U.S. succeeding without points from Woods, Stricker

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 30, 2012, 2:30 am

MEDINAH, Ill. – Really, it’s a testament to the depth and quality of team that captain Davis Love III has assembled here at Medinah.

Tiger Woods has yet to contribute a single point for the Americans at the Ryder Cup . . . and the U.S. team still leads, 10-6, heading into Sunday singles. That pop sound you heard is just the champagne being uncorked. Keep it chilled at 38 degrees, please.

Tiger Woods, zero points. That thought once seemed inconceivable. After all, the Americans needed him. They needed his otherworldly talent. They needed his experience. They needed his flair, his spark, his doggedness.

Yet there’s a strange and undeniable feeling floating around the U.S. team room this week. Even though Woods and partner Steve Stricker dropped to 0-3 this week, thereby ensuring that they’re the only Americans who have yet to find the win column, the prevailing belief among the Americans is that they have the best team – certainly the best putters – with or without a supercharged Tiger boost.

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Said Matt Kuchar, “It’s hard to believe Tiger hasn’t gotten a point pairing up with Stricker. They make a great team. But we’ve got 12 really good players.”

Said Zach Johnson, “We have a good team. We have got chemistry. We have got camaraderie. We have talent. We want it.”

This could have been a glorious moment for Woods, and perhaps it still might. He’s 36 years old, no longer the most dominant player in the game, and at this stage in his career he’s still wildly competitive but also in the unique position in which he can be a leader, a mentor and a motivator.

This Ryder Cup, in particular, hosted on a course at which he’s won two of his 14 majors, offered Woods a chance to take a large pink eraser to one of the only blemishes – however miniscule – on his sterling resume. In Ryder Cup team play, his record entering these matches was 9-13-1, but hey, for three days he could embrace the experience (as he did last November at the Presidents Cup), and he could embrace the rookies, who have paced the Americans to the comfortable lead after four sessions.

It hasn’t quite panned out that way, of course – the whole leading with his game and his words thing – and after three fruitless sessions, it’s instructive to review Woods’ comments from this past Tuesday. When asked why the Americans have won only two of the past eight Ryder Cups, Woods said, “Well, certainly I am responsible for that because I didn’t earn the points that I was put out there for. … I needed to go get my points for my team, and I didn’t do that.”

Shockingly, he hasn’t done that at Medinah, either.

In Friday morning foursomes, both he and Stricker played miserably and lost to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose. Later that day, the U.S. pair lost again, to rookie Nicolas Colsaerts and Lee Westwood, a defeat that could easily have been dismissed by the fact that Tiger made seven birdies on the day, Stricker made nothing outside 4 feet, and Colsaerts authored one of the best Ryder Cup debuts in history, recording eight birdies and an eagle on his own ball in a 1-up victory.

Still, the once-unbeatable pair of Woods and Stricker was 0-2. Tiger was even benched for Saturday foursomes. Some suggested that he needed to test free agency and find another partner.

Yet there they were, on a sun-drenched fall afternoon, paired together in Match 3 against Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, trying to remain relevant and contribute something – anything – to the American cause.

It didn’t start in promising fashion, just as it hasn’t all week. On the opening nine Saturday, Woods and Stricker rarely walked together down the fairway – partly because Tiger was focused on sorting out his own game, also because he and his partner rarely drove it in the same direction.

Through four holes, the Americans were 3 down. At the turn, they were 4 down.

But on the back nine, Woods and Stricker combined to go 6 under – red-hot play that even included close-range birdie misses on Nos. 11 and 15 – and nearly erased a 4-down deficit.

On the par-4 finishing hole, and after a stirring halve on the par-3 17th in which both Woods and Donald hit their tee shots inside 5 feet, Stricker hit the lip on a 10-foot birdie putt that could have secured a half point.

Four years ago, a Tiger-less U.S. team won convincingly at Valhalla. And now? That 1-up defeat late Saturday afternoon ensured that Woods and Stricker would be winless as they head into Sunday singles, the only Americans who haven’t yet contributed a point – and still the scoreboard to the right side of 18 green read, U.S. 10, Europe 6.

“We fought hard,” Woods said of his fourballs loss. “Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. We gave ourselves two good looks on 18, and didn’t get it done.”

The sting from that defeat apparently would not linger. After their brief media obligations, Woods and Stricker walked together, their arms slung around the others’ shoulders, as teammates and good friends and fierce competitors who just happened to have been on the wrong side of three highly publicized matches.

Their teammates, though, have picked them up, offered them encouragement and put plenty of points on the board, because that’s what teammates do. And now, finally, after all these years, the U.S. has a team. A real team, with 12 players, each with valuable assets.

On Sunday, one of the most exhilarating days on the golf calendar, Woods will face Francesco Molinari in the anchor match.

Will the 12th match even matter? Probably not. After all, the Americans need only 4 1/2 points to win back the cup, and they could clinch long before Woods’ match reaches its conclusion.

But strangely, incredibly, that would be appropriate.

This week at Medinah, the U.S. team hasn’t needed him. 

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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.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

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Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

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But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”

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Players honor victims of Parkland school shooting

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:36 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA Tour players are honoring the victims in the Parkland school shooting by wearing ribbons on their hats and shirts.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located about 45 miles from PGA National, site of this week’s Honda Classic.

“It’s awful what happened, and anytime the Tour can support in any way a tragedy, we’re always going to be for it,” Justin Thomas said. “Anytime there’s a ribbon on the tees for whatever it may be, you’ll see most, if not all the guys wearing it. Something as simple and easy as this, it’s the least we could do.”

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The school shooting in Parkland, which claimed 17 lives, is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.

Tiger Woods, who lives in South Florida, offered this: “It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives that we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all. It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”