Open back at Royal Birkdale without Tiger

By Associated PressJuly 14, 2008, 4:00 pm
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Open ChampionshipSOUTHPORT, England -- Royal Birkdale has a reputation as the fairest of all links courses in the British Open rotation.
Its fairways have been shaped alongside the picturesque sand dunes of the Lancashire coast in England, instead of going through them, which eliminates most of the blind shots and reduces the number quirky bounces that so often define this style of golf.
Now, another element of equity has been added for this British Open, perhaps the most significant.
Tiger Woods wont be there when it begins Thursday.
Eight days after his epic playoff victory in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, the worlds No. 1 player had reconstructive surgery on his left knee and will not play the rest of the year.
Its not just an opportunity for me, Justin Rose said, its an opportunity for 155 other guys.
Woods doesnt win them all, but it is rare when his name is not on the leaderboard of a major on the back nine Sunday afternoon. He already has captured 14 majors'second only to the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus'and perhaps even more intimidating is that Woods has 25 finishes in the top five at majors, a staggering rate of 54 percent.
Winning the 137th edition of golfs oldest championship still comes with a claret jug, not an asterisk. Even so, the fresh wind off the Irish Sea now carries the kind of optimism not felt since Woods was an amateur.
The door is a little more wide open than it has been in the past because Tiger is not playing, Colin Montgomerie said. And its given a lot of players on form the opportunity of winning a major that possibly they wouldnt have felt that confident before. Without him, someone is going to win these couple of majors, and its not Tiger Woods.
How often can you say that?
Not since the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla has a major been played without Woods, who was getting his game ready for a third straight U.S. Amateur title. Not since 1994 at Turnberry has Woods not competed at the British Open.
In some respects, the Open has never been more open.
Steve Stricker was the 36-hole leader at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open, the only major where Woods missed the cut. He recalls playing that weekend with a small sense of relief that he wouldnt see one name on the leaderboard.
I enjoy paying attention to him when he plays, to see if he can do it again, Stricker said. Were watching history all the time. Its amazing what hes done. But when you dont have to worry about him, thats good. Because if youre in contention and hes there, its going to be more difficult to win. He doesnt throw away many opportunities.
But does that make it any easier to win the silver claret jug?
Not in the least.
Royal Birkdale is the latest English links course to join the rotation, a club that waited until 1954 to host the British Open. Since then, however, it has held the Open more than any other course except for St. Andrews.
This is where Arnold Palmer won his first claret jug in 1961, slashing out of trouble on the 16th hole with a 6-iron worthy of a commemorative plaque. Peter Thomson and Tom Watson both won the last of their five Open championships at Birkdale. The last time the British Open was held on these links, in 1998, Mark OMeara and Brian Watts finished at even-par 280 before OMeara won in a four-hole playoff.
Woods was there, making birdie on three of his last four holes to miss the playoff by one shot.
The question now is what will it be like without him.
Tiger would be the first to agree that the Open is bigger than any one player, and Im sure we can look forward to another memorable week at Birkdale, Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said. Funny enough, I sense some excitement. Its sad that he wont be there. But now I think people wonder whos it going to be?
At the moment, all anyone knows is who it wont be.
Woods was a 5-to-2 favorite by one British bookmaker after he won the U.S. Open for his ninth victory in his last 12 starts. After he announced he would be out the rest of the season, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia were installed as co-favorites at 12-to-1.
Those are the players who have the most to gain by Woods absence, for no other reason than having lost to Woods so often.
Any of the top-10 players have got some scar tissue from Tiger, Rod Pampling said. And theyll feel a bit of relief that hes not there. Look, you still have to post the lowest score. But for sure, theyll be more confident than they normally are. Tiger not being there has got to be a small relief.
No one has finished runner-up to Woods more often than Els'seven times, including a combined 23 shots in consecutive majors. It was at St. Andrews in 2000 when Els matched his lowest score ever in a British Open (66), and one of the first questions for the Big Easy was what he thought about Woods being one shot behind.
Should I talk about Tiger again? Els said that day, clearly exasperated. Come on, guys. I just shot 66.
Garcia has played with Woods in the final group of a major twice'he wound up six shots behind in the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in 2002, and seven shots behind at Royal Liverpool two years ago in the British Open.
The 28-year-old Spaniard had his closest call in a major last year at Carnoustie, losing to Padraig Harrington in a playoff. When Garcia won THE PLAYERS Championship in May, he jokingly thanked Woods for not being at Sawgrass. Even so, he doesnt expect this British Open to be much different from the others.
I dont think theres going to be less people there, he said. Before Tiger was playing, the Open was still great. Obviously, theres going to be something missing a little bit. But the Open is still the Open. And its bigger than anybody else.
Mathematically, however, the odds have never been better.
Woods has won 30 percent of the majors as a pro, a statistic that led Montgomerie to say it is tougher than ever to win a major in his era. But thats not to suggest it becomes easier without him.
It wasnt any easier for Woods when he finished two shots behind Ben Curtis in 2003, or in 1998 when he couldnt catch his 41-year-old neighbor the last time the British Open was at Royal Birkdale.
There is no need for an asterisk.
The aspects of professional golf are a number of different things, and one of them is that youre healthy, Paul Goydos said. So when you start hearing somebody write about maybe these next two majors need an asterisk, well, then we need to put an asterisk next to all 18 of Jacks. Because Tiger didnt play in any of those.
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    List takes Thomas to 18 putting with a wedge

    By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 7:57 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – As he walked off the sixth tee on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Luke List “swiped” his putter into what he thought was a bush. It was a wall.

