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Another year, another chance for Fowler at WMPO

By Will GrayFebruary 1, 2018, 11:55 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Rickie Fowler has a score to settle with TPC Scottsdale.

For as many good shots as he has hit here over the years, for as many times as he has put a charge into the thousands gathered around the Stadium Course’s closing stretch, Fowler has yet to put all the pieces together.

It was at the 2010 Waste Management Phoenix Open that Fowler had one of his best chances for a maiden PGA Tour victory, when he was in hot pursuit of Hunter Mahan. But Fowler raised more than a few eyebrows when he decided to lay up from 230 yards away on the par-5 15th hole during the final round, ultimately settling for par. He lost to Mahan by a shot.

There would be more heartache here in 2016, when Fowler held firm to a two-shot lead with two holes to go. But a bad bounce on the penultimate hole led to an unexpected bogey, and he ended up losing in a four-hole playoff to Hideki Matsuyama.

With family and friends in attendance, including his grandfather who had never seen him win a tournament in person, Fowler left the property in tears.

“This one hurts,” Fowler said at the time. “I mean, it’s going to hurt because I felt like I had it, especially with the way I was swinging.”

He returned last year and again played well, but still couldn’t keep pace with Matsuyama. He tied for fourth, two shots out of a playoff.

Add it up and Fowler has broken par in nine straight competitive rounds at TPC Scottsdale, a streak he ran to 10 Thursday with an opening 66 that briefly gave him a share of the lead as he continues to try to get both hands on an elusive trophy.

“After the first couple years here I just figured it was a matter of time before I was the last one standing on Sunday,” Fowler said. “It’s just a matter of time. I know I can win here, and sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time, or not get a bad kick on 17, but we’re going to get one.”


Full-field scores from the Waste Management Phoenix Open

Waste Management Phoenix Open: Articles, photos and videos


That confidence was evident in an opening round that included an eagle on No. 15, a chip-in birdie on No. 18 and just a single dropped shot on the par-71 layout.

Fowler is coming off a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, but he has also missed the weekend at Torrey Pines each of the last two years before contending the following week in the Arizona desert. Not all missed cuts are created equal, and Fowler said that there “wasn’t really much off” about an even-par effort that was one shot too many in San Diego.

It also serves as an outlier among Fowler’s recent results. He opened the year with a T-4 finish at Maui, closed last year with a win at the Hero World Challenge that included a final-round 61 and was a runner-up at Mayakoba in the start before that.

While players like Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm have received more of the attention in recent weeks, Fowler has quietly kept things humming along, business as usual.

“He’s just so consistent,” said Bryson DeChambeau, who finished the round alongside Fowler at 5 under. “That’s definitely one thing that I looked at is his consistency, and his ability to be consistently in contention all the time.”

Fowler’s success at this event perhaps serves as a microcosm for his career in general, one filled with stellar performances and perhaps fewer trophies than expected. But the results have done little to curb his optimism this week on a course where he has piled up birdies by the dozens amid a frenzied atmosphere.

Fowler still plays the role of a young gun, but at age 29 he is now making his 10th straight start in this event. While his name has yet to be etched into the bronzed plaque of past champions and winning scores that sits behind the 18th green, he remains confident that he’ll have a spot on the wall before too long.

“We have been close here a number of times, and I love playing here and the Thunderbirds have been great to me,” Fowler said. “So it would be nice to get ourselves in contention and see if we can be the last one standing on Sunday.”

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''


Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 12:45 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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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.