Despite late mistakes, Tiger's first 18 a success

By Will GrayDecember 1, 2016, 10:54 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – For a brief instant, it appeared that Tiger Woods had spent the last 15 months quietly cobbling together some sort of Bahamian time machine.

The irons were accurate, the chips were crisp. The birdie putts fell – first one, then another, then another.

This was not the hobbled shell of a man that flashed across TV sets so often in recent years. This was Tiger Woods, walking with an extra spring in his step as he climbed the leaderboard at the Hero World Challenge.

But fairytales are rarely authored inside the ropes, and Woods quickly returned to Earth, as he eventually showed signs of a man whose last competitive rep came nearly 16 months ago.

The score, a 1-over 73, was not a shock, but the route was certainly a circuitous one. Woods dazzled on the front nine and leaked oil on the back, closing with double bogeys on two of the last three holes that left him ahead of exactly one player in the 18-man field.

It was rocky, and it was tumultuous. But it was a start.

“When he hit it well, it was really, really good,” said playing partner Patrick Reed. “And when he mis-hit it, it was kind of, you know, they weren’t very good misses.”

Such is the plight of a man attempting to resurrect his game from scratch after the longest hiatus of his career.

Woods admitted after the round that Thursday’s opener was different, all the way down to tweaking his practice routine to accommodate an unexpected jolt of adrenaline. For a player who has conquered the golfing world several times over, the first of four rounds in a secluded alcove may as well have been a trip down Magnolia Lane.

“You can’t simulate the surge of adrenaline that you’re going to be feeling come tournament time,” Woods said. “I’ve tried, and I have always tried my entire career to do that, but it’s never the same. And today was definitely that.”

Had Woods more evenly dispersed his scorecard, had one of his closing doubles instead come amid the three-birdie run that highlighted his opening nine, perhaps the tinge of disappointment might have evaporated. But he didn’t, and they didn’t, and a 73 is more difficult to stomach after Woods appeared on his way to something in the mid-60s.

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For once in his career, though, Woods’ focus is spanning wider than a scorecard or leaderboard. This event is about laying the groundwork, taking one small step with a much larger sprint in mind.

The bigger isn't lost on the tournament host, who remained upbeat despite a rough finish that may have sent him slamming a door earlier in his career.

“Well, think about it, I hit the ball in three bushes and a water ball today. It could have been something really good,” Woods said. “I got off to a nice solid start and made a few mistakes there. I didn't play the par 5s very well in the middle part of the round and consequently got it going the wrong way.”

There were certainly more than a few shots that got away. Woods fought a left miss all day off the tee with his new TaylorMade driver, and then there were the aforementioned scrub-bush shots. The first time he punched out, the second time he took an unplayable and the third time he played a shot 20 yards backwards down the fairway.

“I just made some really, if you look at it, some really silly mistakes,” he said. “Mistakes I don’t normally make, but I haven’t played in a while.”

Woods’ downright sunny demeanor indicated that he was fully aware of the other part of that equation: there was also plenty offered early in the round upon which he can build.

If there was a single aspect of his game under the most scrutiny entering the week, it was likely the chipping and pitching that so publicly torpedoed him last year. But his short game was largely on point, with several chips of varying length nestling within a few feet of the hole.

He also hit several pin-seeking approaches, stuffing a wedge on the seventh before hitting it inside 4 feet on the 216-yard eighth hole.

“By the time I hit the second, my tee shot on the second hole, I had already gotten into the flow of the round,” Woods said. “It’s good to be able to not play in, what, 15-16 months and to get it on the second hole is nice.”

The score, especially given the start, wasn’t what he hoped for. But this comeback will require more than four rounds against a small field, and it certainly is not a gap Woods can bridge with any single 18-hole performance.

But for that front-nine stretch, Woods appeared once more in control of his game with the world watching – a sight that some surmised we might never see again.

That, in and of itself, might be enough to qualify Thursday’s opener as a success. At the very least, it’s a step in the right direction.

Rahm, Koepka both jump in OWGR after wins

By Will GrayNovember 20, 2017, 1:19 pm

Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka both made moves inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings following wins in Dubai and Japan, respectively.

Rahm captured the European Tour season finale, winning the DP World Tour Championship by a shot. It was his third worldwide victory of 2017 and it allowed the Spaniard to overtake Hideki Matsuyama at world No. 4. It also establishes a new career high in the rankings for Rahm, who started the year ranked No. 137.

Koepka cruised to a nine-shot victory while successfully defending his title at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix. The victory was his first since winning the U.S. Open and it helped Koepka jump three spots to No. 7 in the latest rankings. Reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele, who finished second behind Koepka in Japan, went from 30th to 24th.

After earning his maiden PGA Tour victory at the RSM Classic, Austin Cook vaulted from No. 302 to No. 144 in the world. Runner-up J.J. Spaun jumped 48 spots to No. 116, while a hole-out with his final approach helped Brian Gay rise 73 spots to No. 191 after finishing alone in third at Sea Island.

Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas with Rahm and Matsuyama now rounding out the top five. Justin Rose remains at No. 6, followed by Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson. Rory McIlroy slid two spots to No. 10 and is now in danger of falling out of the top 10 for the first time since May 2014.

With his return to competition now less than two weeks away, Tiger Woods fell four more spots to No. 1193 in the latest rankings.

Love to undergo hip replacement surgery

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 1:08 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Two days removed from arguably the most hectic week of his year, Davis Love III will undergo replacement surgery on his left hip.

Love, who hosted and played in last week’s RSM Classic, said he tried to avoid the surgery, but the pain became too much and he will undergo the procedure on Tuesday at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.

“I had a hip problem the last few years, and I had a hip resurfacing trying to avoid hip surgery because I’m a chicken, but after playing [the CIMB Classic and Sanderson Farms Championship] I realized it was an uphill battle,” Love said.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Love said doctors have told him recovery from the procedure will take between three to four months, but he should be able to start work on his chipping and putting within a few weeks.

Love, who missed the cut at the RSM Classic, said earlier in the week that his goal is to become the oldest PGA Tour winner and that the only way to achieve that was by having the surgery.

“Now I’m excited that I’ve crossed that bridge,” said Love, who will turn 54 next April. “Once I get over that I can go right back to the Tour. I won after a spine fusion [2015 Wyndham Championship] and now I’d like to win with a new hip. That’s the reason I’m doing it so I can get back to golf and keep up.”

LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.

Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.

CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.

LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.

Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

How did she evaluate her season?

“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”