    List’s putter bent slightly, which meant he wasn’t allowed to employ it the rest of the round. Using a wedge to putt, he lost his opening-day match to Justin Thomas, 2 down.

    “Stupid on my part,” List said. “I'll get the club fixed and go on to my next two matches.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    Despite his putting disadvantage, List pushed Thomas to the 18th hole thanks to birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16, which included a chip-in from 18 feet at 15. Thomas was 3 up with four holes to play and managed to birdie the last, but it was far from stress-free.

    “I was thinking about it, how bad that would hurt if I couldn't get it done,” Thomas said. “He hit some great putts and he made some good ones when he needed to.”

    The situation also prompted Thomas to change his strategy on the greens, with not nearly as many conceded putts as normal.

    “He putted probably two or three putts I wouldn't have made him putt with a putter,” Thomas said. “[No. 13] was a short putt he's probably going to make. It had a lot of break. But 12, that putt was 2 feet straight uphill. But I was like he's got a wedge, so I'm going to make him putt it.”

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    Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 7:45 pm

    Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

    Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
    (1) D. Johnson (2) J. Thomas: 1-0-0 (3) J. Rahm (4) J. Spieth
    (32) K. Kisner (21) F. Molinari: 1-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed
    (38) A. Hadwin
    (48) P. Kizzire: 0-1-0 (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li
    (52) B. Wiesberger
    (60) L. List: 0-1-0 (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel
    Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
    (5) H. Matsuyama: 1-0-0 (6) R. McIlroy (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day
    (30) P. Cantlay: 0-1-0
    (18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen
    (46) C. Smith: 1-0-0 (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner
    (53) Y. Miyazato: 0-1-0 (51) P. Uihlein (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn
    Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
    (9) T. Fleetwood (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman (12) T. Hatton: 1-0-0
    (26) D. Berger (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
    (33) K. Chappell (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson (36) B. Steele: 1-0-0
    (58) I. Poulter (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
    Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
    (13) A. Noren: 1-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson (15) P. Perez: 0-1-0 (16) M. Kuchar
    (29) T. Finau (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-0 (27) R. Fisher
    (39) T. Pieters (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson: 0-1-0 (47) Y. Ikeda
    (61) K. Na: 0-1-0 (59) C. Howell III (50) S.W. Kim: 0-1-0 (54) Z. Johnson
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    Hot Seat: The driver is burning Tiger

    By Randall MellMarch 21, 2018, 6:51 pm

    The men’s first major championship of the year is two weeks away, the women’s just a week away.

    Here’s our Hot Seat lineup with the approach of the Masters and the ANA Inspiration in mind:

    Smoking carbon composites – Tiger Woods

    Woods is the betting favorite to win the Masters in most sportsbooks, and while his game is coming together quickly, he won’t be the experts’ pick without getting his driver under control.

    The driver looks like the last piece Woods needs to once more become the favorite wherever he goes.

    Right now, though, there’s an open wound that needs to be cauterized before he heads to Augusta National.

    That double-cross Woods blew into someone’s backyard along the 16th hole Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational came from a reservoir of uncertainty that his driver continues to create. 

    Woods has come a long way with his driver. When he pulls it out of the bag, it isn’t like he’s ripping a bandage off anymore, not the way it was three and four years ago. Still, he doesn’t pull that club with the same relish Rory McIlroy does, or Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, for that matter. Physically and psychologically, they’ve got an advantage on him until he does. 

    Woods did not qualify for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, so he’s got extra time to address his biggest shortcoming.

    “Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver,” Golf Channel’s Notah Begay said earlier this week. “Tiger has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”

    Dustin Johnson at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship.

    Smoldering Tex Mex Tango – Dustin Johnson

    The world No. 1 is playing just fine enough since his victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at year’s start. He’s just been overshadowed by the brilliance of a lot of fellow stars.

    With McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas all winning in the last month, with Woods stepping up his game, Johnson has been quietly toiling toward the Masters.

    Johnson has won 10 times since Woods' last victory, and yet Woods is the 8-to-1 favorite to win the Masters.

    Johnson, McIlroy and Thomas are listed at 10-to-1 by the Westgate Las Vegas SportsBook.

    It doesn’t rankle Johnson.

    “It’s fine with me,” he said Tuesday. “He’s playing pretty well.”

    Even as the defending champ this week at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Johnson isn’t center stage, not with McIlroy marching into town off his dominant finish at the API.

    Flying relatively under the radar might seem like a comfortable position for a world No. 1, but he won’t stay atop the world rankings for long flying under the radar.

    Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.

