Tiger Continues to Add Layers to His Legend

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2008, 4:00 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The outcome has never been more inevitable. Tiger Woods has never looked so invincible.
 
The worlds No. 1 golfer faced a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Bay Hill, and the moment he settled over the ball and the crowd grew quiet, it no longer mattered that Woods had not made a putt this long all week.
 
This one was for the win.
 
For most players, making such a clutch putt would be a career highlight. For Woods, its more like a summer rerun.
 
You know what hes going to do, right? Arnold Palmer whispered to those around him right before Woods rapped his putt down the slope and watched it turn sharply to the right and tumble into the cup for a one-shot victory.
 
For Woods, it is the ultimate thrill.
 
Its knowing that you have an opportunity to end the tournament, and its in your hands, he said. Whether you do it or not remains to be seen. Its like having the ball with a few seconds to go. Do you want it or not want it? I would much rather have it in my hands.
 
Lately, it has been nothing but net.
 
The Florida Swing long has been known as the road to the Masters, which is three weeks away. Woods already has his game at warp speed, and hes lapping the field. His victory Sunday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational was his fifth in a row on the PGA Tour and his sixth straight worldwide, a streak that spans six months and is the longest overall of his incomparable career. When he won seven straight tour events in 2006-2007, second only to Byron Nelsons 11 in 1945, Woods lost three times overseas.
 
Now, even the purists must wonder if Woods can go an entire season without losing.
 
Its unbelievable, isnt it? Steve Stricker said Monday. You think that one of these times, hes not going to get it done. But he continues to do it. And now you expect it. You just learn with him that nothing is unexpected.
 
Woods latest victim was Bart Bryant, who did everything right and never felt so helpless.
 
Bryant twice made birdie to tie Woods for the lead, shot a 67 in stifling heat and waited in the scoring trailer to see if Woods could beat him. There was no television in the trailer, and Bryant didnt need one.
 
He heard a roar that rattled the trailer, and Bryant forced a smile and slowly shook his head.
 
Thats why hes Tiger Woods, he said.
 
Stricker felt that way outside Chicago the second week in September, when this winning streak started. He had a one-shot lead in the final round when he got to the 12th hole, looked down toward the green and saw Woods make a 50-foot birdie putt to catch him. Woods went on to a two-shot victory.
 
He can sympathize with Bryant.
 
Thats all you can do sometimes is shake your head and laugh, Stricker said. Thats what its getting to be'laughable.
 
Golf is more global than it was a half-century ago, so Woods winning streak is complicated. This is the third time he has won at least five in a row, and he also won on the European Tour last month, shooting a 31 on the back nine to rally from a four-shot deficit.
 
And he won the Target World Challenge in December, although that doesnt count because it was a charity event that Woods hosts for 16 top players from the world ranking. For what its worth, Woods won by seven shots.
 
Woods is so dominant that he has won seven of his last eight times on the PGA Tour, the exception being a runner-up finish to Phil Mickelson at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Labor Day. Hes an incredible 16 for 25 since the 2006 British Open.
 
What hes doing now, you cant even fathom it, Bryant said. You just cant explain it. Its just incredible. Just what he did today is more evidence of this weird zone hes in. And hes been in it his whole life.
 
Woods was just starting college in 1994, a skinny teenager who had fallen behind in the championship match of the U.S. Amateur, when his father whispered in his ear, Let the legend grow. Woods birdied three straight holes to win.
 
Ernie Els added to the hype when Woods went eagle-birdie-birdie to beat him in a playoff in Hawaii to start the 2000 season.
 
I think hes a legend in the making, Els said that day. You guys have helped, but hes backed it up with his golf game. Hes 24. Hes probably going to be bigger than Elvis when he gets into his 40s.
 
He didnt wait that long. Hes only 32 and already is tied with Ben Hogan for third in career victories with 64. The only players ahead of him are Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82).
 
With each victory, Woods adds another layer to the legend.
 
Its not even spring yet, and consider his year so far: He set scoring records at Torrey Pines with an eight-shot victory. He was headed for a first-round defeat in the Accenture Match Play Championship when he made 90 feet worth of putts to win four straight holes for a stunning comeback victory, and he eventually set a record in the final match for largest margin of victory (8 and 7).
 
And then came Palmers tournament, and a putt that everyone knew was going to drop.
 
Can he go undefeated? Even as well as he is playing, the odds are against it. Woods hinted as much when someone asked what could stop this winning streak.
 
All of the players in the event, he said.
 
Even so, consider what lies ahead. He is playing this week at Doral, where he has won the last three years. Next up is the Masters, where Woods is a four-time champion. He is the defending champion at the Wachovia Championship in North Carolina. In fact, he has won every event on his schedule.
 
Hes got a lot of memories, and theyre all positive, Stricker said. Some guys could blow a tournament, and two weeks later theyre in contention and have to think about that. All he has is positives. His whole career is nothing but positive reinforcement.
 

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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”