Getty Images

Woodland's win for family here and above

By Will GrayFebruary 5, 2018, 1:11 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – After holing a short putt to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Gary Woodland plucked the ball from the hole and pointed skyward.

His entourage at TPC Scottsdale ran deep on Sunday: Both his parents were there, as were other family members. His wife, Gabby, was nearby holding his 7-month-old son, Jaxson.

But in the moment after capturing his first PGA Tour win in nearly five years, Woodland’s thoughts immediately went to the one family member who wasn’t there.

“That was just kind of a tribute to last year,” Woodland said while choking back tears. “Obviously we lost a little girl, and being there, seeing my wife give birth to her, that’s real.”

When he and Gabby first announced they were pregnant with twins last spring, Woodland explained on social media that it’s “the first time I’ve been excited about a double.” But that excitement turned to sorrow in the middle of Gabby’s pregnancy, when they learned that one of the twins would not survive.

Jaxson was born 10 weeks premature on June 23, the highlight of a tumultuous summer for Woodland that saw him spend almost as much time in the NICU ward at the hospital as on the course.

“I couldn’t wait for 2018 to start,” he explained. “Couldn’t wait for 2017 to be over with.”


Full-field scores from the Waste Management Phoenix Open

Waste Management Phoenix Open: Articles, photos and videos


With a new year came renewed optimism, with Woodland again focusing on his game as Jaxson continued to make progress. Despite all the turmoil last season, he managed to make it to the Tour Championship and carried that form into his most recent starts: T-7 at the Sony Open, T-12 at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Sure, the winless drought stretched back to the 2013 Barracuda Championship. But his peers knew its end was near.

“I typically look at leaderboards and see who’s had good weeks, kind of week in and week out, and figure they’re due for a win,” said Matt Kuchar. “And Gary was that guy that was due.”

Woodland admitted he has struggled to piece together four good rounds in a single tournament, but he did so brilliantly at TPC Scottsdale, where a final-round 64 got him into a playoff in which he defeated Chez Reavie with a par on the opening hole.

Woodland appeared set to take home the title in regulation, but two closing birdies from Reavie forced overtime. Given what Woodland has endured off the course in recent months, playing an extra hole with the trophy up for grabs was a minor inconvenience.

It helped, perhaps, that he was minutes removed from a round that included nine birdies, allowing him to quickly erase an overnight three-shot deficit.

“I didn’t even know I made nine birdies until I got done,” he said. “My caddie asked me, ‘How many birdies did you make?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ So obviously I was in the zone, I was kind of in the moment all day and just trying to give myself a chance.”

Woodland has long been viewed as one of the Tour’s best athletes, a prodigious driver who won two state titles in basketball while in high school in Kansas. His burly physique would have been well-suited for any athletic endeavor, but mashing a little white ball turned out to be his best option.

Even among Tour pros, his is an exceptionally high ceiling, and one that Kuchar knew was well within reach after just nine holes of practice together Tuesday on the Stadium Course.

“He was driving it so well. When he’s driving it well, golf becomes easy,” Kuchar said. “He’s doing that right now, and he’s making the game look pretty easy.”

In the off-season, Woodland met with longtime instructor Butch Harmon to try to identify the missing ingredient that had prevented strong play from turning into wins. Harmon offered counsel, but he also suggested a meeting with short-game guru Pete Cowen. This week Woodland even sought the putting wisdom of PGA Tour Champions member Brad Faxon.

Sometimes it really does takes a village.

“I feel like I can make a lot of putts, and I haven’t felt that way in a long time,” Woodland said. “And obviously with the way I hit it and now I’m confident with the short game, and the putter starts working, good things will happen.”

This victory won’t change Woodland’s career arc – if anything, it validates the position many of his peers felt he has long deserved to occupy.

But in the moment of victory, he wasn’t thinking about his career standing, or the victory drought that had finally come to a close after years of hard work. With Gabby nearby and Jaxson in her arms, Woodland thought first of the daughter who never got a chance to share in a post-victory celebration.

“I just wanted her to know that I still love her,” he said.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

Getty Images

Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

Getty Images

Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”