Tiger Named AP Story of the Year

By Associated PressDecember 27, 2006, 5:00 pm
It was, even by Tiger Woods standards, an exceptional year: eight PGA TOUR victories, including a stretch of six in a row that took him from the British Open to the beginning of October.
 
What made that finish most remarkable, though, was the loss that preceded it. For anyone whos watched Woods dismantle opponents and golf courses alike and come away wondering if he was indeed human, the May death of his beloved father Earl was a heartbreaking reminder he is.
 
Woods ability to channel his grief into an extraordinary run of six straight PGA TOUR wins, including the British Open and the PGA Championship, was chosen as the sports story of the year in voting by members of The Associated Press.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' six-event PGA TOUR winning streak began at the Open Championship.
The hardest thing for me to do was play golf, Woods said recently. Usually people go to work to get away from a loss like that.
 
This was the third time Woods has earned such honors. He was the story of the year in 2000, when he won three of the four majors, and in 1997, after he won his first Masters title.
 
Woods received 422 points in the voting. Vince Young leading Texas to the national title with a thrilling fourth-quarter rally over defending champion Southern California was second with 380 points, followed by the doping stories involving Barry Bonds (342 points) and Tour de France winner Floyd Landis (303 points).
 
The rest of the top 10 were: Barbaro winning the Kentucky Derby, then shattering his leg during the Preakness; the Steelers winning their first Super Bowl title since 1980; the Duke lacrosse scandal;
 
Italys World Cup victory and the head butt seen round the world; the Detroit Tigers remarkable turnaround; and Andre Agassi retiring after the U.S. Open.
 
It was a rewarding year all around for golfers. Woods also was voted AP male athlete of the year while Lorena Ochoa picked up female athlete of the year honors. Its the first time since 1945 that golfers have swept the athlete awards, and the first one-sport sweep since Sheryl Swoopes and Michael Jordan in 1993.
 
Earl Woods was grooming his son to be a golfer before the boy could even walk and, had he handled things differently, their story could have been that of any other prodigy driven too far, too fast. But Earl Woods tough lessons were accompanied by even more love, and he never pushed further than his son wanted to go. Instead of bitterness and resentment, Tiger Woods had only love, respect and admiration for his Pops.
 
Dad introduced me to the game of golf, Woods said. He taught me a lot of life lessons on the golf course. So when I came back and started working on my fundamentals, who do you think I learned my fundamentals from? I learned them from my dad.
 
The elder Woods death on May 3 wasnt a surprise. A habitual smoker who had heart bypass surgery in 1986, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998 and was treated with radiation. The cancer returned in 2004 and spread throughout his body.
 
He was so ill last Christmas that Tiger Woods went several days without sleeping, trying to cram in as much time as he could with his father. That Earl Woods was father, mentor, coach, sounding board and buddy made his death all the more wrenching.
 
My dad was my best friend and greatest role model, Woods said when his father died, and I will miss him deeply.
 
Though Woods won his first two starts of the year, he wasnt at his best with his father always on his mind. As the father grew sicker, it showed in the sons game. He tied for 20th at Bay Hill, where hed won four times, then tied for 29th at THE PLAYERS Championship.
 
He went on to the Masters, but it was the first time Earl Woods didnt accompany him to Augusta National. Woods also believed it would be the last time his father would see him play in a major.
 
Thats something I still continue to think about, even to this day, Woods said. It was my last round that my dad ever watched me play. Knowing that going into it, if I could have given him one last shot, some positive memories before he goes, it would have been huge.
 
But it wasnt meant to be. Without his trademark steely focus, he made one bad putt after another Sunday afternoon. He three-putted twice in the final eight holes, and missed two other eagle putts. He finished three shots behind Phil Mickelson.
 
It was the only time I saw him try too hard, caddie Steve Williams later said.
 
Woods took the next nine weeks off, first to be with, then to bury his father. He ended the longest break of his career at the U.S. Open, but it was quickly evident he still wasnt himself.
 
For the first time in 10 years as a professional, he missed a cut at a major, shooting 76-76. It was only the fourth time hed missed the cut at any tournament.
 
It took me longer than I thought to cope with it, Woods said of his fathers death. Ive never gone through anything like that.
 
His next outing was the Western Open, one of his favorite tournaments at a course perfectly suited for his game. But an opening-round 72 left him flirting with the cut line again.
 
He trudged down to the practice range as he always does. And somewhere during those three hours of hitting balls, the grief lifted and Woods reclaimed the gift his father had given him so long ago.
 
I had about an hour where I really hit it that was fun, he said. I had every shape shot, height, spin, whatever you wanted, I had it for about an hour. Thats what youre always looking for. Then I just built upon that for the rest of the year.
 
