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Tour players united: They want Woods to succeed

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 24, 2018, 10:56 pm

SAN DIEGO – PGA Tour players rarely agree on anything, but on the eve of another Tiger Woods comeback, this much is indisputable: They all want to see him play well.

Sure, a competitive Woods is “good for the game” and helps “moves the needle,” but players have their own selfish reasons to root for his success this time – and they’re split along generational lines.

The Tour’s 20-somethings grew up watching Woods’ dominance from the couch. They copied his every move, and absorbed his killer instinct, and now they’d relish the challenge of facing off against their in-form idol.

The old guard? Oh, they’ve seen Woods’ dominance up close, had their careers stunted by him. Now it’s someone else’s turn to be humbled.

Woods himself said as much last month: “In an ideal world, I would like to have them feel what some of my past guys had to go against all those years. I’d like to have them feel that same way.”

The potential for that generational clash – that a rebuilt Woods could challenge the talented, fearless and scarless young players he helped create – is easily the most tantalizing storyline of 2018.

“I would love to see his former glory days,” Bryson DeChambeau said, “and then try to compete against him when he’s at the top.”

Woods hasn’t been at the top since 2013, when he won five times. It was the last time he was healthy, the last time golf came easily.

His last victory came in August of that year. To put that in perspective: Jordan Spieth had just won his first Tour title; Justin Thomas was a month away from turning pro; Jon Rahm was entering his sophomore year at Arizona State; and Dustin Johnson was merely a talented tease, kicking away majors and never winning more than twice in a season.


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By the time they finally asserted themselves, Woods was deep into his free fall. Thomas and Rahm have never played with Woods in Tour competition, while Spieth and Johnson are a combined 7-1-2 against him in head-to-head rounds since 2013.

No one is expecting the results to be so lopsided anymore.

While preparing for the Hero World Challenge, Woods played practice rounds with Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Johnson and Thomas near their homes in South Florida. Thomas predicted that fans were going to be “shocked” by the quality of Woods’ game, and indeed they were: Showing speed and power with his driver, control with his irons, steadiness with his putter and, most importantly, no limitations with his surgically repaired back, Woods tied for ninth in the 18-man field to ratchet up expectations for this year.

Even after so many aborted comebacks, the intrigue is impossibly high.

Patrick Reed was preparing for his pro-am round Wednesday at Torrey Pines when he asked a reporter about Woods’ round.

Told that Woods hit the first fairway and made birdie, Reed’s eyes widened: “Really?”

Indeed, the scandal, arrest and embarrassing play may have irreparably damaged Woods’ aura, but there’s no discounting his continued appeal to the younger generation.

“A lot of us dreamt about having the opportunity to walk the back nine with Tiger in contention and have a battle, head to head,” Rahm said. “It would be something amazing for any of us.”

Bryson DeChambeau met Woods for the first time in the Bahamas and swapped phone numbers. In his prime, Woods kept most of his competition at arm’s length, but in recent years he has mellowed, been more eager to share his secrets. He agreed to meet up for an early nine-hole round Tuesday.

“We legitimately want to see him do well, 100 percent,” DeChambeau said. “Why wouldn’t you? It’s such a unique experience that we never got to get. We want that challenge. We want to see how great his mental game actually is.”

Zach Johnson, of course, is part of a generation that already knows. Two months younger than Woods, Johnson has played his entire career in Woods’ considerable shadow but still managed to win 12 times, including two majors. Now, Johnson can’t help but chuckle at the young players who say they’d like Woods to return to form, so they can experience it.

“Truth be told,” Johnson said recently, “I’d love to have these young guys that are dominating the game have a piece, just one year of what we experienced.”

Maybe that’s unrealistic, a 42-year-old turning back the clock and turning away players who are younger, bigger, stronger, hungrier.  

But make no mistake: The young and the old, the naïve and the wise, they both would love to see it happen.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''


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Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.