his days since he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open in February.

“People would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again. But it was sun up to sun down, and whenever I had free time; if the kids were asleep, I'd still be doing it, and then when they were in school, I'd still be doing it. So it was a lot of work.”

It’s never been easy for Woods; he just made it look that way. This most recent detour into the competitive abyss – unique largely because it was more game-related (chipping) than it was injury induced – was a reminder that major championships don’t fall into one’s lap.

On Tuesday, following a nine-hole practice round with Mark O’Meara, Woods explained the distance he’s traveled since he removed himself from competition in February saying on his website, “When I think I’m ready, I’ll be back.”

With swing consultant Chris Como and confidant Notah Begay alongside, Woods said he has dug the answers he sought out of the South Florida turf along with a healthy dose of perspective.

He also reassured the amassed media that there will be no moral victories this week.

“Competing is still the same. I'm trying to beat everybody out there,” he said.

What seems to have changed is how a once supremely insular player has widened the circle, however slightly.

After years of moving in opposite directions, it was Woods who texted O’Meara on Monday morning for a practice round, and he included Begay in the comeback to offer the competitor’s perspective to Como’s teachings.

It has all the markings of a man who realizes he’s reached a competitive crossroads, and not just because this week will mark his 20th start at the Masters and the 10-year anniversary of the last time he slipped an arm into the green jacket.

On Tuesday, Woods said at Torrey Pines and the Waste Management Phoenix Open – where he missed the cut – he was “caught between.” The reference was to release patterns, but it could have just as easily been a nod to his current career path.

In one direction is a familiar road that’s included just two Sunday tee times over the last two years, down the other is a chance to resume his pursuit of his 15th major championship and his fifth green jacket.

Along the way Woods conceded there were dark days when the release patterns were off and his back hurt and the path to the top suddenly didn’t seem so clear.

“There were times when there were a few clubs that flew, suddenly slipped out of my hand and traveled some pretty good distances, too,” said Woods, who enters this week 111th in the Official World Golf Ranking. “There were some frustrating moments, but I had to stick with it.”

With that resolve has come a rare dose of retrospect as Woods begins to play his last Masters in his 30s, a nostalgic nod that would be predictable for most players – but then Tiger has never thought like most players.

He’s always appeared above the pressure and the pitfalls that have sidelined so many other champions, but on Monday O’Meara offered a rare perspective that is often easy to overlook when it comes to Woods.

“He hasn’t had a normal 39 years,” O’Meara said. “To be a little off and struggle a little bit, sometimes in life it’s good to struggle.”

Despite the desire for instant analysis, Monday and Tuesday’s turns at Augusta National mean very little with the main event looming on Thursday, but the body language – the jokes and the laughs and the headphones – suggest Woods is at ease with his situation, wherever that may lead.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.