Woods Four Off the Pace after Day 1

By Associated PressApril 10, 2008, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The strokes that counted had all been accounted for by the time Tiger Woods stuck two tees into the practice green just off the first tee and began absent-mindedly stroking four-footers.
 
Caddie Stevie Williams came by with a handful of bananas, and Woods paused to peel one and devour the contents before going back to the business at hand.
 
This wasnt as much a practice session as it was therapy. Woods had putted decently all day, and there certainly wasnt anything wrong with the symmetrical stroke that always seems so ideally suited for the slick, rolling greens of Augusta National.
 
A few minutes earlier, he had pronounced himself satisfied with a round that seemed pedestrian by the high standards of the greatest player in the game. That was for public consumption anyway, though the odds are the talk Thursday night at the house Woods is renting for the week was more about opportunities that got away.
 
After the round, he putted a few balls without much purpose, running one up a hill and leaving another well short. Woods didnt even bother to finish them off, picking up his balls after less than 10 minutes on the green and heading for the clubhouse. Four security guards and two sheriffs deputies quickly formed an escort around him to keep any overly curious patrons away.
 
The first round of his first major of the year was now officially over. Woods was either on his way to a fifth Masters title and the historic first leg of the first Grand Slam of the modern era, or he wasnt.
 
The scoreboard certainly didnt tell the story. On a day when Augusta National seemed primed for a picking, Woods shot as pedestrian a 72 as he could put together to stand four shots behind perennial first-round leader Justin Rose and Trevor Immelman, another player who wont be getting fit for a green jacket on Sunday.
 
The odds are still good, however, that Woods will. A check of the record books will show that he rarely posts a good score on Thursday at Augusta National, where he hasnt broken par in the first round for six years. Hes never led after the first round, never shot better than 70.
 
Yet he always seems to be in the mix on Sunday afternoon, and the oddsmakers who made him an astonishing even money against the field this year arent about to begin sweating now.
 
Neither is Woods, who put the best spin possible on a round that could have ' make that should have'been better. It was as if he was trying to convince himself as much as others that even par wasnt such a bad number even when a lot of other players thought otherwise.
 
Its good, Woods said. I kept myself in the tournament. Im right there. With the weather supposed to be getting more difficult as the week goes on, Im right there.
 
Woods watches the weather as closely as he watches the changes to Augusta National that the green jackets who run the place try to slip in every year. He was right. Wind and thunderstorms are forecast for Saturday, temperatures are expected to drop, and Woods believes he handles adverse conditions better than anyone in the field.
 
The last time he won here, three years ago, he was down by seven shots after the first round, and seemed out of it. But a cold front moved in, the rains came, and Woods rode a spectacular streak of seven straight birdies in the rain-delayed third round to win his fourth Masters.
 
Woods could have made it easier for himself this time, though it wasnt all his fault. A metal pole on the bleachers behind the eighth green turned a probable birdie into par, and a ball that just trickled over the 13th green off a hooking 4-iron was the difference between possible eagle and eventual bogey.
 
I thought it was sweet, Woods said. It was 214 into the wind, right to left, and I just hit a big sweeping draw in there, one of the best swings I made all day.
 
Woods recovered to chip in for eagle on the par-5 15th, but he was a mere spectator for the greatest shot of the day. He was on the elevated sixth tee watching when Ian Poulter knocked in an 8-iron for a hole-in-one on the nearby 16th, sparking the biggest roar of the day.
 
All in all, it was a typical Woods opening round at the Masters.
 
He plays cautiously, not only to get a feel of the course but to get a feeling of what the players around him are doing. Then he goes back home, digests it all, and figures out a game plan that will bring him to the 18th green on Sunday with the green jacket waiting for him.
 
Nobody does that better than Woods. Nobody does it at all.
 
Theyre all just scrambling to shoot the best score they can, no matter what it takes or what the conditions are. They have to, because theyre overmatched before they get to the first tee.
 
A researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, studied 363 tournaments from 1999 to 2006 and came to the conclusion that other players shoot nearly one shot worse at any tournament Woods is entered in. Theres a ton of equations and graphs to explain why, but the bottom line seems to be that Woods intimidates other players.
 
You dont need to be in graduate school to figure that out. One look at the muscular Woods, striding down the fairway and wearing a shirt whose stripes matched some of the azalea bushes, was enough to intimidate three Zach Johnsons should they have the nerve to look.
 
Woods didnt need to practice his putting after his first round. He didnt need to work on his swing.
 
Hell be there on Sunday for one reason alone. He is Tiger Woods.
 
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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.”