PGA Provides Major Test for Tiger Woods

By Associated PressAugust 10, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 PGA ChampionshipKOHLER, Wis. -- Tiger Woods stared down the fairway on the 569-yard 16th hole at Whistling Straits, with Lake Michigan looming large on the left. He looked over his shoulder at Ernie Els, who was 20 yards behind him and waiting for the green to clear on the par-3 12th hole, which hugs the right side of the lake.
It was a fitting scene Tuesday morning at the PGA Championship.
Woods and Els - No. 1 and 2 in the world - were standing on the same tee box, headed in opposite directions.
The majors used to be Woods' private domain. He won seven out of 11 through the 2002 U.S. Open to build such a huge lead that it looked like he would never lose his No. 1 ranking.
Woods comes into the PGA Championship having gone nine consecutive majors without winning, and he could lose his No. 1 ranking for the first time in five years.
'It's never easy to win a major championship,' Woods said. 'I think all of you guys realize that now.'
At the other end of the spectrum is Els, who has finished in the top 10 in his last four majors and was on the cusp of winning the first three this year. He arrived at Whistling Straits with his third chance at a major this year to replace Woods at No. 1, needing at least a runner-up finish at the PGA.
'I've got to try and play as well as I can and take care of this week and see what happens after that,' Els said. 'But it will be great.'
Woods hammered his drive down the right side of the 16th fairway. Els hit a crisp 7-iron just over a knobby bunker to within 15 feet of the pin at No. 12.
Then, they walked to the back of the tee to shake hands and get down to business.
'What the hell do you do on No. 11?' Els asked him. 'Go for the green in two?'
No matter where they are in the world ranking and what they've done in the majors, everyone faces the same dilemma this week at the longest course (7,514 yards) in major championship history.
Every player is trying to figure out how to navigate Whistling Straits in wind that can blow so hard that Woods and Els both ripped drivers on No. 18 - a 500-yard par 4 - and still needed a 3-wood to reach the green.
For Woods, this could be the ultimate test.
One reason his game has slipped to a mortal level this year is his driving. He is 167th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, his lowest ranking since turning pro eight years ago.
Whistling Straits is no place to keep the driver in the bag.
'Considering most of the par 4s are nearly 500 yards, yeah,' Woods said when asked if he would use his driver more at the PGA Championship than he did the other three majors. 'The par 5s are about 600 yards. I might use it on a couple of par 3s, as well. The golf course is set up (where) you can use driver quite a bit.'
Woods switched to a new driver in early July with a large club head (410cc) with a graphite shaft, and he has been pleased with the results. In fact, Woods is hard-pressed to find much wrong with his game, except the number of trophies (one) on his mantle.
He has had chances to win his last three tournaments, and settled for top 10s in all of them, including a tie for ninth last month in the British Open.
Still, his performance in the majors has been lacking.
Since his victory at Bethpage Black in 2002, Woods has had his worst finish in all four of the majors - a tie for 22nd at the Masters this year, a tie for 20th at the U.S. Open last year, a tie for 28th at the '02 British Open, and a tie for 39th at the PGA Championship last year at Oak Hill.
Suddenly, Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional majors no longer looks so close.
And all those guys chasing Woods no longer seem so far away.
Vijay Singh is a four-time winner on the PGA Tour this year and leads the money list. He also can move to No. 1 in the world, although it would require a victory at Whistling Straits and Woods missing the cut.
Phil Mickelson is No. 4 in the world and No. 1 in the majors this year, having won the Masters and missing out on a chance to win the U.S. and British Opens by one putt on the back nine of each. Mickelson has a chance to become the first player to finish in the top 3 in all four majors since the Masters began in 1934.
Lefty was asked if anyone would ever dominate the majors like Woods.
'I don't think anybody thought there would be another player to dominate the way Nicklaus did in the majors, and then along came Tiger. So, I certainly would not rule it out,' Mickelson said. 'I would expect it to happen again. I don't know if it will be Tiger again - it very well could be. I don't know if it will be another player of today's crop or if it will come later on down the line.
'If nobody plays at that level, it's a much more packed leaderboard.'
Woods says he can feel his game turning the corner, and his tie for third at the Buick Open two weeks ago seems to indicate that. Then again, Singh won the Buick by playing better golf and making more putts.
'Yes, he looks good,' Padraig Harrington said of Woods. 'He looks like he's coming back. There's a lot of other good players who are capable of competing with him.'
Woods is only concerned with the biggest star of the week - Whistling Straits, which might have everyone's number by the end of the week and could send tee shots in any number of directions.
Related Links:
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    Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

    Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

    “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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    The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

    “The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

    The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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    Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

    There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

    That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

    Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

    Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

    “We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

    But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

    The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

    That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

    Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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    Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

    “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

    While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

    For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

    “I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

    But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

    Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

    They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

    “I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

     Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

    “Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

    Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

    It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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    Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

    By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

    We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

    But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

    One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

    It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

    And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

    Hey, whatever works.

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    Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

    Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

    The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

    “I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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    Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

    “I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”