Predicting Tigers Return
Situated amid the spring-fed Butler chain of lakes of southwest Orlando, Isleworth is one the prettiest places in Central Florida. And comparisons with the center of the Communist world back in the height of the Cold War have nothing to do with diametrically opposed ideologies.
Its just that the information coming out of Moscow in the old days was very guarded. The experts at deciphering that information were called: Kremlinologists.
Similarly Tigers camp keeps its own, close, careful counsel. Rarely does anything newsy emerge from Woods inner circle unless it has first been released on TigerWoods.com. There are no Tigerologists.
But there are Tiger sightings. And people do talk. And right now the entire golf world hangs on every scrap that might hint at when Woods will return from the reconstructive surgery he underwent last June after capturing the U.S. Open in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.
Recently word leaked out of Isleworth that Woods was not only playing more holes on a regular basis, but that he had adopted a new, much wider stance. This development came from a reliable source, who had watched Woods hitting balls at length and actually played a few holes with him.
Could this mean Woods was experimenting, as many had predicted, with a new swing that would put less pressure on his knee and produce less torque as a safety measure? The source also said Woods was looking incredibly buff.
So I ran it all past Hank Haney, Woods swing coach and the pair of eyes he trusts most when it comes to his game. Haney patiently responded without revealing any trade secrets. He is fiercely protective of a student from whom he freely admits he has learned more than he has taught.
Yes, Tiger is playing more holes at Isleworth, Haney said. And of course he is looking buff. He has been working out for about four hours a day for, like, six months.
As for Tiger looking different with his swing and working off a wider stance to be more protective of the knee? No.
How about this analysis: Tiger has played one tournament in nine months. One. The result of that is a lot of rustiness in his game.
He has had a lot of little things that have been different over the course of his working to get his game back on track. But to assume that everything that is different is by design is a wrong assumption.
Remember, assumption is the mother of all screw-ups. I was down last week (mid-January) to Isleworth and his stance was fine. I came down the next week and noticed that his stance with the driver was very wide. That has since been corrected. So that blows the theory of the new wide stance.
He is just practicing mostly, started playing a little recently and working to get the rust off. It is a slow process when you havent played in nine months.
I have no idea when Tiger will be ready to play. I do know that before he left the game for his surgery he had won 10 of 13 tournaments with two seconds and a fifth. So it might take a little while to get his game back to that level and I know that he isnt just looking to participate.
So what does all this mean and how should we best interpret it?
For starters, Woods is human. Like all golfers, he develops a bad habit every now again. Thats why Haney monitors him.
One teacher said the wide stance could have been a temporary device on Woods part until the knee is 100 percent. But the Isleworth source said Woods showed no trace of a limp and was taking his usual aggressive lines on shots that required long-distance carries.
We know Woods is as desperate to play in the Masters in April as we all are to have him in the field. We know he would like at least one tune-up before Augusta National. We also know that Woods doesnt want to return to competitive golf unless he feels like he can win immediately. He told us as much at his own tournament in December in California.
We also know his wife, Elin, is due to deliver the couples second child sometime this month. That anticipated event is an even higher priority than the knee and the comeback.
So there are a lot of moving parts here and a lot of variables. Haney is correct to assert that assumptions are dangerous.
Last month the Associated Press reported that it was likely Woods would make his 2009 debut at the WGC Accenture Match Play later this month near Tucson. Nobody from the Woods responded. And, to repeat, Haney doesnt know when Woods will be ready.
But the Match Play makes even more sense now for several reasons: Accenture is one of Woods sponsors. He is the defending champion. The galleries at the event arent historically huge. So an appearance at the Match Play would give Woods a relatively hassle free opportunity to check back in with his fellow players and the media. The circus there wouldnt have as many rings.
This much we know for sure: Tiger Woods will tell us where and when his next tournament will be only when he decides the right time has arrived.
