Tiger's Bridgestone win won't silence critics

By Will GrayAugust 5, 2013, 6:40 pm

AKRON, Ohio – There might be a better way to head into the week of a major championship, but you’d be hard-pressed to find it.

Fresh off his seven-shot victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Tiger Woods will now make the short commute to Rochester, N.Y., for the PGA Championship, equipped with as much momentum as you could possibly extract from four rounds against the best players in the world.

A winner five times this year, Woods will tee off at the season’s final major as the top-ranked player in the world, leading the PGA Tour this year in wins, earnings, FedEx Cup points, scoring average and the all-around ranking.

“But …”

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It’s an inevitable refrain when discussing any of Woods’ achievements since the summer of 2008. For as many as will now laud the 79-time Tour winner for his recent play, an opposing faction – equally fervent, equally resilient – will demand to see it done on a major stage.

Welcome to the life of Tiger Woods, where lapping an elite field in a WGC event and taking home the $1.5 million winner’s check in the process does nothing to sate your doubters.

Whether right or wrong, golf’s major championships are placed in a stratosphere unto themselves, as are the performances of players in those events. Woods himself has supported this notion on multiple occasions, once again highlighting their importance in his Sunday post-round news conference.

“Those are the events that we try and peak for and try and win,” he explained after walking off the 18th green at Firestone victoriously for the eighth time in his career. “There’s four of them a year.”

With all facets of his game seemingly aligned and with trophy once again in hand, all signs appear to point to Woods claiming a 15th major title six days from now.

“But …”

The dissenters quickly point out we’ve been down this road before. Woods has won his final start before a major 19 times in his career, and has gone on to win the subsequent major “only” four times (as though a cross-section of data that yields the career major haul of Ernie Els could ever be viewed as a pittance).

More recently, though, the scenario has created fewer results. Woods began three of the past seven majors having won in his prior start, but all he has to show for it is a Dropgate-shrouded tie for fourth this year at the Masters. In 2009, he won prior to each of the season’s four majors and came up empty-handed all four times.

This past week in Akron, though, felt different. It felt dominant. Woods awoke the ghosts of Pebble Beach circa 2000 with his Friday 61, five shots clear of the day’s next-lowest total, then successfully kept the field at arm’s length across the final 36 holes.

His performance this weekend also drew parallels to 2007, a year in which he cleared the field at the South Course by eight shots. He followed that effort up a week later by cruising to a two-shot victory at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills.

“Performance-wise, yeah. Scoring-wise, yeah,” Woods noted when asked if he saw any similarities between his win six years ago and his most recent triumph.

In fact, while the 37-year-old has won before a major several times, this will mark only the fourth instance where he has won exactly one week prior, with the three other occurrences each yielding strong results. In addition to the aforementioned double in 2007, Woods also notched runner-up finishes at the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships immediately after wins at the Buick Open and WGC-Bridgestone, respectively.

With the top-ranked player in the world clearly rounding into form, this week’s PGA Championship is not lacking for storylines. While Woods’ quest for major No. 15 remains chief among them, three of the next four players in the world rankings behind him have major titles to their credit this season, including British Open champion and world No. 2 Phil Mickelson.

For Woods, though, the repercussions of the next few days cannot be overstated. While he appeared unbeatable for much of the weekend at Firestone, an errant shot or an afternoon spent struggling on the greens could easily result in a missed opportunity in Rochester. That, in turn, would lead to eight months of rampant speculation, with no end in sight until players drive down Magnolia Lane next spring.

The finality of the season’s fourth major can, in that regard, be brutal.

“Do I want it any more? No, it’s the same,” he said Sunday when asked if this week’s upcoming event carries with it an added sense of urgency. “Each and every major, I always want them.”

Over the next three days, Woods will endure a cycle of pre-tournament interrogations that would have remained entirely unchanged regardless of Sunday’s outcome. The fundamental questions lobbed at him will undergo a revision only after he claims a 15th major title, and while you can’t win a tournament on Thursday, you certainly can’t do much to secure the title the Sunday prior.

