Woods puts on another futility clinic

By Will GrayJune 19, 2015, 4:07 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – The tournament practice range on a Wednesday evening can be a lonely place. Practice rounds are in the books, and course notes have long been compiled. It’s certainly no time for players to dig answers out of the dirt.

But there stood Tiger Woods on Wednesday at Chambers Bay, the only player on an otherwise abandoned practice facility. Drilling range balls as the sun began to dip, rehearsing patterns and searching for solutions.

After he began the U.S. Open with a 10-over 80, it’s clear he didn’t find them.

The player who struggled mightily at TPC Sawgrass and imploded at Muirfield Village? Yep, he made the trek out to the Pacific Northwest. But while his bottoming out at the Memorial came from miscues magnified by penalty shots, this was death by 1,000 paper cuts.

The driving, the approach shots, the putting. Everything was just a little bit off on a course – and in an event – designed to accentuate the small misses. There is nowhere to hide at Chambers Bay, particularly in front of a primetime audience, and Woods offered up a nearly six-hour testament to the fact that he remains very much lost.

“Not very happy, that’s for sure. It was a tough day,” Woods said. “I stuck that 6-iron in the ground on the first hole, and then just couldn’t quite get it turned around today.”

On a day when many of the game’s best went well into red figures, Woods didn’t make a birdie until his 16th hole. At that point, he was beating only one player among the 156-man field, a 27-year-old club pro named Rich Berberian.


Full-field scores: 115th U.S. Open


His scorecard was already riddled with bullet holes before Woods came to the par-5 18th, but there he added salt to a gaping wound. His second shot, a cold-topped 3-wood, trickled into a bunker that USGA executive director Mike Davis didn’t expect a single person to find all week. It was a cringe-worthy effort usually reserved for struggling pro-am partners.

Woods then climbed down into the “Chambers Basement,” reaching the literal bottom of the course after finding the figurative one much earlier in the day. At that point, the scene wasn’t one of shock or surprise. It was simply sad.

Woods has completed 15 rounds this year, failing to break 80 on three occasions.  Two weeks after recording his worst career score, he added his highest-ever round at the U.S. Open.

Woods appears destined to miss the cut at this event for just the second time as a professional, and his struggles have no end in sight. This despite his attempts to paint a rosy picture with proclamations that seem to lack just a bit more conviction every time he trots them out.

“I know when I do it right, it’s so easy,” he said. “It just feels easy to control, easy to do it, easy to hit all my shots. I just need to do it more often and build from there.”

Rest assured, there was nothing easy about Woods’ opening round. Now in the heart of his summer of competitive reps, Woods has hammered home the notion of short-term struggles for the sake of long-term gains. His limp around Chambers Bay certainly didn’t bring him any closer to the second part of that equation.

“It’s just one of those things, just got to work through it,” he said. “I’m trying as hard as I can to do it, and for some reason I just can’t get the consistency that I’d like to have out there.”

The fact that this round came on the 15-year anniversary of Woods’ greatest triumph, his portrait of perfection at Pebble Beach, only serves to show how far he has fallen. The game that appeared so simple back then, so fluid and natural, is now an uphill struggle on all fronts. Woods is hyper-aware of every aspect of his game, forced to think his way through shots and processes that once were second nature.

“I fought, I fought hard. And that was my number. I couldn’t grind out any harder than that,” he said. “So that’s just the way I played, and unfortunately it was a high number today.”

Woods’ round was encapsulated on No. 8. Perched high on a hill along the edge of the property, the hole isn’t accessible this week for spectators. Players are offered a brief reprieve from the frenzy, a chance to hit a few shots in quiet conditions that resemble a Monday practice round.

It was amid that silent air there that Woods, after sailing his tee shot right of right, took a mighty lash and dug his ball out of a hilly mass of fescue. Except the ball went dead left, and his club went sailing backwards over his head.

Woods was left to look around – first for the club, then for the ball. He stood perched on the hillside, arms at his side, simply wondering where it all went.

That search continues for Woods, but the target has never seemed farther away.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”



Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.



Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream


Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.


Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.


Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.


Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.


Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.


Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)