    Rolex Ranking Roast – Shanshan Feng

    The women’s Rolex world No. 1 enters the week at the Kia Classic trying to hold off a strong field with the ANA Inspiration looming next week.

    The top seven players in the world rankings, and 11 of the top 12, are at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

    Feng has quietly reigned atop the world rankings for 19 consecutive weeks, holding off bids to overtake her by No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 So Yeon Ryu and No. 4 Sung Hyun Park.

    They’ve all been close enough in world ranking average this year to take the top spot, but Feng isn’t backing down. She’s winless so far this this year, but she has finished fifth or better in two of her three starts.

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    Match-by-match: 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 1

    By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 6:32 pm

    Here is how things played out on Day 1 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play:

    Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas def. (60) Luke List, 2 up: In perhaps the most entertaining match of the morning, Thomas edged List in a rematch of last month's Honda Classic playoff despite List spending much of the round putting with a wedge after bending his putter. Thomas was 3 up with four to play before List pushed the match the distance.

    Group 2: (21) Francesco Molinari def. (48) Patton Kizzire, 3 and 1: Molinari turned a tight match into a victory thanks to a few timely errors from Kizzire. Pars on Nos. 14 and 17 were good enough to win the hole for Molinari, with the latter sealing his victory and moving him a step closer to a potential winner-take-all battle with Thomas on Friday.

    Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth def. (49) Charl Schwartzel, 2 and 1: The top seed in the group scored an early point in a battle between former Masters champs. Spieth never trailed and took control of the match with three straight wins on Nos. 12-14.

    Group 4: (19) Patrick Reed def. (34) Haotong Li, 3 and 2: Reed's much-anticipated match with Spieth is still two days away, but he dispatched of Li in his opener by winning the opening hole and never trailing the rest of the way. Li got to within one of Reed after 10 holes but the American won three of the next five to separate.

    Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama def. (53) Yusaku Miyazato, 2 and 1: This all-Japanese battle went to the group's top seed, as Matsuyama poured in a birdie on the par-3 17th to close out the match. Miyazato got off to a strong start, holding a 2-up lead through six holes, before Matsuyama turned the tables with two birdies over the next three holes.

    Group 5: (46) Cameron Smith def. (30) Patrick Cantlay, 2 up: Smith never trailed in the match, but it turned into a closer contest than it appeared when the Aussie held a 3-up lead with four holes to play. Uihlein won the next two holes, but he couldn't get any closer as Smith earned a critical victory as he looks to earn a Masters spot by staying in the top 50 in the world rankings after this week.

    Group 8: (8) Jason Day def. (56) James Hahn, 4 and 2: Day is a former winner of this event, and he separated from Hahn on the back nine to score an early point. Hahn offered a concession on No. 13 to fall 3 down, then conceded again on No. 16 to close the match.

    Group 9: (58) Ian Poulter def. (9) Tommy Fleetwood, 3 and 2: The match between Englishman went to the veteran, as Poulter took his putter from the 2012 Ryder Cup out of the closet and put it to quick use. Fleetwood won only two holes during the match, none after the eighth hole, and he now faces the prospect of early elimination as the group's top seed.

    Group 9: (33) Kevin Chappell def. (26) Daniel Berger, 3 and 2: Chappell and Berger were Presidents Cup teammates in the fall, but the opener went to Chappell. Berger won the 13th hole to draw all square, but Chappell reeled off three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16 in response to close out the match.

    Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton def. (55) Alexander Levy, 3 and 2: Hatton won the opening hole with a par and never trailed the rest of the way. Levy's win on the eighth hole proved to be his only victory of the day, as Hatton barely had to break a sweat after building a 3-up lead through five holes.

    Group 12: (36) Brendan Steele def. (22) Charley Hoffman, 1 up: Steele never trailed in the match and at one point held a 4-up lead, but coming down the stretch it took everything he had to keep Hoffman at bay. Hoffman won four in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 13-17, but a par on the final hole was enough to give Steele the full point.

    Group 13: (61) Kevin Na def. (13) Alex Noren, 4 and 2: The biggest upset from the early matches came here, as Na turned a close contest into a blowout. The two men were all square after 11 holes, but Na won three of the next four and then closed out the match when Noren conceded on the par-5 16th.

    Group 13: (29) Tony Finau def. (39) Thomas Pieters, 2 and 1: Two of the longest hitters in the field squared off in this tilt, with Finau notching a full point despite losing two of the first three holes. The American birdied the 15th to take a 2-up lead, then closed out Pieters with a par on the 17th hole.

    Group 15: (15) Pat Perez vs. (50) Si Woo Kim, halved: The first match of the day ended up in a draw, as the top seed rallied from a deficit to salvage half a point. Kim won three of the first six holes and held a 3-up lead with seven holes to go, but Perez fought back with four birdies over the next six holes to draw even.

    Group 15: (24) Gary Woodland vs. (37) Webb Simpson, halved: This group remains entirely up for grabs since nothing was decided on the opening day. Woodland took a 3-up lead at the turn, but Simpson rallied by winning four of the next seven holes, including a birdie on No. 17 that brought him back to all square for the first time since the third hole.