Recent weekend struggles will be mentioned, as will the speeds of Oak Hill’s greens – surfaces that Woods himself deemed “spotty” on Wednesday – and the 14-time major winner will be forced to face the chasm of time that has passed since his last title, one that now stretches more than five years and grows by the day.

“But …”

While his overall body of work continues to impress, the few remaining doubts still linger. This week’s PGA Championship offers Woods another opportunity to emphatically silence his dissenters while taking a significant step toward the record he most covets.

Though the end result is yet to be determined, one fact is clear: the dress rehearsal couldn’t have gone any better.

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Report: Augusta may lengthen par-4 fifth hole

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:18 am

One of the more difficult holes at Augusta National Golf Club could be adding some teeth in time for the 2019 Masters.

A recent report from the Augusta Chronicle details preliminary site plans from the Augusta Planning and Development Department. Chief among the proposed changes is a lengthening of the par-4 fifth hole, which currently measures 455 yards.

According to the report, a new tee could be constructed across Old Berckmans Road that could lengthen the hole by 20-30 yards. The change would alleviate congestion between the tee and the nearby fourth green and includes plans to curve the road – which has been closed to public traffic since 2015 – around the new fifth tee.

At last year’s Masters, former club chairman Billy Payne highlighted the area as a possible site for minor changes.

“We are always looking at certain holes, certain improvements to the golf course,” Payne said. “We have a great opportunity now in that we now own the Old Berckmans Road. It gives us the ability, as it touches certain holes, it gives us some way to expand or redesign – not redesign, but lengthen some of those holes, should we choose to do so, and all of them are under review.”

Should the new tee be built, it would mark the first club-enacted course changes since six holes were lengthened in 2006. According to the preliminary plans, construction would start on approximately May 1, following this year’s tournament, and would conclude by early November.

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Thomas: Raucus crowds becoming 'completely unacceptable'

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 12:53 am

LOS ANGELES – After spending the first two rounds of the Genesis Open caught amid the traveling circus that accompanies tournament host Tiger Woods anytime he tees it up, Justin Thomas relished his third trip around Riviera with fewer bodies – and voices – in the crowd.

Thomas was part of this week’s marquee early-round grouping, playing the first 36 holes alongside Woods and Rory McIlroy. McIlroy suggested that the chaos of a Woods gallery costs the 42-year-old half a shot per round, and it’s a sentiment that Thomas supported after climbing into the top 10 with a third-round 67.

“Yeah, it was pretty wild this first couple days. It was all right for a little bit today, but there at the end it got a little out of hand,” Thomas said. “I guess it’s a part of it now, unfortunately. I wish it wasn’t. I wish people didn’t think it was so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots and play.”

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Thomas enters the final round four shots behind Bubba Watson as he looks to win for the second time this season. While the crowds at Riviera are a fraction of the size encountered two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, Thomas recalled a couple of unfortunate incidents from that event when fans spoke up and snapped mid-swing pictures while he played the first two rounds alongside Jordan Spieth.

“I don’t know - I guess they just think it’s funny,” Thomas said. “It might be funny to them, and obviously people think of it differently and I could just be overreacting. But when people are now starting to time it wrong and get in people’s swings, is just completely unacceptable really.

“We’re out here playing for a lot of money, a lot of points, and a lot of things can happen. And you would just hate to have, hate to see in the future something happen down the line because of something like that.”

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Durant leads Stricker, MAJ into Chubb Classic Sunday

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 12:50 am

NAPLES, Fla. - Joe Durant birdied five of the last eight holes for a 9-under 63 to match Steve Stricker's Saturday finish and take the second-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Chubb Classic.

Durant rebounded from a three-putt bogey on the par-4 10th with birdies on the next two holes and also birdied Nos. 15-17. He had a 14-under 130 total on TwinEagles' Talon course for a one-stroke lead over Stricker.

''You're going to laugh at me when I tell you this, but it was actually a par I made on my first hole,'' Durant said. ''I pulled my tee shot left, went into a bush and had to take an unplayable, had to drop back and hit an 8-iron about 15 feet and made par and it was kind of like, 'OK, well, maybe the putter is going to work today.'''

