Tiger Woods Close Enough
Tiger Woods wore a smile late Sunday at the Buick Invitational that we hadnt seen since Oct. 5, 2003, to be exact. That was the last time he had won an official PGA Tour stroke play event.
It reappeared yesterday at Torrey Pines South when Tom Lehman faded, Luke Donald self-destructed and Charles Howell was visited by cruel misfortune on the 72nd hole.
Donald hit it where you cant on the 14th and 17th holes. Lehman bogeyed the last two and Howell slam-dunked a wedge on the 18th, only to have the ball catapult back out of the jaws of the cup and back down into the greenside water hazard.
The end result was a three-shot victory for Woods and a sense that, in some way, the cosmic balance had been restored to professional golfs universe.
This is not to say that the golf gods owed Woods. They never owe any player anything. And its not to say Woods is somehow inherently more deserving than any other player in the field.
Lee Trevino put it best years ago when Jack Nicklaus was the dominant player of his era. Let the big dog eat, Trevino said.
He was referring to the fact that any time Nicklaus won back in that day it was good for the game. This was because Nicklaus was the driving force on the competitive landscape. Like Arnold Palmer before him, Nicklaus was bringing people to golf and forcing editors to play his achievements, especially in the majors, above the fold on the first page of the sports section.
Thats why Woods 41st career victory was good for the game. Despite the fact that Vijay Singh is the No. 1 ranked player in the world and a cinch to be voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year, Woods is golfs Big Dog.
Its just that his game, for the last 18 months or so, had picked up fleas. He had left instructor Butch Harmon, hired Hank Haney and set about revamping his swing. It was a painful process and its still a work in progress.
Lord knows, this wasnt one of Woods prettiest wins. He finished 68th in the field in driving accuracy for the week and 49th in greens in regulation. Woods was second in putting but missed a short birdie putt on the 71st hole that would have put him in the drivers seat playing in the last group with Lehman.
Instead Wood had to survive a fanned 2-iron on the par 5 final hole that, only be sheer force of good luck, didnt wind up in the water fronting the green.
Not to worry and not to matter. The point is Woods finished with fewer strokes than anybody else. Sometimes a player wins a tournament. Sometimes a tournament wins a player. There was a lot of the latter at work at Torrey Pines.
Woods has been telling us for some time now that he is close. Hes not all the way there yet. But he has won again on the PGA Tour.
And for now, thats close enough.
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Molinari reflects on beating Woods at Ryder Cup, Open
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Francesco Molinari might be a useful resource for the European Ryder Cup team.
He’s already beaten Tiger Woods, head to head, at a Ryder Cup and a major.
Molinari was in the anchor match at the 2012 Ryder Cup when Woods conceded on the final hole to give the Europeans an outright victory in the incredible comeback at Medinah. He said the last hole was a “blur,” and it remains the last Ryder Cup that both Molinari and Woods played.
“I’ve improved a lot as a player since 2012,” said Molinari, who lost his previous singles match against Woods in 2010, 4 and 3, “and I hope to show that on the course this week.”
The proof is the claret jug that he now keeps at home.
To win his first major he needed to not only endure the circus that a Woods group brings, but he needed to outlast the 14-time major champion and a host of other worthy contenders to prevail at Carnoustie.
Reflecting on that momentous day Tuesday, Molinari said he initially was dreading the final-round date with Woods.
“If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t exactly hoping to be paired with Tiger, not because I don’t like to play with him, but because, obviously, the hype and with him being in contention in a major, it’s going to be noisy and it’s going to be a lot of people," he said.
“So the most challenging part was probably that moment when the draw came out, but then I quickly managed to think, You know, whatever. I don’t really care. I’m here to do a job, and they can’t really influence how I do my job.”
To thrive in that situation gave Molinari a lot of confidence – especially heading into a pressure-cooker like the Ryder Cup.
