Clarke leads Johnson, Fowler heading into Sunday

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2011, 2:20 pm

SANDWICH, England – Darren Clarke escaped the worst of the raging weather Saturday in the British Open, leaving him far less traffic on his unlikely road to a claret jug.

Clarke was dressed in full rain gear when he walked to the first tee for a third round that had been crowded with contenders.

When he walked off the 18th green in short sleeves, he was blinking in the bright sunshine over Royal St. George’s after a 1-under 69 gave him a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson. The majority of the field was still drying out from the brunt of such harsh conditions.

There were 44 players within five shots of the lead going into the third round.

Now there are 12.

“If somebody had given me 69 before I was going out to play, I would have bitten their hand off for it,” Clarke said. “Saying that, we did get very fortunate with the draw. Sometimes to win any tournament, the draw can make a big difference. But in The Open Championship, it makes a huge difference. We got very lucky.”

He also was very good.

Clarke missed only two greens in regulation, and was one of only three players who managed to break par. It was his third round in the 60s, and it put him at 5-under 205 and into the final group of the British Open for the first time since 1997 at Royal Troon.

Fewer contenders doesn’t make it any easier.

Johnson, the powerful 27-year-old American, managed to make six birdies on his way to a 68 that puts him in the final group for the third time in the last six majors. The other two aren’t exactly glorious memories – an 82 to lose a three-shot lead at the U.S. Open last year, a two-shot penalty on the last hole of the PGA Championship when he didn’t realize he was in a bunker.

“I’m going to be pretty comfortable out there tomorrow because I know what to expect, I know how to approach it, and I know what I do in those situations,” Johnson said. “So hopefully, I can go out tomorrow and play some solid golf like I’ve been doing the last few days.”

Only four other players were under par, and while U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy isn’t one of them, in his place is another 22-year-old who plays without fear and makes it look fun. And no one played better than Rickie Fowler on this wild day of weather.

Fowler was soaked, zipped up in a cream-colored rainsuit for two-thirds of his round, yet it never seemed to bother him. He hung around par during the worst of the conditions – a remarkable feat – and when the rain went away, he took off to higher ground. Fowler made three birdies over the last six holes for a 68 and was two shots behind, along with Thomas Bjorn (71).

Lucas Glover, a U.S. Open champion who played in the final group Saturday, made 10 straight pars early in his round only to lose his way, but not his hopes over the final hour. Glover missed two birdie putts inside 6 feet on the back nine, and made two bogeys. He shot 73, but still was within four shots. He was tied with Miguel Angel Jimenez, who didn’t make a birdie in his round of 72.

Also still in the mix is Phil Mickelson, who has only contended once in the British Open. He rallied when the sun began to break through the clouds and salvaged a 71, leaving him five shots back in a group that included Anthony Kim (68), PGA champion Martin Kaymer (73) and Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who tied for fourth at Royal St. George’s in 2003 and had a 72 to stay in range.

But it starts with Clarke, a 42-year-old from Northern Ireland who has been watching the youngsters from Ulster celebrate golf’s biggest events, from Graeme McDowell at Pebble Beach last summer to McIlroy at Congressional last month.

Is it his turn at this stage in his career?

“Did I ever doubt I would get myself back in this position? No,” Clarke said. “Did I know it was going to happen? No. Did I hope it was going to happen? Yes. But did I ever doubt? No.”

Once he finished his own Q & A, Clarke headed to the home of agent Chubby Chandler to “stuff his face” and try not to have too much to drink.

A big day awaits Sunday, perhaps the biggest of his career.

And the forecast isn’t very friendly.

Typical of the weather in this part of the world, anything goes. There’s supposed to be a mixture of sunshine and passing showers that could be heavy but won’t stick around for long. The constant is the wind, which again is likely to gust upward of 30 mph at times. A one-shot lead is nothing on Royal St. George’s in calm conditions, and anyone at par or better figures to be in the mix.

No other major championship depends so largely on the weather, and that was never more clear on Saturday.

Those who played early, such as five-time Open champion Tom Watson, caught the worst of the nasty stuff – gusts so strong they flipped umbrellas inside-out, a light rain that soon turned into a driving rain, and scores that soared through the gray sky.

Of the first 41 players who teed off, no one could even match par. Trevor Immelman had one of the better rounds at 72, and his strong effort left him nine shots behind.

“It was like going 18 holes with the heavyweight champion of the world,” he said.

Watson, the 61-year-old magician on the links, must have been smiling inside when he saw how bad it was. He worked his way around the front nine in wind so strong that he twice had to hit driver for his second shot, yet he didn’t make a bogey and was drawing a huge crowd looking for a repeat of Turnberry two years ago, when he nearly won.

He, too, had a 72 and most likely is too far behind.

“We got lucky,” Mickelson said. “I think the guys that played late got really lucky, myself included, that it went away right around the turn for me. And we went from really fighting for pars on every hole to thinking about birdies on some.”

