After Long Break Tiger in Full Flight

By Associated PressJanuary 29, 2007, 5:00 pm
2007 Buick InvitationalSAN DIEGO -- The clubs finally came out of the closet after a winter break, and Tiger Woods laid out his plans for the new year. He didn't talk about the Grand Slam. He didn't say anything about his PGA TOUR winning streak.
 
And he sure didn't mention the FedExCup.
 
'The only thing that matters to him is getting better,' swing coach Hank Haney said.
 
Haney said this a week ago Tuesday, waiting in darkness behind the first tee on the South Course with a dozen or so fans for the world's No. 1 player to show up at Torrey Pines for his first practice round of the year.
 
Five days later, with the grandstands full and the fairways two-deep with fans, Woods captured the Buick Invitational for his seventh straight PGA TOUR victory, the second-longest streak on the PGA TOUR behind Byron Nelson.
 
Looks like he's getting better.
 
'What we're witnessing is something special,' said Mark O'Meara, who played two groups behind Woods on Sunday, although he finished his final round on the ninth green. 'We've been watching history being made these past 10 years.'
 
The immediate history is Nelson's streak of 11 straight victories in 1945, thought to be as untouchable as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or UCLA's basketball team winning 88 straight games under John Wooden.
 
What seemed so improbable now looks possible, depending on where Woods plays next when he returns from the Middle East.
 
Woods flew across 11 times zones Sunday night to get to the Dubai Desert Classic, where he is defending champion. And while he will have a slightly shorter trip home to Florida on his Gulfstream V, he said it was tougher on his body coming back.
 
'We'll see how it goes,' he said, meaning he will either play Feb. 15 at Riviera in the Nissan Open or the following week at the Accenture Match Play Championship at a new venue in Tucson, Ariz.
 
Woods made his PGA TOUR debut at Riviera at age 16 in 1992 and missed the cut with rounds of 72-75. It is the only tournament he has played at least four times without winning, and it must gnaw at him that it is a hometown event. He has had only one serious chance of winning, closing with a 70 in 1999 and finishing two shots behind Ernie Els.
 
During his last great streak in 1999-00, he won nine times in 15 starts on the PGA TOUR and only once finished out of the top five during that stretch -- a tie for 18th at Riviera. His last two top 10s, he got there with rounds of 65 and 64 on the last day. A year ago, he narrowly made the cut and then withdrew when he got sick.
 
Assume he skips Riviera.
 
The Match Play is always a crapshoot, although Woods won twice when it was at La Costa. His next two starts likely would be Bay Hill, where he has won four times; and Doral, where he is the two-time defending champion. That would take him to Augusta National with a chance to reach 11 in a row.
 
Suddenly, 'untouchable' becomes a remote possibility.
 
And while this streak will always be messy because he failed to win twice in Asia and once in Europe -- tournaments that do not count in the PGA TOUR record books -- Woods is impressed by one aspect. Since missing the cut at the U.S. Open for the first time in a major, he has not finished worse than second in stroke play anywhere in the world.
 
'That's pretty good, I think,' Woods said.
 
So is he better than he was a year ago?
 
Better than eight PGA TOUR victories in one season, and two majors that ran his total to 12?
 
Woods softly nodded as he leaned back in his chair to chat with a few reporters while waiting to do a television interview. He doesn't measure improvement by numbers alone. He uses statistics as a gauge, not a gospel.
 
And he doesn't look only at his golf.
 
Woods hit nine fairways on the meaty South during the second round and shot even-par 72. He hit only nine fairways in the third and fourth rounds combined -- and found 16 bunkers on the weekend -- but shot 9 under par to surge past a trio of PGA TOUR rookies and beat Charles Howell III by two shots.
 
'The stats may not show I hit the fairways, but my misses were so much better,' he said. 'I could play these misses and I could easily fix them, which I did. They were not misses off the planet, they were just off the fairway or in the rough or bouncing in the bunker. That's how I know I've really improved over this offseason and toward the end of last year.
 
He also said he has a better understanding of how to manage his game, the product of maturity.
 
'And off the course,' he added, 'is 180 degrees.'
 
