Woods playing PGA for one reason - because he can

By Rex HoggardAugust 6, 2014, 10:09 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With all the ease of a man on a Sunday stroll, Tiger Woods patiently explained late Wednesday at Valhalla Golf Club that he is playing this week’s PGA Championship, well . . . because he can.

The pain that forced him to withdraw midway through Sunday’s final round at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational is gone. The spasms that caused him to throw out his sacrum, a thing of the past.

What remained in the humid summer air was uncertainty.

Just past 1 p.m., the most photographed parking spot in golf history was finally filled when Woods arrived for an 11th-hour practice round at the year’s final major.

Speculation had swept Valhalla following Woods’ early Firestone exit last Sunday, and as the tournament inched closer to his 8:35 a.m. first-round tee time, it seemed more and more likely that Woods' season, at least on the PGA Tour, was over.

On Tuesday, officials granted Woods an extension to register late for this week’s event, a common practice at all events but telling nonetheless.

When Woods finally made his way to the practice tee, fans were lined five deep along the gallery rails and players stopped to watch. After an abbreviated warm-up session, he was off for what can only be described as an uneventful practice session.

Story: Woods' arrival steals the PGA spotlight

Photo Gallery: Woods' Wednesday practice round

“Nothing great, but it’s only Wednesday,” he smiled.

Alongside Steve Stricker, Davis Love III and Harris English, Woods played nine holes, pausing to speak with the media before walking the back nine to chip and putt.

For all the hyperbole and speculation, however, Woods remained pragmatic about the injury, explaining that this most recent setback had nothing to do with the microdiscectomy surgery he had on March 31 that forced him to miss the year’s first two major championships.

“It’s not the same surgery,” he said between nines. “This is something totally different. When I landed (on the second hole Sunday at Firestone), it jarred it and jarred it lose, made it come out.”

Woods also explained that he was pain free heading into the first round, and that he’d only practiced slow-motion swings in his video bay back home in Florida before making the decision Tuesday afternoon to play this week.

Simply put, he’s playing because he can. Not because he’s 70th on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list with just four days remaining to make his move. Not because he’s 217th on the FedEx Cup points list with just two weeks to secure his spot in the playoffs.

“My range of motion was good,” he explained. “My firing sequence was back to normal. It’s all good.”

Some grassy knoll types have suggested that Woods was perhaps not as injured as he suggested on Sunday. But if that’s the case, he should add an Oscar to those 14 majors because what he exhibited on Sunday at the Bridgestone was legitimate pain.

The truth is this week’s PGA is a Hail Mary for Woods in his quest to advance to the postseason and earn a spot on captain Tom Watson’s team in September in Scotland. Anything short of a victory on both fronts, which given his competitive fortunes of late doesn’t seem likely, would not be enough to secure his status for either cup.

Nor would it make much sense to play the PGA just to test his back; Valhalla is no place for a rehabilitation start.

Which leaves the only explanation that stands up to reason. He’s playing the 96th PGA Championship because he can and because he wants to win.

“That’s the only thing I can control. Try to go out there and win this event. That’s all I’m focused on,” he said.

Maybe Woods has spent enough time on the DL after missing more than two months following surgery. And it should be pointed out that earlier this year he admitted that this recent most brush with the MRI machine brought into focus the fragility of age.

No more would he ignore doctor’s orders and limp his way to major championships because, at 38, his mind is no longer strong enough to overcome an ailing body.

Listening to Woods patiently explain his plight on Wednesda,y it was impossible not to give him the benefit of the doubt. This isn’t about unrealistic goals or misplaced bravado, this was about playing – nothing more, nothing less.

There is no shortage of reasons why Woods would want to play the PGA, but the only one that makes sense is he’s playing because he can.

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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.