He shot a 67 the next day, the first of 17 straight rounds under par. He wound up second at the Western, then won his next six starts.
 
There are hundreds of players'good ones, too'who dont win six tournaments in an entire career, let alone one season. To go 6-for-6, well, only Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan know what thats like.
 
But it wasnt simply the victories that piled up, it was how Woods got them. He used his driver once at the British, and rode his putter to the title at the PGA Championship. He gutted out a playoff victory at Firestone, and shot a 30 on the front nine of the final round at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
 
When the year ended, he led the tour in scoring average (68.11) and birdie average (4.65), and his greens in regulation average (74.15) was a full two percentage points ahead of second-place Jeff Grove. He was sixth in driving distance.
 
Since that first round at the Western, hes shot above par only four times in tour events. Hes been no worse than second in stroke play since missing the cut at the U.S. Open.
 
Its the most dominant stretch golf has seen since 2000, when Woods won nine times'including three straight majors to round out his career Grand Slam at the ripe old age 24.
 
Its mind boggling, it really is, Billy Andrade said. Is he at that point he was in 2000? Yes. Is everybody playing for second? Well, were not going to concede it, but he sure finishes the deal better than we do.
 
After Woods won at Hoylake, the emotions of the year finally spilled out. He threw both arms in the air on the 18th green and screamed, Yes! then buried his head in his caddies shoulder and sobbed.
 
When he hugged his wife, it was with the desperation of a man searching for something'or someone'he knows hell never find.
 
If you take into account what happened off the golf course, its my worst year, Woods said this fall. People asked me ... How do you consider the year? I consider it as a loss.
 
In the grand scheme of things, golf doesnt even compare to losing a parent.
 
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”

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Woods does everything but win

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:57 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and small victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.

Sure, after taking the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.

“Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”

But here’s where we take a deep breath.

Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with nine holes to play.

Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.

The scenario was improbable.

Inconceivable.

Impossible.

At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.

Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.

This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.

One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?

“Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.

Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.

Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.

Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.

Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.

Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.

Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.

“For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”

So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”

But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.

“It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”

Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.

“Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing the Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”

Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.

“She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”

But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.

Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.

“To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”

His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two new, younger additions to his clan.

Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:

LOVE THE HATERS.

After this unbelievable performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?

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Molinari hopes to inspire others as Rocca inspired him

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:43 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Francesco Molinari was 12 years old when Costantino Rocca came within a playoff of becoming Italy’s first major champion at the 1995 Open at St. Andrews.

He remembers being inspired by Rocca’s play and motivated by the notion that he could one day be the player who would bring home his country’s first Grand Slam title. As he reflected on that moment late Sunday at Carnoustie it sunk in what his victory at The Open might mean.

“To achieve something like this is on another level,” said Molinari, who closed with a final-round 69 for a two-stroke victory. “Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Constantino in '95 coming so close. Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was at the time, watching him vie for the claret jug.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Molinari had already made plenty of headlines this year back home in Italy with victories at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and the Quicken Loans National earlier this month on the PGA Tour.

A major is sure to intensify that attention. How much attention, however, may be contingent on Sunday’s finish at the German Grand Prix.

“It depends on if Ferrari won today. If they won, they'll probably get the headlines,” Molinari laughed. “But, no, obviously, it would be massive news. It was big news. The last round already was big news in Italy.”

Molinari won’t have any competition for the front page on Monday; Ferrari didn’t win the German Grand Prix.

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Schauffele on close call: Nothing but a positive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Playing in a final group at a major for the first time, Xander Schauffele awkwardly splashed out of three pot bunkers, went out in 40 and still somehow had a chance to win at Carnoustie.

Playing the 17th hole, tied with Francesco Molinari, Schauffele flared his approach shot into the right rough and couldn’t get up and down for par. He dropped one shot behind Molinari, and then two, after the Italian birdied the final hole.

Just like that, Schauffele was doomed to a runner-up finish at The Open.

“A little bit of disappointment,” he said. “Obviously when you don’t win, you’re disappointed. Hats off to Francesco. I looked up on 17 and saw he got to 8 under, which is just incredible golf and an incredible finish.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Schauffele did well to give himself a chance. The 24-year-old was in the final group with Spieth, but both youngsters fell off the pace after rocky starts. The Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year birdied the 14th but couldn’t convert a 15-footer on the treacherous 16th that would have given him a one-shot cushion.

“It’s going to go in the memory bank as a positive,” he said. “I had a chance to win a major championship. I was in the final group. I had to face a little bit of adversity early in the round, and I still gave myself a chance. Anyone can look at it however they want to, but I’m going to look at is as a positive moving forward and try to learn how to handle the situations a little better next time.”