Tiger from fatalistic to optimistic, one year later

By Ryan LavnerNovember 29, 2016, 6:19 pm

Same setting, same logoed backdrop, one year later.

It was impossible to watch Tiger Woods’ news conference Tuesday at the Hero World Challenge and not think back to last year. Unable to get out of bed without assistance, he painted a bleak picture about his future.

It was the first sign that 2016 would be a lost campaign, and indeed it was. He progressed, slowly, and missed all four majors for the first time in his career. He was scheduled to return at the Safeway Open in October but withdrew three days before the start of the event, admitting that his game was “vulnerable.”

But now, four weeks before his 41st birthday, nearly 16 months after his last competitive round, Woods is set to make his long-awaited return to golf.

Could you have imagined that 365 days ago?

“Things have improved so much that I’m able to come back here and do this again,” he said Tuesday. “It hasn’t been easy. People around me who know me, they know how hard it’s been to get to this point. It has taken a lot of work, but I’m here.”

“I don’t know. … There’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build toward.” – Woods, Dec. 1, 2015, on the timetable for his return

Today, he is beginning the final act of his career. The last 15 months have tested Woods’ resolve, and his patience. “That’s not exactly one of my hallmarks,” he said, grinning. In the past, he has rushed back from injury, only to suffer a setback and start all over again. The toll of this injury led him to contemplate retirement. “There was a lot of trepidation, and I did think of that,” he said, “because it was realistic.”

But this time, faced with the likelihood that his body can’t withstand another procedure, he took a more measured approach with his comeback.

He remains coy on some aspects of his health. As long as he continues to play, though, he’ll need to monitor his back. He’ll need treatment before and after each round. He’ll need to prepare differently.

He didn’t play in Napa, he said, because he “didn’t feel right about it,” physically or mentally. The Ryder Cup may have been an important week for personal growth, but it derailed his progress. After losing a week of practice, he needed to get stronger. He needed to add more shots to his arsenal.

The extra time apparently helped. Earlier this week, he told reporters: “I can hit all the shots now, on call.”

“I walk. I walk. And I walk some more.” – Woods, on his level of functionality

Today, he trains. Not like he used to, of course, and seven surgeries ensure that he never will. But he rides 50 to 70 miles on his bike. He runs with his kids. He walks for two to three hours on a treadmill.

It was hard work, getting back into golf shape. Training for this event, he twice summoned caddie Joe LaCava to South Florida. They walked nine holes, and then 18 holes, and then simulated a tournament, with four rounds of 18 holes.

“I’m really good at playing video games.” – Woods, on how he passes his time

Today, he spends more time in front of a TrackMan monitor than a flat-screen TV. With Nike exiting the golf-equipment business, Woods is free to use any equipment he chooses. This week, at least, he’ll play with TaylorMade woods, Nike irons and wedges, and ol’ trusty, his Scotty Cameron putter. The tinkering process is still ongoing, however.

“I’m trying to learn the new terminology,” he said, “while trying to implement some of my old feels and some of the things that have made me successful throughout the years.”

“Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know.” – Woods, on his outlook

Today, Woods said that he’s “at the beginning stages” of his evolution. The only way he’ll find out how he’s developing, how he stacks up against today’s top players is to compete against them – even in an end-of-season, 18-man cash grab with free world-ranking points.

Woods said his peers have aided his comeback. A lone wolf during his prime, he now craves the camaraderie of Tour life. In calls, texts, dinners at his restaurant, practice rounds at Medalist and the Ryder Cup, Tour players – many of whom grew up idolizing him – have offered their overwhelming support for Woods.

“I’ve had a lot more close friends out here than I thought,” he said.

“I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy.” – Woods, on his expectations for the future

Today, he concedes only that he’ll have to find “different ways of doing it” on the course. His biggest concerns aren’t his errant driving, or his chipping yips, or his shaky putting. No, none of that. He’s worried about managing the surges of adrenaline during tournament play. 

“As far as concerns besides that,” he said, “no. Confident.”

Physically, he wants to play a full schedule of 20-plus events for the next decade, until he’s eligible for the senior circuit. “Can I?” he said. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”

That’s why he has set up the next phase of his life, TGR. He made multiple references Tuesday to “unifying his brands,” which will allow him to focus less on business and more on golf, at least for as long as he’s physically able.

Tuesday in the Bahamas, in front of the same Hero backdrop, nearly 365 days after his grim news conference, Woods said something that he wasn’t able to say a year ago – wasn’t able to even consider it, really.  

“I’m going to try to do the same thing I always do,” he said. “I’m entering an event, so I’m going to try and win this thing.”

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.

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Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

“It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

“We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

“I’ve got a chance,” he said.

And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

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DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

“It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

“I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”

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Woods fielding Masters practice-round requests

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 10:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Heading into what is likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Tiger Woods is starting to set up his schedule for the days leading into the season’s first major.

Woods has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005, and in the wake of a runner-up at the Valspar Championship and a strong showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he’ll head down Magnolia Lane with more momentum than he’s had in years. As a result, it’s not surprising that he has received more than a few inquiries about a possible practice round at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week.

“I’ve gotten a couple requests here and there,” Woods said with a grin after a third-round 69 at Bay Hill.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Woods has played the Masters only once since 2014, but don’t expect him to try out some unfamiliar pairings on Tuesday and Wednesday amid the azaleas. Woods still plans to rely on a rotation he’s had for several years, playing with former champs Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara. O’Meara, who received his green jacket from Woods in 1998, plans to make this year his final Masters start.

“I traditionally have played with Freddie, if he can. We’re hoping he can come back and play again and play Augusta. I’ve played with Mark just about every single year,” Woods said. “It’s generally been those two guys, and those are the two guys I’ve grown up with out here on Tour. We sit next to each other actually at the champions’ dinner, and so we have known each other for a very long time.”

While Woods is no stranger to fielding offers for tips and advice from younger players, especially on a course he knows as well as Augusta National, one top-ranked name continues to stick out among the requests he’s received in recent weeks.

“Just the normal JT (Justin Thomas),” Woods said. “He’s always trying to get some practice rounds in.”