Door Wide Open

By Associated PressDecember 23, 2008, 5:00 pm
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. ' Tiger Woods posed next to the trophy on the 18th green, a familiar scene with a rare twist. It was Sunday, and his clothing did not include so much as a trace of red.
 
Plus, he was wearing a jacket ' black, not green.
 
He was merely the host of the Chevron World Challenge. His duty was to thank sponsors and volunteers and give the trophy to Vijay Singh.
 
Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington stepped it up in Tiger's absence. (Getty Images)
Im on the operational side this week, Woods said.
 
That still beats being operated on, which is why no one had seen Woods at a tournament in any capacity since he won the U.S. Open, his last event before season-ending knee surgery. He went the final 188 days of the golf season without hitting a single shot, opening a host of opportunities for those he regularly beats.
 
Singh won the event for the first time, taking home his third trophy that belonged to Woods a year ago. The other two were from the Bridgestone Invitational and the FedEx Cup.
 
Did the 45-year-old Fijian take advantage of the big cat being away?
 
Not really.
 
Singh has been among golfs elite for the better part of a decade now, winning three majors and taking the No. 1 ranking away from Woods in 2004. He might not be considered Woods chief rival, but he could be remembered as the second-best player in Woods era.
 
Still, there were some who benefited from Woods spending more time chasing his daughter than chasing Jack Nicklaus.
 
And there were some who didnt.
 
The next four players behind Woods in the world ranking after he won the U.S. Open ' Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy and Ernie Els ' combined to play 41 times and produced one victory over the last six months. The only time Mickelson made headlines was because of something Woods caddie said.
 
Woods simply gobbles up so much attention when he plays, whether he wins or finishes fifth (his worst finish this year). During a discussion about rivals, Nicklaus once told Woods that the most important thing was to be part of the conversation.
 
With the worlds No. 1 player out of sight the second half of the season, the conversation shifted to five players:
 
Padraig Harrington
The Irishman joined some truly elite company by becoming only the seventh player in the last 50 years to win consecutive majors in the same season. The others were Woods, Nick Price, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer.
 
That was enough to be voted player of the year by five organizations ' golf writers from both sides of the Atlantic, the PGA of America, European Tour and PGA Tour. Not even Woods has done that (but only because he has never joined the European Tour).
 
As for the notion of an asterisk because Woods wasnt at the British Open or PGA Championship?
 
If Im in the field or not, youve still got to go out there and earn it, Woods said. Its not like they were giving that trophy out. You have to earn it, and he did.
 
Anthony Kim
Everyone raves about Kims raw skill and unlimited potential. It was worth paying attention to when he delivered.
 
The first victory came at Quail Hollow by five shots against a strong field. Then came a two-shot victory at Congressional to join Woods, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott to become the only players in the last 10 years to win multiple times in a season before turning 25.
 
Adding to the hype was his emotional play at the Ryder Cup, and the thrashing he gave Garcia in Sunday singles. Kim closed him out on the 14th hole, 5 and 4, and was so fired up he stormed off to the 15th tee without realizing he had won.
 
Hes got the swagger, Woods said. Hes got all the tools.
 
Camilo Villegas
The Colombian deserves a cameo mention, but two consecutive victories is not quite enough to establish himself as a challenger to Woods. Even when he wasnt contending, Villegas was promoted for his magazine looks and stylish clothing. But he is No. 7 in the world, and rightfully mentioned in a growing group of young stars.
 
Sergio Garcia
Garcia is similar to Singh in that he has been part of the conversation even before Woods left, having established himself as the best player to have never won a major (and perhaps the youngest player, at 28, to carry that burden).
 
Garcia wasnt affected that much by Woods absence. What he really needs is for Harrington to break a leg (figuratively speaking, of course), because the Irishman twice has trumped him on the closing holes at majors in the last two years.
 
Even so, Garcia restored his star power by winning The Players Championship and twice losing in extra holes during the PGA Tour playoffs ' one to Singh, another to Villegas.
 
Boo Weekley
Name another player who gets invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno after winning only one tournament.
 
Weekley is barely ranked inside the top 50 in the world, yet he is becoming somewhat of an icon in American golf, helped by his homespun country humor, simplistic outlook and galloping down fairway at the Ryder Cup using his driver as a toy horse.
 
He didnt fill the void left by Woods ' not even close ' but golf needs characters, and Weekley delivers. He is a good ol country boy, like John Daly, minus the suspensions and trips to alcohol rehab. Weekley is known for wearing camouflage, not an orange jail suit.
 
Asked who benefited the most from his absence, Woods focused on youth ' Kim, Villegas, Garcia.
 
Theyre hitting their stride now, he said. Theyre coming into their own.
 
The question is whether they can keep pace when Woods is wearing a red shirt on Sunday, not a black jacket.
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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.


Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.