The countdown to Woods return continues
It’s been like that a lot lately.
Woods spent Tuesday at Augusta National, his second straight day of practice as he prepares to enter his new world of golf in two weeks at the Masters. Speculation is as prolific as the tabloid reports on his extramarital affairs.
How will the gallery respond to him?
Which two players will be in his group for the first two rounds in what figures to be a circus like no other?
What will he say to the media?
Such are the inquiries at the Arnold Palmer Invitational because Woods isn’t around to answer the questions himself. His only interviews came Sunday evening with ESPN and the Golf Channel, both lasting five minutes, neither revealing very much.
Jim Furyk won the Transitions Championship and walked into his press conference holding a three-page transcript of Woods’ interview. Players headed to the putting green or the practice range at Bay Hill, and whenever they saw a camera, a tape recorder or simply a media badge, the topic was predictable.
By now, they should be used to it.
“For a guy not being around, he sure has drawn a lot of attention, and rightly so,” Steve Stricker said. “It’s been a weekly thing. That’s why it will be good to get him out here, to get him back playing, to get that behind him – and us. Not only him, but it’s been difficult for us, too. Things are changing on a daily basis. We have to stay on top of it so we can be somewhat responsive to those questions.”
Geoff Ogilvy defended his title in the season-opening SBS Championship and was asked how much longer Woods would be a topic. “It’s going to linger for a while,” he said.
Woods was always going to be a topic at Torrey Pines, where he has won seven times as a pro. Perhaps it was merely a coincidence that the winner was Ben Crane, one of the players unwittingly dragged into his story when a magazine quoted Crane as making disparaging comments about Woods’ marriage – even though Crane said he hadn’t spoken to anyone at the magazine or in the media for three months.
Wood became the story at the Accenture Match Play Championship when it was announced during the first round that he would be making his first public appearance, and speaking during the third round.
Then came news, three weeks later at Doral, that he would return to competition at the Masters. Later, Furyk ended more than two years without a victory by winning at Innisbrook about the time Woods was giving his TV interviews Sunday.
Woods hasn’t played the first three months. That hasn’t made it a quiet three months, except for outside the ropes.
“The fact he’s not playing, he’s still the No. 1 story on our tour – if he chooses to be,” Paul Goydos said. “He did the interview during Accenture. He did an interview Sunday. … I didn’t even know he was doing the interview. I was watching basketball.”
Goydos says the last three months are far different from the eight months when Woods was recovering from knee surgery. He was out of sight, and only on anyone’s mind when Padraig Harrington was foolishly asked if his two major victories required an asterisk because Woods was missing.
“When he was hurt, that one you didn’t hear too much,” Goydos said. “People didn’t make that big of a deal about it. I would make the argument that this has been no different from when he’s playing.”
And when he’s playing, rarely is there an interview with other players that doesn’t include a question about what Woods shot that day.
“I haven’t played good enough to have a whole lot of media attention,” Scott Verplank said. “But I’m sure when you go into the media room after a good round they’re not asking you about Tiger’s round. You’ve got to go to TMZ or the National Enquirer to find out what he did. So that’s different.”
There have been other differences over the last three months.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it seems fewer players have made the cover of golf magazines – Ogilvy, Hunter Mahan and Ernie Els made the cover of the two main publications. Other weeks have featured golf courses or a sand wedge (grooves debate).
Galleries have been noticeably thin, sometime for reasons beyond Woods, such as Super Bowl Sunday, a rare Monday finish at the Bob Hope Classic and cold weather in Arizona.
“It’s been pretty quiet,” Mahan said. “Everyone is playing golf without him, like they did for six months (with his knee surgery). But I think he’s going to bring a whole new audience to golf when he comes back.”
It will be a golf-friendly crowd to start with – the Masters ticket is among the toughest in sports.
But after that?
“There’s not as much buzz,” Verplank said. “That’s getting ready to change.”
Stricker is as curious how the players will respond to Woods, although he figures that will get back to normal in no time. His greater concern is how the gallery will respond. Every tournament seems to have one hole where the crowd is a little more vocal, such as the 16th hole at Phoenix, the 17th at The Players Championship or the amphitheater behind the 12th green at Muirfield Village.