He walked off the 18th green and gave his mother a hug. Also waiting for him was his wife, Elin, who is expecting their first child in July, along with her father and a couple of her brothers and sisters. All of them were in Colorado last month, skiing and spending time during the holidays, when Woods broke the news about becoming a father.
 
Woods rarely makes any comparisons these days without taking inventory of his emotions.
 
He spoke before the tournament about the difference between dreading 2006 because his father was dying of cancer, and being excited about 2007 because he was going to become a father for the first time. Woods spent the previous offseason not skiing on the slopes in Colorado but sleeping on the floor at his father's home in Cypress, spending as much time him as he could.
 
'Last year, I would rather spend time at home with Dad than practice,' he said. 'I've been able to practice harder this year.'
 
O'Meara waited around the final three hours to catch a ride with him to Dubai. He has known him better than any player since Woods turned pro, and notices a peace about the world's No. 1 player.
 
Coupled with a game that is getting better, it's a frightening combination.
 
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    Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

    By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

    There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

    Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

    In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

    “It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

    “That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”

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    Woods does everything but win

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:57 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and small victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.

    Sure, after taking the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.

    “Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”

    But here’s where we take a deep breath.

    Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with nine holes to play.

    Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.

    The scenario was improbable.

    Inconceivable.

    Impossible.

    At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.

    Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.

    This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.

    One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?

    “Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.

    Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.

    Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.

    Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.

    Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.

    Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.

    Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.

    “For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”

    So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”

    But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.

    “It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”

    Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.

    “Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing the Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”

    Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.

    “She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”

    But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.

    Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.

    “To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”

    His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two new, younger additions to his clan.

    Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:

    LOVE THE HATERS.

    After this unbelievable performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?

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    Molinari hopes to inspire others as Rocca inspired him

    By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:43 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Francesco Molinari was 12 years old when Costantino Rocca came within a playoff of becoming Italy’s first major champion at the 1995 Open at St. Andrews.

    He remembers being inspired by Rocca’s play and motivated by the notion that he could one day be the player who would bring home his country’s first Grand Slam title. As he reflected on that moment late Sunday at Carnoustie it sunk in what his victory at The Open might mean.

    “To achieve something like this is on another level,” said Molinari, who closed with a final-round 69 for a two-stroke victory. “Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Constantino in '95 coming so close. Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was at the time, watching him vie for the claret jug.”


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Molinari had already made plenty of headlines this year back home in Italy with victories at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and the Quicken Loans National earlier this month on the PGA Tour.

    A major is sure to intensify that attention. How much attention, however, may be contingent on Sunday’s finish at the German Grand Prix.

    “It depends on if Ferrari won today. If they won, they'll probably get the headlines,” Molinari laughed. “But, no, obviously, it would be massive news. It was big news. The last round already was big news in Italy.”

    Molinari won’t have any competition for the front page on Monday; Ferrari didn’t win the German Grand Prix.

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    Schauffele on close call: Nothing but a positive

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:41 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Playing in a final group at a major for the first time, Xander Schauffele awkwardly splashed out of three pot bunkers, went out in 40 and still somehow had a chance to win at Carnoustie.

    Playing the 17th hole, tied with Francesco Molinari, Schauffele flared his approach shot into the right rough and couldn’t get up and down for par. He dropped one shot behind Molinari, and then two, after the Italian birdied the final hole.

    Just like that, Schauffele was doomed to a runner-up finish at The Open.

    “A little bit of disappointment,” he said. “Obviously when you don’t win, you’re disappointed. Hats off to Francesco. I looked up on 17 and saw he got to 8 under, which is just incredible golf and an incredible finish.”


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Schauffele did well to give himself a chance. The 24-year-old was in the final group with Spieth, but both youngsters fell off the pace after rocky starts. The Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year birdied the 14th but couldn’t convert a 15-footer on the treacherous 16th that would have given him a one-shot cushion.

    “It’s going to go in the memory bank as a positive,” he said. “I had a chance to win a major championship. I was in the final group. I had to face a little bit of adversity early in the round, and I still gave myself a chance. Anyone can look at it however they want to, but I’m going to look at is as a positive moving forward and try to learn how to handle the situations a little better next time.”