Tigers aura strong at least outside the ropes

By Associated PressNovember 10, 2009, 9:17 pm

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP)—Tiger Woods made news simply by walking off hisprivate jet.

A large photo of Woods, dressed in black shorts and a red Stanford cap, wassplashed across the front of The Melbourne Age on Tuesday morning. Imagine whatit was like when he actually put a golf club in his hand. Even Woods was alarmedto see an estimated 7,000 fans covering every inch of space available atKingston Heath to see his first appearance Down Under in 11 years.

Not long after he played nine holes with Craig Parry , the course wasvirtually empty.

“Nothing more to see for the day,” one fan said as he headed for the exit.

Combine that with a week in camera-happy China, where caddie Steve Williamsset the golf bag down to use the restroom, and it was surrounded within secondsby some 50 fans. Just more evidence that Woods’ aura is larger than ever.

At least outside the ropes.

His mystique on the golf course has been a different story over the lastthree months.

It’s always best to look at the big picture with Woods, and that continuesto illustrate his dominance in the game. Eight months after reconstructive kneesurgery, unsure how his left leg would respond to practice and play, Woods wonsix times on the PGA Tour and finished out of the top 10 only three times in 18tournaments. Even without winning a major, he considers 2009 a success.

The latest snapshot, however, is worthy of attention.

Woods, the best closer in golf, had gone five years without losing a PGATour event when he was atop the leaderboard through 36 holes. He has lost hislast two tournaments from that spot, both times watching Phil Mickelson posewith the trophy.

The last four times Woods has played in the final group, he has won only onetime—the BMW Championship outside Chicago, where he went into the final roundwith a seven-shot lead.

The latest mishap was the HSBC Champions, and while it’s no shame to spotMickelson a two-shot lead and fail to win, it was the manner in which Woods soquickly became an also-ran.

With a chance to cut the lead to one shot on the second hole, he missed a4-foot birdie. With Mickelson safely on the green about 18 feet from the cup onthe par-3 fourth, Woods pulled his tee shot into the water and made doublebogey. Two holes later, Woods was just about 30 feet from the flag and justinside Nick Watney , giving him a good read on the putt. Instead, he ran it 10feet by the hole and three-putted for bogey.

If not for a 10-foot birdie on the ninth, he would have gone out in 40. Sucha score is not unusual with Woods in the final group. It’s just that it usuallybelongs to another player.

“Just one of those days,” Woods said.

They happen to everyone. They used to happen less frequently to him.

Woods was in the final group of the Tour Championship, two shots behindKenny Perry , but didn’t have a one-putt birdie until the 16th hole, and by thenit effectively was too late to catch up to Mickelson.

It dates to the final round of the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, whereWoods built a four-shot lead going into the weekend, still had a two-shot leadagainst unheralded Y.E. Yang , and lost for the first time in a major whenleading going into the final round.

Woods has won four of the last 12 majors—that’s more than any of his peershave won in their careers. He also has finished runner-up in four of the last 12majors, this after finishing second only twice in the previous 40 majors.

“You’re not going to win them all,” Woods said Tuesday, noting that JackNicklaus was runner-up a record 19 times. “The whole idea is to give yourself achance in each and every one. I did that three of the four—I gave myself achance. And unfortunately, just didn’t get it done. You learn from it.”

Even so, his missed chances in regular tournaments—The Barclays, TourChampionship, HSBC Champions—raises the question of whether Yang’s victory atHazeltine chipped away at Woods’ mystique.

Remember, Woods had lost only one tournament in his career when leading bymore than one shot going into the final round, and that was nine years ago inGermany against Lee Westwood . It had never happened in a major, the tournamentsthat mean the most to Woods.

“He’s normal. He was always going to do that,” Geoff Ogilvy said earlierthis year. “I don’t think everybody is going to stand on the tee and say, ‘He’sgoing to give me a chance.”’

Ogilvy, however, said something could be taken away from Yang’s victory.

“The best thing about it is that the media will stop giving Tiger thetournament after 36 holes,” he said.

Maybe not. But the show still starts with Woods, whose appearance inMelbourne has made his $3 million appearance fee—half of that paid by thegovernment—a non-issue among the Australian media.

The tournament has been a sellout for months, with tickets capped at 100,000for the week. John Brumby, the Victoria premier, sat with Woods in a pressconference Tuesday and said more than 35 percent of the tickets were sold topeople either out of state or overseas. He said the economic return would be atleast $19 million.

That part of Woods’ appeal hasn’t changed.

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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.”