So actually there is a Tigerologist out there. His name is Tiger Woods.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Levy wins Trophee Hassan for fifth European Tour title
RABAT, Morocco - Alexander Levy finished with a 2-under 70 Sunday to win the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco by a shot from overnight leader Alvaro Quiros.
One off the lead overnight, Levy made two of his four birdies in his first five holes to hit the front and stayed ahead for the rest of the final day at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam course.
It was the 27-year-old Frenchman's fifth European Tour victory and he will take winning form to Beijing next week when he defends his China Open title.
Levy ended 8-under 280 overall, one ahead of Spain's Quiros, who closed with a second straight 72.
With his chasers pushing hard, Levy kept his cool after dropping a shot on No. 16. He birdied the short, par-3 No. 17 and made par at the last.
Quiros birdied his last two holes to make sure of second place outright. He needed an eagle on No. 18 to force a playoff.
A group of four players finished in a tie for third, including Italy's Andrea Pavan, who finished with a brilliant 6-under 66. Swedish pair Joakim Lagergren (70) and Alexander Bjork (70) and Finland's Mikko Ilonen (72) also shared third.
Levy had three other top 10 finishes in his five previous events this season and moved up to ninth on the European Tour's Race to Dubai points list.
(Not that) Jutanugarn shares lead with (not that) Ko
LOS ANGELES - A player eager for her first win and a rookie top the leaderboard at the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. Lurking two shots back is a Hall of Famer.
Winless Moriya Jutanugarn overcame a poor start and birdied the 18th for a hard-earned 1-under 70 to tie rookie Jin Young Ko at 9 under on Saturday at Wilshire Country Club.
Ko shot a 66 in her bid to become the year's first two-time LPGA winner. She won the Women's Australian Open in February, her first victory as an official tour member after a successful run on the Korean LPGA circuit.
''I'm ready for win or top 10, so maybe tomorrow I will really focus on shot by shot,'' said Ko, who added an exclamation point to her golf bag for each of her wins on the KLPGA. ''I won 11 times, so if I win tomorrow, maybe I change to 12. I need more, I need every time motivation.''
Jutanugarn is trying to match younger sister Ariya as a tour champion. Seven-time winner Ariya was tied for 27th after a 72 in the third round.
Usually when one of the Thai sisters is in the lead, the other will watch when her round is finished.
''If she's not too lazy, she is probably going to come out,'' Moriya said about Ariya.
Playing in an all-Korean threesome, Hall of Famer Inbee Park was two shots back in third after a 69. Her birdie putt for a share of the lead on 18 slid just by the hole. The group drew a large contingent of Korean fans.
''I kind of started off a little bad. I was able to come back strong, so I'm really happy with that,'' Park said. ''I left a few putts out there. The greens around this golf course are just really tough. You just don't know what's going to happen.''
Moriya Jutanugarn's round included a double bogey on the par-4 first hole and a bogey on the par-4 sixth. She eagled the par-4 14th after holing out from the fairway 93 feet away. The ball took once bounce and went in, eliciting a stunned look from Jutanugarn before she high-fived her caddie.
''Today was kind of a pretty rough day for me with not a very good start and like trying to come back,'' Jutanugarn said. ''I just try to play my game and be patient out there I think is the key.''
Jutanugarn, the second-round leader, read the break perfectly on a long putt to make birdie on 18 and share the lead with Ko.
Playing two groups ahead of Jutanugarn, Caroline Inglis also eagled the 14th from 180 yards. She briefly jumped up and down and smiled after three bogeys and a double bogey. She shot a 69 and was four shots back in a tie for sixth with Minjee Lee.
''It was like one bounce and then it like trickled in,'' Inglis said.
Aditi Ashok eagled 14 early in the round.
Ko did some scrambling of her own. Her ball found a sandy hazard on the 17th with a scoreboard and a winding creek in between her and the green 190 yards away. Her approach landed just off the green and she made par. Her round included six birdies and a bogey on 16.