Then again, that might not last long, either.
“I think we’ll have more of a Phoenix atmosphere for a short time. But after he wins three of his first four starts and he’s on his way to the Grand Slam,” said Goydos, pausing to smile, “then it will be back to normal.”
Garcia among notables to miss FedExCup playoffs
For the first time in the 12-year history of the FedExCup, the PGA Tour's postseason will proceed without Sergio Garcia.
The former Masters champ has struggled mightily this summer, missing the cut in all four majors, and he entered the Wyndham Championship at No. 131 in the season-long points race with only the top 125 making the playoffs. Six years after winning at Sedgefield Country Club, Garcia again made a run up the leaderboard and was projected to reach No. 122 heading into the final round.
But on an afternoon where Brandt Snedeker shot 65 en route to victory and runner-up Webb Simpson carded a 62, Garcia shot an even-par 70 that included three back-nine bogeys to drop from a tie for eighth into a tie for 24th. As a result, he moved up only three spots to No. 128 in the final regular-season event and will not have a tee time next week at The Northern Trust.
He will remain fully exempt next year by virtue of the five-year exemption he earned with his Masters win last spring.
Garcia was one of 13 players who had made the playoffs every year since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007. Two other members of that select group also saw their streaks end this year, as former world No. 1 Luke Donald has missed most of the season with an injury while Bill Haas finished No. 152 after a T-45 finish at Wyndham.
Other notable players who failed to crack the top 125 include veterans Aaron Baddeley (No. 132), Shane Lowry (No. 140), David Lingmerth (No. 143) and Graeme McDowell (No. 144), all of whom saw multiple-year exemptions for victories in 2015 or 2016 expire this weekend in Greensboro.
Players who finish Nos. 126-200 in the season-long points will have an opportunity to retain their PGA Tour cards for the 2018-19 season at the Web.com Tour Finals, a four-event series that kicks off next week in Ohio. Players who finished Nos. 126-150 will retain at least conditional PGA Tour status for next year regardless of their Finals performance.
Bryant wins Dick's Sporting Goods Open for second time
ENDICOTT, N.Y. - Bart Bryant made a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to win the Dick's Sporting Goods Open for the second time in six years.
With playing partner Michael Bradley facing a 7-foot birdie putt that he would make, the 55-year-old Bryant rolled in the left-to-right breaking putt for a 7-under 65 and a one-stroke victory.
''It felt good. It really did,'' Bryant said. ''He hit a great shot in there. He went after the pin, which he had to do. ... I gave it a good run. But to make a putt like that to win a tournament, there's a little bit of luck involved and it was just kind of my day. ... I've had putts made on me on 18 to lose before, so it's nice to be on the other end of the stick this time.''
Bradley, the second-round leader, bogeyed the par-4 15th in a 68.
''It was fun. We had a good time,'' Bradley said. ''He shot 65-65 on the weekend, that's tough to beat. But I put a little pressure on, I hit a good shot into 18. He made a hell of a putt.''
Also the 2013 winner at En-Joie Golf Club, Bryant made six birdies in a nine-hole stretch from the third to the 11th and had six straight pars before the winning birdie putt on the par-4 18th.
''I played awfully well, I didn't hit a bad shot today,'' Bryant said. ''I played conservatively, a little bit conservative coming in, but smart. It got the job done. Very pleased with the way everything went.''
Bryant finished at 16-under 200. The three-time PGA Tour winner's only senior victories have come at En-Joie, the site of the PGA Tour's B.C. Open from 1972-2005.
The 52-year-old Bradley is winless on the 50-and-over tour after winning four times on the PGA Tour.
''I played solid, 65-68-68,'' Bradley said. ''I just got beat.''
Tom Gillis (67) and Marco Dawson (68) tied for third at 13 under, a stroke ahead of Paul Goydos (65), Kenny Perry (67) and Mark Calcavecchia (67).
Snedeker goes wire-to-wire for first win since 2016
Even after shooting a 59 in the opening round, Brandt Snedeker had to work to secure his ninth career victory at the Wyndham Championship.
