Tiger at His Best

By Brian HewittAugust 10, 2007, 4:00 pm
PGA ChampionshipTULSA, Okla. -- Now that Tiger Woods has flirted with golf history and, for today at least, been rejected..
Now that Tiger Woods has turned out to be hotter than Tulsa..
Now that Tiger Woods has stormed to a two-shot lead over Scott Verplank at the halfway mark of the 89th PGA Championship..
Now that Saturday and Sunday are suddenly shaping up to be a pair of victory laps for the No. 1 ranked player in the universe who is odds-on to win his first major of 2007 and first major as a parent
Now that all of this and more has come to pass, its time to look back at an event that had other players and story lines before Woods stole everybodys thunder Friday while commandeering center stage...
First this, though: The golf gods should know better than to tug on Supermans cape. If they hadnt served up a cruel 270-degree lip-out on the 18th hole, Woods would have carded the first 62 in major championship history.
Woods called his score a 62 . The scoreboard said 63. He also properly pointed out that there is a lot of golf left to be played here. But if the eventual outcome of this championship isnt a foregone conclusion, its doing a first rate impression of one. The words mere formality come to mind.
Anyway, Tulsa has been a boiling cauldron of heat and sinkhole of sweat all week. And the forecast is even more dire for the weekend.
Once upon a nicely turned phrase, somebody wrote that Willie Mays glove was where triples go to die.
Southern Hills Friday was where ice cubes went to die.
John Dalys bold Thursday 67 melted quickly into insignificance when he bogeyed the first two holes of his second round en route to a 3-over 75.
First-round leader Graeme Storm, who played so flawlessly Thursday became the Imperfect Storm Friday thanks to three bogeys and a double on his outward half that resulted in a 76 that was 11 strokes more than the day before.
Have I mentioned the heat and humidity? Brandt Snedeker carded a nifty 71 Friday playing in the first group off first tee to make the cut on the number. Afterward he talked about the draining effect of the conditions.
Got back to my room last night, turned the TV on, and was asleep by 8 oclock, Snedeker said. Woke up at 4 oclock for my round. The lights were still on; the TV was still blaring and my clothes were still on.
Woody Austin, 2 under and four back of Woods, should be so lucky. Even when I lay down at night my brain doesnt shut off, Austin said. Ive been a nervous person all my life.
Which explains why he got the heebie-jeebies when he arrived at his ball, which he found in a creek, at the 13th after an errant drive. The ball, Austin said, was sitting right next to a huge, dead frog. It was upside down in the creek..I didnt want to touch him.
Austin has come a long way to be in contention to win his first major. Exactly how far?
I was the grade school nerd, he said. I was so small; I looked like the team mascot.
Small no more. Austin now stands six feet tall and weighs 190 pounds.
For his part, Verplank has been dealing with diabetes since he was nine years old. Im in my own little world and kind of have to be, he said.
The world Verplank found himself in Friday at Southern Hills is called the zone. He hit 13 of 14 fairways and missed the other by less than an inch. His 66 was tied for the second low round of the day. I hit the ball yesterday and today as good as Ive ever hit it, he said.
Daly, Austin, Snedeker, Verplank, Geoff Ogilvy. They are among the challengers. But they have been relegated to the role of bit players.
Southern Hills has hosted six previous major championships. And each time a player who has led or shared the lead after 36 holes has won the golf tournament.
The weekend at Southern Hills now figures to be the latest in a long line of coronations for Woods. In the unlikely event that he doesnt win Sunday, the biggest story will not be about the player who beat him, it will be the fact that Woods beat himself.
Woods won in Ohio last week by a pile of strokes. He arrived in Oklahoma full of confidence and hitting on all cylinders. He is the fittest player in golf along with being the most talented.
If you enjoy sport at its highest level; if you enjoy state-of-the-art; if you enjoy watching a player that even the golf gods have to respect, pay attention to Southern Hills the next two days. You almost certainly wont be disappointed.
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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.”