Eun-Hee Ji (70) and American Marina Alex (72) were tied for fourth at 6 under.
Top-ranked Shanshan Feng shot a 70 and was in a six-way tie for 12th at 2 under.
Defending champs Singh, Franco take senior lead
RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco took the third-round lead Saturday in the windy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.
Singh and Franco shot a 7-under 47 in wind gusting to 20 mph on the Top of the Rock par-3 course to get to 19-under 145, a stroke ahead of the teams of David Toms-Steve Flesch and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett.
''It was a tough day,'' Singh said. ''The wind was swirling, have to get the club right and we made some putts. Carlos played really well on the back nine and I played really well on the front nine, so we ham-and-egged it a little.''
Toms and Flesch also shot 47, and Broadhurst and Triplett had a 33 on the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course.
''We just paired well together,'' Toms said. ''I don't think either one of us played great. We picked each other up out there.''
Wind and rain is expected Sunday when the teams finish at Top of the Rock, again playing the front nine in alternate shot and the back nine in better ball.
''Make as many birdies as possible and see what happens,'' Singh said. ''That's all we can do.''
Singh and Franco are trying to become the first to successfully defend a title since Jim Colbert and Andy North in 2001. Singh won the Toshiba Classic in March for his first individual senior title.
Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic last week in Georgia for his first senior victory.
Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer had a 34 at Mountain Top to join Spanish stars Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal at 17 under. Jimenez and Olazabal had a 33 at Mountain Top.
''It's great for me to be able to play with him as a team member,'' Olazabal said. ''We do have great memories from the Ryder Cup and other events, and it's always a great pleasure to play with a great player and a friend.''
Langer took the final-round forecast in stride.
''We've done it hundreds of times before and we'll probably do it again,'' Langer said. ''We'll make the best of it. We both have a good attitude. We're known to play in all sorts of weather and I just look forward to playing one more day with my partner here.''
Wisconsin neighbors Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were 16 under after a 48 at Top of the Rock.
John Daly and Michael Allen, the second-round leaders after a 46 at Top of the Rock, had a 37 at Mountain Top to drop into a tie for seventh at 15 under.
Landry shares Valero lead, eyes first career win
After coming up just short of a breakthrough win earlier this season, Andrew Landry has another chance to earn his maiden victory at the Valero Texas Open.
Landry came within inches of winning the CareerBuilder Challenge in January, ultimately losing to Jon Rahm in a four-hole playoff. He struggled to find form in the wake of his close call, missing the cut in each of his four starts following his runner-up finish in Palm Springs.
But Landry took some time off to welcome his first child, Brooks, last month and he made it to the weekend in his first start back last week at the RBC Heritage, where he finished T-42. He made a move up the standings Saturday at TPC San Antonio with a bogey-free 67, and at 13 under shares the lead with Zach Johnson heading into the final round.
"I just did everything really good," Landry told reporters. "I was staying patient and just trying to make a bunch of pars. This golf course can come up and bite you in a heartbeat, and I had a couple bad putts that I didn't really make. I'm happy with it, it's a good 5-under round. Gets me in the final group tomorrow and we'll see what happens."
Landry started the day one shot off the pace and in the final group with Johnson and Ryan Moore, and at one point he took sole possession of the lead after birdies on three of his first six holes. Now he'll have another chance in the day's final tee time where he's grouped with Johnson and Trey Mullinax, who sits one shot back after firing a course-record 62 in the third round.
For Landry, it's another opportunity to break into the winner's circle, and it's one for which he feels prepared after coming so close three months ago.
"I mean, I don't want to go too deep into it because I don't want to sound cocky or anything, but I just believe in myself. There's no other explanation for it," Landry said. "You can totally get out here and play with Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, two top players in the world, and you can go out there and fold under pressure or you can learn a lot.
"Zach's always been a role model to me the way he plays golf, I feel like we have very similar games, and it's just going to be fun tomorrow getting to play with him again."