Until Fowler broke through with his 68, the 41 players before him had an average score of 76.36. The next 29 players after him, who played most of the round without the rain, had an average score of 72.96.

“The way I was playing, I would have loved to have seen the weather stay the same throughout the day,” Fowler said. “But that’s the beauty of the playing in The Open Championship. It’s not always the same all day. It can change any minute.”

It wasn’t just the weather. Clarke and Johnson stood out against the others, keeping their mistakes to a minimum. Clarke might have done even better if he could have made some more putts. After a 15-foot birdie on the opening hole, he had good looks at birdie on the next six holes without making any of them. But he never lost the lead, either.

Now he has to keep it together for one more round. It’s only a one-shot lead, but it’s not a bad place to be.

“Nineteen times I’ve failed to try and lift the claret jug, and tomorrow I have an opportunity,” Clarke said. “But at the moment, it’s just an opportunity because the weather is going to be very windy again tomorrow, and there’s a long way to go still in this championship.”

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.


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McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.

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Woods now listed as Masters betting favorite

By Will GraySeptember 24, 2018, 12:03 am

Now officially a winner again on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods has become a popular bet for folks thinking about next year's Masters.

The trip down Magnolia Lane is still seven months away, but Woods' breakthrough victory at the Tour Championship has led bettors to flock to the window to lay down cash on the four-time champ to add green jacket No. 5 next spring at age 43.

Woods was listed at 12/1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook when odds opened after the PGA Championship, behind only 2015 champ Jordan Spieth. That's where he remained for the subsequent six weeks, but after a stirring performance at East Lake Golf Club he's now listed as the 9/1 betting favorite for the first major of 2019.

Here's a look at the latest odds via the Westgate, as many of the top contenders head to Paris for the Ryder Cup:

9/1: Tiger Woods

10/1: Jordan Spieth

12/1: Dustin Johnson

14/1: Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

16/1: Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler

18/1: Jon Rahm

20/1: Jason Day

25/1: Bubba Watson

30/1: Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Tony Finau

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Woods caps comeback season with win No. 80

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 12:01 am

ATLANTA – When the last chapter is penned in the groundbreaking and infinitely complicated life of Tiger Woods, Sept. 23, 2018, may get lost in the details.

His two-stroke victory at the Tour Championship on Sunday was impressive by any measure, but it wouldn’t qualify as his most dominant or his most clinical performance. If we’re being honest, his 80th PGA Tour bottle cap was like so many others, a battle of attrition that never allowed for a modicum of doubt.

There was a three-stroke lead to start the day, a birdie at the first to pad his advantage and a parade of nondescript pars that gave the season’s final round a marching band to nowhere feel. Given the gravity of what was a seminal moment in his career it felt so mundane, but then that’s always been the hallmark of his greatness.

After four back surgeries, four knee surgeries, an arrest for driving under the influence and more cringe moments than an episode of "America’s Got Talent," this victory was so much more than the sum of its parts.

Social media was abuzz in the aftermath of Woods’ walk-off. From the depths of pain, pedestrian performances and poor choices Tiger put an exclamation point on what was already a successful return.

It had some calling this the greatest comeback in the history of sports, but then the car Woods was driving last Memorial Day only bounced off a few curbs, not a bus.

To be historically aware, Ben Hogan’s comeback after nearly dying in a car crash in 1949, a horrific event that was followed by a run that included eight major victories, should be considered the category leader on this front.

But as Tiger whipped a day’s worth of sweat from his face and considered his answer the more relevant question is where the 2018 Tour Championship ranks on his own lifetime resume.


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“It's certainly up there with obviously all the major championships I've won, Players, World Golf Championships. But this is under different circumstances,” said Woods, who closed with a 71 at East Lake for his first Tour victory since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “I just didn't know whether this would ever happen again.”

Woods is normally averse to this type of nostalgia, but even if he wanted to take a deeper dive it’s not a debate that lends itself to instant analysis. When your career has been a nonstop highlight reel of fist pumps and unforgettable moments there’s no easy way to rank greatness.

For some, the 1997 Masters, his first major championship, stands alone as a career high-water mark; while others may lean toward the 2000 U.S. Open where he lapped the field by 15 strokes.

“Those were special because of the way he did it,” said Butch Harmon, Tiger’s swing coach from August 1993 to August 2002. But for Harmon the Tour Championship was different. “He had a chance to win the last two majors. It’s impressive that just two years ago he couldn’t pitch the ball on the green. It’s not exactly Ben Hogan, but it’s along those lines.”

As far as clinical brilliance, most would say the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool is the benchmark. It was Tiger’s first victory after his father, Earl, died following a brutal bout with cancer and was nothing short of a ball-striking show.

“That was his best ball-striking tournament he’s ever had. That’s a different deal,” said Hank Haney, who served as Tiger’s second set of eyes from March 2004 to May 2010.

