Woods: Oak Hill's greens are 'spotty'

By Will GrayJuly 31, 2013, 8:21 pm

AKRON, Ohio – As the calendar turns to August, Tiger Woods has already compiled an immensely successful year. He’s won four times, including a WGC event and The Players Championship, and currently leads the PGA Tour in scoring average, earnings, FedEx Cup points and the all-around ranking.

Despite the success to date, though, Woods’ season is also highlighted by its glaring omission – a major title. In preparation for next week’s PGA Championship, which will mark his 18th major start since he left Torrey Pines with the U.S. Open trophy in 2008, Woods took a trip Tuesday to scout Oak Hill Country Club. His comments in the wake of that visit quickly focused on a familiar topic.

“The greens are spotty,” he said Wednesday of Oak Hill’s putting surfaces upon arriving in Akron for this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “It’ll be interesting to see what they do for the tournament and how much they’re able to speed them up.”

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It’s a frequent refrain for the world’s top-ranked player, who has been quick to cite green speeds as a key reason for his struggles at various events this year, including the British Open earlier this month. Wednesday, Woods again explained the impact that the hand-watering of greens at Muirfield throughout the weekend had on his ability to hole putts down the stretch.

“Normally, as the tournament progresses, the golf course is supposed to get faster and harder. We played it reversed,” he noted. “That was a bit of a situation I don’t think I can honestly ever remember facing, where the golf course was that fast on a Thursday and slowed down by Sunday with no Mother Nature involved.”

While it remains to be seen how well Woods can adjust to the changing greens, whether this week at Firestone Country Club or next week at the season’s final major, the topic clearly seems to be receiving the bulk of his attention. To be clear, Woods is not exactly battling the yips – you can’t win four times in seven starts without putting well, and he ranks second on Tour in total putting and fourth in strokes gained putting. But where once questions focused on his inability to find the fairway with a driver, or effectively control a wedge shot, now attention is placed on his ability to control the speed of his putts.

“I just didn’t get the feel of those greens the last few days, and I didn’t make the adjustments,” Woods recalled of his tie for sixth at Muirfield earlier this month. “That’s my fault for not making the adjustments. You’ve got to make the adjustments and I didn’t do it, and consequently I didn’t win the tournament.”

Even this week, on a course where he has had more success than any venue outside of Bay Hill, Woods spent little time in his pre-round comments Wednesday before mentioning the putting surfaces he was about to encounter on the South Course.

“I feel comfortable on this golf course, and I think that’s the key,” noted Woods, who has won at Firestone seven times, most recently in 2009. “I’ve played it when it’s been baked out and fast and is hard, and other times when it’s soft and slow. And the guys are saying it’s a little bit softer right now, but the greens are up to speed.”

It would be inaccurate to attach the term “struggling” to a player who has already won four times this season. Clearly, Woods has played (and putted) well for stretches this year, and he has attained the top spot in the world rankings for a reason. On some of the game’s biggest stages, though, it is equally evident that there has been an aspect missing on the greens that has kept him out of the winner’s circle.

If nothing else, Woods’ inability to master each facet of his game on cue should force fans and pundits alike to gain a better appreciation for his torrid stretch in the previous decade, when he accomplished the feat with unprecedented frequency, transforming the concept of peaking tee-to-green at major championship venues into an art form.

As for this week’s event, it’s likely a no-win situation for Woods. Should he play well or even win, all of the same questions will still follow him to Oak Hill next week; should he instead falter on a course where he has played so well in the past, those questions will only grow in both stature and volume.

A chicken-and-egg phenomenon, then, has emerged between Woods’ battle with green speeds and his (to date) unsuccessful quest for a 15th career major. Once he wins again, be it next week at Oak Hill, next year at Augusta or beyond, the doubts and speculation – both internal and external – about his putting adjustments will be quieted. Unless and until his hands are placed on the trophy at one of golf’s four biggest events, though, questions will linger on a topic upon which Woods himself clearly chooses to focus his attention.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.