Snedeker led at Sedgefield Country Club the entire week after becoming just the ninth player to break 60 on the PGA Tour, carrying a one-shot lead into the final round. But he was caught down the stretch, first by C.T. Pan and later by Webb Simpson, to leave the outcome very much undecided.
But Simpson ran out of holes, and Pan made a costly mistake by hitting his tee shot on No. 18 out of bounds while holding a share of the lead. It meant that Snedeker needed only bogey to earn his second Wyndham title and first Tour victory since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open, instead opting to sink a 20-foot birdie putt for a closing 65 and three-shot win.
"I guess I'm turning into Bubba Watson, wanting to cry every two seconds," Snedeker told reporters. "To do it here, to shoot 59 on Thursday, to be in the lead all week, to deal with that pressure every night, to be able to step up to the plate today and shoot 65 when I had to means the world to me."
Snedeker struggled with injury for much of last season, and this spring he missed the Masters for the first time since 2010 while toiling near the edge of the top-125 bubble in the points race. But the veteran turned things around with a T-6 finish in Memphis in June, added a T-3 finish last month at The Greenbrier and now has come full circle in the city where he earned his first career win at nearby Forest Oaks in 2007.
"I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was," Snedeker said. "I've still got a lot of great golf in me. I'm excited about the FedExCup playoffs. I've done this before, I've won that thing, and I can't wait to try to make a run to Atlanta in the playoffs because I'm playing great."
It was a bittersweet result for Pan, who had his wife on the bag this week and briefly appeared poised for a breakthrough victory. The former University of Washington standout made six birdies in a 12-hole stretch in the middle of his round to catch Snedeker, but his drive on No. 18 sailed well right. It led to a double bogey, and at 18 under he ended the week tied for second with Simpson.
The result was still Pan's best of his young PGA Tour career, having started the week at No. 108 in the points race despite not having a single top-10 finish this season.
"Just had a little noise in my head and it caused me to hit a bad shot," Pan said. "But overall I feel good about the whole round. I played great. Just one bad shot, but that's OK."
Taylor crashes playoffs with closing 63 at Wyndham
Nick Taylor picked a good time to shoot his best round of the season.
Taylor was the big mover in the standings during the final regular season event, shooting a final-round 63 at the Wyndham Championship to grab a share of eighth place. The result moved the Canadian from No. 129 to No. 121 in the season-long points race, ensuring a spot in The Northern Trust next week and fully-exempt status for the 2018-19 season.
"You try to block it all out when you're playing. I tried not to look at any leaderboards today, especially the second 18," Taylor told reporters. "When I got my PGA Tour card the first time I shot a 63 in the final round ironically of the Web.com Finals. So I tried to draw back on that, and it worked today."
Taylor earned his lone PGA Tour win at the 2014 Sanderson Farms Championship, and he dug himself an early hole Sunday morning with a triple bogey on No. 14 while completing his rain-delayed third round. But he made four straight birdies on Nos. 2-5 in the final round, added an eagle on No. 15 and birdied the 72nd hole to retain his card with room to spare.
"It was a long day, obviously," Taylor said. "It was a lot of sleepless nights. Last night I didn't sleep that great."
Taylor was one of two players who moved inside the top-125 bubble in the final round of the regular season. Harris English started the week at No. 132, but a T-11 finish allowed him to eke in at No. 124 with no room to spare. English shot a final-round 68 that included a two-putt par from 60 feet on No. 18 when a bogey would have sent the veteran to Web.com Tour Finals.
"It's one of the more nerve-wracking feelings I've had in a long time," English said. "It's a way different feeling than trying to win a tournament. I'm glad it's over."
With Taylor and English moving into the top 125, two players saw their seasons come to an end after missing the cut at Sedgefield Country Club. Martin Piller fell from 124th to 126th and was the man edged out by English's closing par, while Tyrone Van Aswegen dropped two spots from No. 125 to No. 127.
Ireland's Seamus Power, who also missed the cut in Greensboro, finished the season at No. 125 with 377 points, six ahead of Piller.
All players who finished the season Nos. 126-200 on the points list will have a chance to earn one of 25 PGA Tour cards available at the four-event Finals, while Nos. 126-150 will retain conditional PGA Tour status for next season.