Woods feeling chipper after tying for lead with 66

By Rex HoggardMarch 7, 2013, 6:28 pm

DORAL, Fla. –  Before Rory, before the Donald, before 2010 Tiger Woods owned Doral like . . . well, pretty much every other beefy ballpark he’s frequented in his Hall of Fame career.

For nearly a decade it was Woods, not the South Florida layout, that was the real monster.

He won at Doral in 2005 and 2006 before it was swallowed up by the World Golf Championship umbrella in 2007, the same year he added his third tilt at the Blue Monster. He hasn’t finished outside the top 10 here since 2005 and has been out of contention only once in the last decade and that was when he withdrew last year with an ailing leg.

Like Bay Hill, Torrey Pines and Firestone – friendly confines for much of his career – Woods has savored the demanding delicacy of Dora, not to mention its grainy Bermuda grass greens.

So it should come as no surprise that on an uncharacteristically cool morning at Doral, Woods settled into the Blue Monster like a comfortable chair.

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After playing his first five holes in even par, a misleading line considering he carded just one par in that stretch, the Dean of Doral picked up momentum with a birdie at No. 16 before going 3-for-3 at the turn with birdies at Nos. 18 (he started on No. 10), 1 and 2.

“This is probably the easiest wind we'll have, some of the hardest holes were playing downwind, and it really wasn't blowing that hard most of the day,” a strangely subdued Woods said following the quietest 66 you’ll see in these parts.

All together now, “It was certainly a day that could have been a little bit lower,” he deadpanned.

It’s the golfer’s lament, but on this Woods could, if he is so inclined, dissect his day and come up a stroke or two better with little effort. Among those that “could of have been” was a three-putt at No. 13 (his fourth hole of the day) that included a power miss from 4 ½ feet. There was also a lip-out from 12 feet at No. 6 for birdie.

Contrarians will point to his 20-foot bomb at No. 16 and a twisting 35-footer at the fourth, or his 23-putt total as evidence there was a square give and take between the world No. 2 and the golf gods on Thursday. But good enough has never been a part of his lexicon.

If nine birdies doesn’t make dinner go down a bit better, the last time he had nine birdies in a round was on Day 1 at last year’s BMW Championship, those filthy putting statistics certainly suggest the hole looked like a manhole cover.

On this give Steve Stricker a solid assist.

Late Wednesday Woods huddled with Sricker for an impromptu putting lesson and it was impossible to argue with the results.

“I think I'm going to have a contract with him, because he's only going to play, what, five tournaments this year,” Woods smiled, tongue firmly imbedded in cheek. “So I'll bring him out in his off weeks – put his ball away for a week and come out.”

Stricker will play 11 events, actually, but if the part-time player ever decides to trade in his player’s credential for that of an instructor count Woods among his first clients.

Essentially Stricker adjusted Woods’ posture, similar to what he did before he won earlier this year at Torrey Pines with similar results.

“When I left him last night, he was really excited and it looked like he was rolling it really good then,” Stricker said. “So I just tried to get him set up in a better position where he could feel like he could accelerate down through the line a little bit.”

But Woods’ play on Day 1 went much deeper than his short-stick performance. There is a comfort level with his swing that is giving way to the type of thoughtless golf he has enjoyed when he’s playing his best.

Woods called his work with Sean Foley “solidified,” and on Wednesday the thoughtful swing coach echoed those sentiments.

“I see a lot less of the old patterns there, but he’s just been doing it more and his touch is much better,” Foley said.

For the last eight months Foley characterized his work with Woods as “fine tuning” with a focus on the same two basic concepts. In benign conditions on Thursday that translated into a ball-striking show, although Woods’ demeanor had a more clinical feel to it.

Paired with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Luke Donald Woods easily cruised to low-ball honors in the trifecta, lapping Donald by four strokes and the embattled Ulsterman by a cool seven shots.

Ian Poulter caused a bit of a stir following his consolation match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship when he said they should do away with the bridesmaid bout and award third-place money and points to the jilted semifinalist. On Thursday McIlroy and Donald seemed fine playing the “B” flight.

One lap in to a no-cut event, that may be a stretch, but with the poise and power Woods displayed on Thursday and his track record on the South Florida super speedway it is an ominous sign for the rest of the pack.

For a guy who made red a winning color, it turns out he looks good in blue as well.

Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

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They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

“I have no idea,” he laughed.

Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

“So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.

After Further Review: Whan deserves major credit

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 11:18 pm

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Mike Whan's really, really good idea ...