But it’s the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines that may stand as the competitive and physical pinnacle of Tiger’s career. On a broken leg with a torn ACL he endured 72 grueling holes to finish tied with Rocco Mediate and eventually prevailed on the first hole of a sudden death playoff after 18 holes on Monday.

“That’s No. 1, it’s not even close,” Haney said. “He didn’t win [at East Lake] with a broken leg. At the U.S. Open he won on one leg. It is unbelievable that he came back from four back operations, but once you’ve established that you’re back and you’re healthy you knew he’s going to win. A lot of things had to happen, he got off the prescription drugs and got his back healthy. But I felt like this was going to happen and he’s not done.”

But if the ’08 U.S. Open is the standard by which Tiger’s career will always be measured, his performance at East Lake deserves to be considered with a wider lens. This wasn’t about fairways hit or birdies made, this was about rounding a corner many never imagined he could.

At his darkest moments last year there was doubt he’d ever be able to swing a golf club again, never mind throw an 11-under total at the world’s best. The game had passed him by the critics claimed and even if he did find his way off the surgeon’s table the current cast and crew were a different breed who would be immune to his dominant ways and the aura he once held over the game.

This wasn’t Hoylake in ’06 or Pebble Beach in ’00, but in many ways it was better. There’s nothing better in sports than a comeback story and Tiger’s journey from a broken and burdened man to beaming on a final green is nothing short of a reinvention.

“The world is full of people who want to see a comeback story. We’re all coming back from something, so when you see someone do it inspires people to fight through it,” said Sean Foley, who stepped in for Haney in August 2010 and served as Woods’ swing coach until August 2014.

It was only last summer that the most common image of Tiger was a mug shot taken after his DUI arrest. The grainy image looking back at the world was a testament to how far he’d fallen, an unshaven and blurry-eyed shadow of the player who once seemed so untouchable. He couldn’t play golf, he couldn’t even ride in a golf cart his back hurt so bad, and his inability to do the one thing he was truly great at left Tiger to his own devices.

As he recovered from fusion surgery on his lower back he began to miss the game and the things that he’d done to transform it. As he returned, slowly at first before picking up the pace this summer, he allowed the world to see a different side, a player who was appreciative of what amounted to a final chance to be great.

There was emotion on Sunday and unbridled joy. His first victory in five years may defy assessment, but for Tiger there was so much more to his week in Atlanta than the history books could ever reveal.

“It's totally different because of what he’s been through, but I’d have to put [his victory at East Lake] up there with one of his greatest victories ever because of what he’s been through, the mental and physical, the disgrace,” Harmon said.

Maybe the 2018 Tour Championship won’t go down as Tiger’s masterpiece when he hangs up his Nikes. Maybe what awaits will be the true measure of his genius.

“The greatest accomplishment in sports is going to be when he’s No. 1 again and that’s going to be pretty soon,” Haney said. “When he returns to No. 1 it won’t be a debate.”

With fans stacked five and six rows deep along every fairway, probably the biggest crowd East Lake has seen since Bobby Jones was stalking the rolling hills, Tiger played the script he invented, a bullish version of what Stewart Cink once called a prevent defense.

The only change to this all-too-familiar routine was the pregnant pause he allowed himself after putting out on the 18th hole, slamming his putter into the ground and raising his arms in triumph.

In a historic twist it was the same green where Jones, who pulled off an impressive comeback of his own once, ended his golf career. It was only apropos that Tiger would complete his comeback and restart his career on the same spot.

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Woods: Support from Tour friends 'meant a lot to me'

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2018, 11:54 pm

ATLANTA – As Tiger Woods approach the 18th green on Sunday at the Tour Championship, with thousands of fans – literally – breathing down his neck, Davis Love III crouched down inside the ropes, on top of a mound to take it all in. He was joined by Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson.

Rickie Fowler was waiting. Tommy Fleetwood was watching from the clubhouse balcony. Paul Casey was there. So, too, were Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas.

They all wanted to witness Woods win for the first time in five physically debilitating, at times personally destructive, years. They wanted to congratulate, not just a peer, but a friend.

What that meant to Woods, well, he tried to describe. But words don’t do justice what the support of others means to someone who has been through so much.

“The people who are close to me saw the struggles and what I was going through, and some of the players that I'm pretty close to, they've really helped throughout this process and the last few years,” Woods said. “Their support and some of those things that they said coming off that last green meant a lot to me.”


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Of course, all of these players have one thing in common: They are all headed to Paris for this Ryder Cup, either as players or vice captains.

There were 17 Ryder Cup players in the 30-man Tour Championship field – 11, including Woods, on the U.S. side.

The Americans were set to take a charter flight to France on Sunday night. That means everyone aboard will get to partake in the celebrations. And Tiger will get to enjoy the camaraderie, something lacking from the years when he won 79 PGA Tour events.

“Flying tonight with the guys, it’s going to be fun,” Woods said.

“I think we’re all going to sleep well.”