Weir and Others Come Out Swinging
So much for the surfeit of first time winners we had last year on Tour when 18 players broke through. This year only Ben Crane, at the BellSouth Classic has won for the first time.
I, for one, am just fine with this. We are not even into April yet and we have a rousing four way race for Player of the Year. There is, as they say, a lot of golf left. And if I had to vote today, I would choose Mike Weir, the left handed Canadian who beat Len Mattiace in a playoff for the Masters.
Majors are always the tiebreaker when the voting for Player of the Year commences. Remember 1998? David Duval finished first on the money list and won four times. Mark O'Meara, by comparison, won just twice and finished seventh on the money list. But his victories came at Augusta and Royal Birkdale. He won two majors. His peers voted him PGA Tour Player of the year because of that. It was a no brainer.
But what I like about this year is the case you can make for all four of this year's multiple winners (not just Weir).
Yes, Ernie Els finished double-bogey, bogey, bogey Sunday at Hilton Head to give away a golf tournament that would have been his with three closing pars. But let's not forget Els ran the table in Hawaii the first two weeks of the season including a 31 under par 72 hole total at the Mercedes Championships that included, amazingly, two double bogeys. Moreover, Els also has won twice already this year on the European Tour and has a huge leads in the Order of Merit Standings.
For his part, Woods came back from knee surgery and won his first tournament out of the box the Buick Invitational. Two weeks later he won an endurance contest at soggy La Costa in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. A month after that he spread eagled the field at Bay Hill.
Love actually could have maybe should have four wins by now. His triumphs came at Pebble Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach and Harbour Town. The Honda Classic, as well, would have been his but for a dodgy final round that allowed good friend Justin Leonard to sneak past him.
Leonard, actually, is one fifth of the answer to a pretty good trivia question: Name the five players, other than Weir, Woods, Love and Els, to cash the big check on Sunday this year. The answer: Vijay Singh (Phoenix), Frank Lickliter (Tucson), Scott Hoch (Doral) and Ben Crane (BellSouth).
At this rate, the field for next year's Mercedes Championship will have less than 20 players. While I wish nothing bad on that tournament, and as a matter a fact, a field that small could make for a very elite, boutique tournament. I'm kind of liking the shootout that's going on between Els, Woods, Weir and Love III.
My prediction for the Player of the Year at the end of the season? The easy answer is Woods. But he will have to win one of the three remaining majors to muscle into the lead. The dark horse is Love III, fitter than ever now at 39. Weir would be the most fun and, arguably, the best for golf. Els might be the most popular. Down the road, I think he is the player most capable of providing a challenge to Woods year in and year out.
TT postscript: This 65 better than Aronimink 62
ATLANTA – The start wasn’t much to look at, but that finish was something else. Tiger Woods eagled the final hole on Thursday and shares the 18-hole lead at the Tour Championship. Here are the things you know you want to know:
• First of all, let’s give a pat on the back to the man who most deserves it today: Me. Early this morning, I sent this tweet:
Less than an hour until tee time. Gotta good feeling about this week. Let’s set the O/U today at 66.5 on the par 70. And then take the under.— Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) September 20, 2018
Never doubt my good feelings. Ben Crenshaw doesn’t have my good feelings. We may have 54 holes to play, but I gotta good feeling we’re going to be changing that Tiger Tracker avatar Sunday night.
• Now onto Tiger. After all, he did hit 10 of 14 fairways, 14 of 18 greens in regulation and took 28 putts. It wasn’t looking good early when he had nine putts through four holes and was 1 over par. But he birdied Nos. 5 and 6, turned in 1 under, and really turned it on down the stretch with two birdies and an eagle over his final seven holes. And if you take a good look at the scorecard below you’ll notice he didn’t make a bogey after the first hole.
• How good is a 65 at East Lake? Better than his opening 62 at Aronimink, according to Woods: “This was by far better than the 62 at Aronimink. Conditions were soft there. This is – it's hard to get the ball closer. There's so much chase in it. If you drive the ball in the rough, you know you can't get the ball close.”
Woods added that you had to play “conservatively” and be patient – take what the course allowed. Tiger missed five putts – four of them for birdie – inside 15 feet. But in the 93-degree heat, he kept his composure and made putts of 26 and 28 feet for birdie, and 28 feet for eagle.
• This week feels different. It feels like Tiger is really ready to win again. He seems very serious, very focused. He talked about “getting the W” on Wednesday and said on Thursday, “[T]he objective is to always win.”
After shooting 65, Woods signed a few autographs and eventually made his way to the putting green. If he gets those 15-footer to fall, we’re going to be two wins away from tying Sammy.
• So, what about that eagle on 18, you ask? Tiger said he “hammered” a driver – which was listed at 320 yards – and then hit a 5-wood from 256 yards to 28 feet. As for the putt: “It took forever for that putt to start breaking, grain coming down off the left. But once it snagged it, it was going straight right.”
Right into the cup. Right into the lead. Our man is making history this week.
Watch: Highlights from Tiger's first round at East Lake
Tiger Woods is back at the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013, and he provided the fans in Atlanta with some highlights on the first day of competition.
Still looking for his first win of the year after coming close on numerous occasions, Woods started the day off by splitting the fairway on the first hole with the driver, not even bothering to watch his ball land.
Despite the picture-perfect opening tee shot, Woods would go on to bogey the first hole, but he rebounded with back-to-back birdies on 5 and 6, making putts from 26 and 15 feet.
Tiger's best shot on the front nine came on the par-4 seventh hole after he found the pine straw behind a tree with his drive. The 14-time major champ punched one under the tree limbs and onto the green, then calmly two-putted for par from about 40 feet en route to a front-side 1-under 34.
Woods added two more birdies on the par-4 12th and 14th holes, rolling in putts of 3 feet and 7 feet after a couple of great looking approach shots.
Woods finished his round with a vintage eagle on the par-5 18th hole, finding the green with a 5-wood from 256 yards out and then sinking the 28-foot putt.
Co-leader. pic.twitter.com/MMUZ8zptQ9— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 20, 2018
The eagle at the last gave Woods a share of the early first-round lead with Rickie Fowler at 5-under 65.
Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship
Tiger Woods is looking to close his season with a win at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him this week at East Lake Golf Club.
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Garcia (66) peaking for Ryder Cup?
Sergio Garcia might be finding his form just in time to terrorize the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Garcia made seven birdies during an opening round of 5-under 66 to sit just two shots off the early lead at the European Tour’s Portugal Masters.
It was Garcia’s fifth consecutive round of par or better, a stretch that includes rounds of 66-65-67-70-66. That solid play at the Wyndham Championship wasn’t enough to extend his PGA Tour season – he didn’t qualify for the FedExCup playoffs – but the Spaniard is starting to round into form with the Ryder Cup on deck.
A few weeks ago he was a controversial selection by European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn. After missing the cut in all four majors, Garcia could have been left at home in favor of such players as Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matt Wallace (a three-time winner this season who, once again, is at the top of the leaderboard in Portugal), Matt Fitzpatrick or Thomas Pieters. But Bjorn tabbed Garcia, noting his Ryder Cup experience, his sterling foursomes record and his influence in the team room. If Phil Mickelson is the U.S. player under the most pressure to perform in Paris, all eyes will be on Garcia next week – especially since it could be one of his final opportunities to wear a European uniform, as he’ll be 40 for the 2020 matches.
Garcia’s 66 matched his lowest opening round of the year and puts him in position to secure just his second top-10 since March.