If LPGA commissioner Mike Whan hasn’t earned a gold star yet for creating the Race to the CME Globe four years ago, he deserves one now. The race’s finish at the CME Group Tour Championship has become a spectacular fireworks show. Stacy Lewis said it best on Saturday. She said the pressure the top players feel at CME is the “worst” those players feel all year, and by that she meant the “most intense,” the kind that makes for the best weeks.

You can argue there’s more pressure on the top women at the CME than there is in a major. The Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring, the Rolex world No. 1 ranking and the money-winning title all seem to come down to this final week, when there’s also the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot up for grabs. You have to think the weight of all that might have had something to do with Lexi Thompson missing that 2-footer at Sunday’s end. She came away with the Vare Trophy and $1 million jackpot as nice consolation prizes. We all came away thrilled by Ariya Jutanugarn’s birdie-birdie finish amid the gut-wrenching drama. - Randall Mell

On Austin Cook's improbable winner's journey ...

Despite becoming a Monday qualifying sensation on the PGA Tour in 2015, Austin Cook still had to head to Web.com Tour Q-School that winter. There he collapsed over his final four holes to blow a chance at full status, and one year later the cancellation of the Web.com Tour Championship because of Hurricane Matthew left him $425 short of a PGA Tour card.

But Cook put to rest all of his recent near-misses with four days of nearly flawless golf at Sea Island. Now he’s headed to Augusta National in April and exempt through 2020, afforded ample time to look back at how tough breaks in the past helped to shape his unique journey to the winner’s circle. - Will Gray

On what Cook's win says about PGA Tour depth ...

Players talk regularly about the depth of talent on the PGA Tour, claiming that anyone in a particular field can come away with a trophy on any given week.

To prove the point, Austin Cook, No. 306 in the Official World Golf Ranking, rolled over the field at the RSM Classic with rounds of 66-62-66-67 for a four-stroke victory. Before Sunday at Sea Island Resort, Cook’s only triumph in a professional event was at a mini-tour winter series tournament. That payday was $5,000.

His victory at the RSM Classic was worth considerably more and proved, yet again, the depth of the modern game. - Rex Hoggard

Snedeker feels close to 100 percent after RSM week

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:09 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Even if the result – a tie for 29th place – wasn't exactly what Brandt Snedeker is accustomed to, given his journey back from injury he’ll consider his final regular-season start of 2017 a success.

Snedeker had been sidelined with a sternum injury since June and overhauled his swing with the help of his coach John Tillery in an attempt to alleviate future injury. Needless to say, his expectations at the RSM Classic were low.

After starting the week with back-to-back rounds of 67 to move into contention, Snedeker wasn’t as sharp on the weekend, but he was still pleased with his week.

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“It was great to see how my swing held up and the golf course toughen up today and the changes we made. Inevitably you kind of revert back to what’s comfortable and natural,” he said. “But now my body feels good. I was shocked. I thought I’d be close to 75 percent this week and felt closer to 100 [percent]. Hopefully it continues to stay that way.”

Snedeker said he has a busy schedule planned for early next season on the West Coast and also plans to play next month’s QBE Shootout.

“Every time I’ve come back from injury I’ve been kind of like, well I’m close but not quite there,” said Snedeker, who added that he was pain-free for the entire week. “This is the first time I’ve come back and been like it’s there.”

Cook hopes RSM win starts a ROY campaign

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook cruised to his first PGA Tour victory on Sunday at the RSM Classic, a nearly flawless performance that included just two bogeys for the week and a 21-under total.

Earlier in the week, Cook’s caddie Kip Henley said Cook was playing the most effortless golf he’d ever witnessed. But as is so often the case, it can be tough to tell what is really going on inside a player's mind.

“A lot of stuff going on, especially up here,” Cook laughed pointing at his head. “A little tenseness. This week my ball-striking was great, and for the most part my putting was great as well. All around my game was just incredible this week.”

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Following a bogey at the second hole on Sunday that cut his lead to two shots, the rookie responded with a birdie at the seventh hole and added three more over his final four holes to beat J.J. Spaun by four strokes.

It was a timely victory for a player who has set rather lofty goals for himself.

“My goal coming into the year was to win Rookie of the Year and I’ve gotten off to a good start. Now my goal is to make a long deep run into the FedExCup playoffs,” he said.

Cook became the second consecutive rookie winner of the RSM Classic following Mac Hughes’ victory last year.