Asked whether it’s more pressure trying to win a major or a Ryder Cup – since he’s now done both – Molinari said: “You won’t believe me, but it’s nowhere near. Carnoustie was nowhere near Medinah or in any matching ways. It’s hard to believe, but it’s probably because you play for a team; you play for a continent in our case, and you know about the tradition and what players have done in the past.”
Woods 25/1 to break Nicklaus' record by age 50
With his victory at the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods crept closer to Sam Snead's all-time PGA Tour wins mark. But he also got fans thinking about whether golf's most famous record is once again in play.
Woods has been stuck on 14 career major titles since the 2008 U.S. Open, although he had a pair of close calls this summer. But now that he's again a winner on Tour, oddsmakers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook created bets on where Woods' career major haul will end up.
The line they drew in the sand? Dec. 30, 2025 - when Woods, now 42, will turn 50 years old.
According to the Westgate, Woods is a -150 favorite to win at least one more major by that time. He's 2/1 to win at least two more, 5/1 to win at least three more and 12/1 to win at least four more. But it'll take five more majors to break Nicklaus' record haul of 18, and the odds on Woods doing that by age 50 are set at 25/1.
There are also odds on Woods' 2019 major prospects, as he's already the betting favorite for the Masters at 9/1. Woods' odds of winning any major next year are listed at +225, while the pessimists can wager -275 that his major victory drought will extend to at least 2020.
There's even a bet for those expecting some serious history: the odds of Woods sweeping all four majors next year at age 43 are 200/1.
All 12 Europeans have history at Le Golf National
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The European team has plenty of experience at Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National, which has been the longtime host of the French Open.
The question this week is whether it’ll matter.
The only American player to compete in this year’s French Open was Justin Thomas. Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Bubba Watson all got a look at Le Golf National before The Open.
Not surprisingly, the European team has a proven track record here – all 12 players have seen the course at some point. Alex Noren won in July. Tommy Fleetwood is a past champion, too. So is European vice captain Graeme McDowell. Francesco Molinari and assistant Lee Westwood also have runners-up here.
“I definitely think it’s a help to us, for sure,” Ian Poulter said. “It’s probably the most-played venue as a Ryder Cup venue for all of the European players that have played. So we definitely have a feel of how this golf course has played in very different weather conditions. I definitely think we have an understanding of how this golf course can play.”
Of course, this setup is no different than what players typically experience as they prepare for a major championship. They’ll play 18 holes each of the next two days, then maybe nine holes on Thursday, as they get a feel for the layout.
“When it’s the best players in the world, and we play on golf courses week-in and week-out where we have to learn a new golf course, it’s difficult to say how much of an advantage it will be,” Fleetwood said. “It can only be a good thing, or it can’t do any harm that we know the course better or that we’ve played it more times.
“Knowledge can only be a good thing. Maybe it’s a little advantage, but it’s the best players in the world that are out here, so it’s not something to look at too much.”
First-tee grandstand 'biggest you'll ever see'
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The first-tee nerves could be even more intense this week at the Ryder Cup.
If only because of the atmosphere.
The grandstand surrounding the first hole at Le Golf National is unlike anything that’s ever been seen at this event – a 6,500-seat behemoth that dwarfs the previous arenas.
“It’s the biggest grandstand you’ll ever see at a golf tournament,” Tommy Fleetwood said.
“It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had to hit that tee shot before,” Ian Poulter said. “When I think back (to my first Ryder Cup) in 2004, the stand is nothing like what we have today. So it really is going to be quite a special moment Friday, and it’s going to be very interesting to see.”
Poulter said it’ll be his job to prepare, as best he can, the team’s rookies for what they’ll experience when the first ball goes in the air Friday morning.
“The No. 1 thing I’ve pictured since the Ryder Cup became a goal is that first tee shot,” Fleetwood said. “But nothing prepares you for the real thing. The grandstand is pretty big – there’s no denying that.
“It’s something that everybody wants in their career, so as nerve-wracking as it is, and whatever those feelings are, everybody wants that in their life. So you just have to take it on and let it all happen.”