Stricker had nine birdies in a bogey-free round.

''I look forward to playing with Steve,'' Durant said. ''He's a class act, one of my buddies out here, and obviously he is playing well and he had a great round today. It will be a shootout tomorrow, no question, but it will be fun.''

The 53-year-old Durant has two PGA Tour Champions victories after winning four times on the PGA Tour.

The 50-year-old Stricker is making his first start of the year on the 50-and-over tour after playing six tournaments last year - a runner-up finish in his debut and three third-places ties but not a victory.

''That's why I'm here, to try to win the golf tournament,'' the 12-time PGA Tour winner said.

He played the last two weeks on the PGA Tour, tying for 31st in the Phoenix Open and tying for 26th at Pebble Beach.

''You can be a little more patient on the big tour because pars sometimes are good scores,'' Stricker said. ''Out here you need to make some birdies and when you see guys running away, that's when you lose your patience, at least I did yesterday.''

Playing alongside John Daly, Stricker birdied three of the last four on the front nine and birdied the last two for a back-nine 31.

''Yesterday, I wasn't very patient and I let a couple slip away that I should have had,'' Stricker said. ''On the par 5s on my second nine yesterday, I walked away from a couple pars, and that was frustrating. So I kind of let that get to me. Today, I was a lot more patient, and I felt it on the greens. When you're patient on the greens, you tend to roll the ball a little bit better, and I rolled a lot of nice putts.''

First-round leader Miguel Angel Jimenez was two strokes back. He birdied three of the last four in a 68 after opening with a 64.

''Tomorrow is going to be a fight,'' Jimenez said. ''It's going to be nice. As long as you are around the lead, one shot behind, one shot ahead. A lot of golf to come. Just play golf, let everything come.''

Lee Janzen (67) was 11 under, and Kevin Sutherland (68) and Scott McCarron (68) were another stroke back. Daly was 8 under after his second 68. Three-time champion Bernhard Langer had a 70 to get to 5 under.

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Watson takes one-shot lead at Riviera

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 17, 2018, 11:49 pm

It's an even-numbered year, so we shouldn't be surprised that Bubba Watson is leading at Riviera. Here's how things shake out going into the final round of the Genesis Open:

Leaderboard: Bubba Watson (-10), Patrick Cantlay (-9), Cameron Smith (-8), Kevin Na (-8), Tony Finau (-8), Graeme McDowell (-8)

What it means: Watson won the Tour's Los Angeles stop in 2014 and 2016, first shooting 64-64 on the weekend to come from eight shots back and beat Dustin Johnson by two strokes, then edging Jason Kokrak and Adam Scott by a stroke two years later. On Saturday, after a Friday night spent playing in a celebrity basketball game that was part of NBA All-Star Weekend (and getting a shot swatted into the stands by 6-foot-8 Tracy McGrady), he eagled the par-5 first hole, hitting a 200-yard approach to 18 inches, and kept his foot on the gas the rest of the way, adding five birdies against one bogey.

Round of the day: Dustin Johnson moved up 45 spots with a 64. Like Watson, he eagled the first hole, then added four birdies to make the turn in 29. His back nine was an exercise in treading water, with eight pars and a birdie, at the par-5 11th.

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Best of the rest: Watson's 65 was matched by Cameron Smith, who moved up 12 spots to T-3 by making an eagle and four birdies.

Biggest disappointment: At 49, two-time former U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen was just four shots off the lead after 36 holes, but a Saturday 75 dropped him to a tie for 51st. Goosen's round was a matter of slow bleeding, with three bogeys and a birdie on both sides.

Shot of the day: Derek Fathauer eagled the par-4 third hole, holing his approach shot from 120 yards.

Quote of the day: "You've got to know that this golf course is going to make you mess up." - Bubba Watson

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: Although Watson has won twice at Riviera, he hasn't won anywhere since his 2016 victory in L.A. His 2016-17 season finish of 75th in the FedExCup standings was the worst of his career. His closest pursuer, Cantlay, is just one stroke back after closing with a 54-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.