Woods regains form in opening 66 at The Greenbrier

By Will GrayJuly 2, 2015, 8:32 pm

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – The look on his face was familiar. So, too, was the saunter from fairway to green, and the cheers that echoed across the misty expanse of The Greenbrier Classic.

Tiger Woods was in control of his golf ball – at least for one day.

Woods seemed to expend very little effort during his 4-under 66 on the Old White TPC, a stark contrast to his last three starts that have seen him either sweating cut lines or rocketing toward the bottom of the standings.

There he stood, splitting fairways with his driver and sending approach after approach on a rope toward the pin. As putts began to drop, the sentiment among the ever-growing gallery seemed to vacillate between “Who is this guy?” and “Where has he been hiding all these months?”

When Woods announced his trip to the Mountain State earlier this year, he likely didn’t anticipate the pivotal role the event now plays in his season. This was supposed to be the bonus start, a rare trek to a relatively unfamiliar venue to pile up the competitive reps that eluded him last year.

But following his startling 85 at the Memorial and subsequent bottoming out at the U.S. Open, this tournament became a life raft floating in an expanse of dark ocean. Here was a chance for Woods to lick his wounds, to rack up a few birdies and conjure some much-needed confidence before heading to St. Andrews.

Highlights from Woods' opening-round 66

With his lowest round in more than a year, Woods certainly took a step in the right direction.

Granted, one round at The Greenbrier does not absolve a season’s worth of blunders for Woods. Not even a 66, not after weeks and weeks of frustration, disappointment and rationalization.

But the game that has so humbled him during the first half of the year once again appeared easy. The smooth swing and consistent results that he showed in Wednesday’s pro-am finally showed up when the scores started to count.

This was a seismic shift from his most recent displays, even if Woods insists the product was never as troubling as the results.

“I knew I made that pattern shift at Memorial, and I wasn’t that far off, even though my scores don’t indicate it,” Woods said. “My swings don’t indicate it, but my feels were telling me that I wasn’t that far off. I was proving it to myself time and time again away from a tournament site and on the range, but my feel in my hands and body weren’t far off. It was just a matter of just getting into a little bit of a rhythm and the flow of it, and I found that.”

Buzzwords aside, the value of Woods’ opener was clear.

This was his lowest round since the 2014 WGC-Cadillac Championship, and his lowest opening round since the 2013 BMW Championship. His seven birdies were only one fewer than he compiled across 36 holes here in 2012, when he showed up at The Greenbrier with his game in much better shape but still missed the cut.

Woods found 15 of 18 greens in regulation, and his closing birdie brought him to 4 under – a cumulative score he hadn’t seen in competition since leaving Augusta National in April.

Woods played the opening round alongside friend Steve Stricker and David Lingmerth, who knows a little bit about breaking out of a slump at a moment’s notice. Lingmerth missed four of five cuts before his breakthrough win at the Memorial last month, and the Swede wasn’t shocked to see Woods’ sudden return to form.

“It wasn’t a surprise. He’s Tiger Woods,” Lingmerth said. “Tiger has been through some struggles, but he can turn it around on any given week.”

There were, of course, some costly miscues. Woods blocked his drive into a hazard on No. 17, then made what he described as a “stupid” double bogey on No. 6 following a series of short game errors.

It was following that hole, after he pushed a 3-wood on No. 7 for his third straight missed fairway, that there was a moment to consider if the round could still unravel. That a morning’s worth of progress might be wiped out by a flurry of miscues just before the closing bell.

Rather than let the round turn into a mountain of what-ifs, Woods steeled his nerves and got things back on track with his very next swing.

“I was telling (caddie) Joey (LaCava) that I felt like I was playing so well,” Woods said. “I’m not going to lose this round. I’m playing too well to let it go awry. I’m hitting the ball too well, I’m putting too well.”

And just like that, Woods seemingly began to will his ball into position as he has done so many times before. An expertly-carved approach from the rough on No. 7 barely trickled over a ridge bisecting the green and gently rolled to within 3 feet of the hole.

His birdie putt on No. 8 hung on the lip for an instant, just long enough for Woods to add a little body English and an extra fist pump when it curled in and finally dropped. His final putt on No. 9 was never in doubt, but it did supply Woods with what has lately been a rare commodity – momentum.

“Felt like if we could get it back to 3 (under) would be great,” he said. “I happened to pull off a hat trick coming in.”

Whether this sparks a turnaround or simply gets washed away in a sea of patterns, shifts and feels remains to be seen. But at least for one morning in between the mountains, Tiger Woods started to play like Tiger Woods again.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry