Woods composed, patient in golf's toughest test

By Rex HoggardJune 16, 2012, 3:54 am

SAN FRANCISCO – On Thursday Bubba Watson reckoned we were seeing the “old Tiger,” but that’s not exactly accurate.

What we have is a hybrid, a new – if not improved – version of the original. Maybe a little damaged, doubting even, but certainly not the old guy. Not the 2000 or 2006 models that won major championships on demand.

The new guy is more measured, more willing to find consensus than perfection, more accepting of well-hit golf shots that end up in out of the way places, like that towering 4-iron at the 17th hole in fading light on Friday on The Olympic Club’s par-5 17th hole.

“I thought I threw it up high enough to land softly . . .” Tiger Woods figured. Instead, his ball raced through the green and down a slope that in some cultures would take a Sherpa to navigate.


Video: Tiger Woods highlights

Video: Woods news conference

Saturday’s Round 3 tee times


But there was no anger, no indignation directed at the golf gods. This is, after all, the U.S. Open and he was made for this.

When he tallied his card Woods signed for an even-par 70, but there was nothing even about it, not after consecutive bogeys at Nos. 5, 6 and 7 that dropped him out of the lead.

This is where patience, which is only slightly less important than putting at the Root Canal Open, turned what could have been a debilitating round into a disaster avoided.

Woods birdied the 10th hole, rolled in a left-to-right 10-footer for birdie at the 13th and parred his way through a series of bad bounces for a share of the lead with Jim Furyk and David Toms.

“That was not easy,” he sighed. “I had a tough little stretch but, hey, we have a long way to go. . . . This is definitely a tournament where you play for a bunch of pars.”

So even when his birdie attempt at the 16th slipped past the cup there was no frustration, or when his second at the 17th raced down the hill he simply shrugged. That’s Open golf.

“I didn’t miss a shot on the last three holes and ended up with three pars,” said Woods, sounding less annoyed with this truth than he would have, say, last year. But then he didn’t play last year’s Open because of injury. Bad bounces are always preferred over bad wheels.

On a long strange trip of a day befitting Bay area legend Jerry Garcia that included a teen-aged amateur (Beau Hossler) atop the leaderboard and the game’s top-ranked player (Luke Donald) and the defending Open champion (Rory McIlroy) heading  home early, Woods and Furyk added a measure of normalcy.


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It’s no surprise that Woods, whose three Open titles leave him one behind the all-time leaders in that category, and Furyk, who in 17 Open starts has just two missed cuts and a victory (2003), emerged atop the marquee – quintessential Open specialist at a quintessential Open.

If last year’s Open at Congressional was something of the light version, this year’s edition has a super-sized feel to it, with just six under-par rounds and only three players (Woods, Furyk and Toms) in red figures. It is the kind of Open that tests patience, as well as playing ability.

Consider Woods’ two-day stablemate Phil Mickelson, who made the cut with a shot to spare but it didn’t look that comfortable. If Woods’ play for 36 holes has appeared stress-free, Lefty’s two loops have been downright stressful. Ditto for Bubba Watson, who made up the final leg of the week’s “Big Three” but was headed home at 9 over.

“You don’t have to be off by much,” Woods figured, and for two days he hasn’t looked like a guy with many misses in the bag.

But then he hasn’t looked that far off for some time. Even after his five-stroke Bay Hill breakthrough this year there were no signs of nervous concern that seemed to crop up last year and when he won the Memorial two weeks ago it seemed his confidence had finally caught up with that rebuilt swing.

Whether that all adds up to his first major title since the 2008 Open down the coast at Torrey Pines and Grand Slam No. 15 remains to be seen, but after two long years Woods is finally starting to show signs of the one element that has eluded him – patience.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.