Woods gives Couples reasons for optimism

By Rex HoggardNovember 10, 2011, 9:17 am

SYDNEY – Just about the time the clouds broke and the winds shifted at The Lakes Golf Club on Thursday Fred Couples paused on his way to the ninth green, his last of the day, and glanced to his right. With Tiger Woods waiting on the first tee and Adam Scott stalking his approach shot in the fairway the American captain was momentarily fixated by the scene.

Whether by order or overt urging Captain America persuaded Woods that he needed to play this week’s Australian Open. He needed the “reps,” and Couples needed some sign that the former world No. 1, now two seasons removed from a victory of any kind, was trending in the right direction.

What Couples saw on Thursday in blustery conditions could only qualify as progress. Despite a slow start and a stingy putter Woods signed for a 4-under 68, one of the best rounds from the wind-whipped afternoon wave and his first bogey-free effort since an opening 69 at Torrey Pines this year.

“I hit it really good today. That’s exactly how I’ve been hitting it at home,” said Woods, who is tied for eighth and three shots off the lead. “With these conditions it was very easy to make a couple of bogeys and get it going in the wrong direction.”

With the lone exception of a wayward drive at the third that resulted in a scrambling par from under a gum tree, Woods didn’t have much need to worry about making bogeys. Unfortunately his putter wasn’t giving him much of a chance for birdie early in his round.

He lipped out three times on the front nine, missing birdie putts of 10 (No. 1), 15 (No. 5) and 6 (No. 6) feet and turned in 1 under. But The Lakes’ closing loop is built for speed with three par 5s and a drivable par 4 and Woods birdied three of his first four holes on the back nine.

If Woods was pleased with a swing that made the long trip from south Florida to Sydney, he was even more satisfied by his ability to stay patient on an afternoon that felt more like an Open Championship.

It was a repertoire that included the new version of his patented stinger shot, crucial on Thursday considering the conditions and a short layout (6,879, par 72) that favors straight over strength.

“I’m in a position to hit (the stinger),” Woods said. “I hadn’t been in a position to hit that shot.”

Nor has he been in a position to watch the leaderboard in some time, a harsh truth that likely prompted Couples to suggest Woods add some starts to his fall schedule. But that pedestrian tie for 30th at the Frys.com Open probably wasn’t what “Boom Boom” had in mind when he selected Woods with one of his captain’s picks.

Thursday, however, was more in line with what Couples had in mind.

In practical terms whether Woods has a relapse the rest of the way really doesn’t matter. On Thursday he would have played Jason Day, considered by many one of the anchors for next week’s International squad, to a draw had the two been playing match play and he easily would have beaten Robert Allenby (5 and 4), the third member of Thursday’s pairing and one of Greg Norman’s captain’s picks.

On paper Woods’ round had the markings of something even better. He hit 14 greens in regulation and 8 of 14 fairways, although the confined Lakes layout did allow Woods to favor fairway woods and long irons off most tees. It was a card marred by 29 putts, yet he even took the long view when asked about his balky putter.

“I had four lip-outs early but I was hitting good putts,” Woods reasoned.

On Friday the forecast is in Woods’ favor with the winds expected to calm and the low scoring likely to continue, ideal conditions for what amounts to a Presidents Cup preamble. Birdies and clean scorecards will win matches at the Presidents Cup and until Thursday Woods hadn’t had enough of either in his long climb back from injury and indifferent play.

Among the throng that trailed Woods’ every step on Thursday was a man with a homemade sign that read, “Tiger Woods is the world’s greatest golfer.” His scorecards of late and the World Golf Ranking math would suggest otherwise, but from Couples’ perspective he saw signs that his plan was finally coming together.


Watch Round 2 of the Australian Open on Golf Channel Thursday at 8PM ET.

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."