Couples leads Mickelson Woods at Masters

By Doug FergusonApril 9, 2010, 3:20 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods played like the last five months never happened.

Even more surprising, he felt that way, too.

No longer the same person after he was caught cheating on his wife, Woods looked every bit the same golfer Thursday when he opened with a 4-under 68 – his best first round ever at Augusta National – that left him only two shots behind 50-year-old Fred Couples on an extraordinary opening day at the Masters.

It just didn't seem that way to Woods.

Standing on the first tee, looking down a fairway lined with thousands of spectators curious to see how he would respond to a sex scandal that shocked the world, Woods didn't flinch.

'It felt normal,' he said. 'Try to hit a little fade off the first tee, try to take something off of it and make sure I got it in play. That was about it. From there, I just went about my business.'


Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods react to an eagle at the eighth hole. (Getty Images)

Indeed, he was the same Tiger.

He pledged to control his emotions on the course, yet there was little change. Woods twirled his club after a good drive, slammed it after a few bad ones. He pumped his fist after making the first of two eagles and sunk to his knees when he missed a birdie putt on the 16th that slowed his climb up the leaderboard.

And just like always, he complained about not making enough putts.

'Otherwise, it could have been a very special round,' Woods said.

Yet it was special in so many ways.

Couples, who played a practice round with Woods on Monday, sauntered along in tennis shoes and no socks and shot a 6-under 66. It was his best score ever at the Masters and made him the oldest player to be the outright leader for any round.

'I never really thought about what I was shooting,' said Couples, who already has won three times this year on the 50-and-older Champions Tour. 'It was a fun day for me. I still think I can play, and if I putt well I've got to be some kind of factor in my mind.'

Tom Watson, at 60 the oldest player in this Masters, picked up from his amazing ride at last year's British Open with a bogey-free round of 67 that left him tied with Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, PGA champion Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi.

'My goals were to play better than I've played in the last five or six years, and I achieved that - for the first round,' Watson said. 'I'm playing pretty well. I've said I have to play better than 90 percent to be successful on this golf course.'

Still, this day was always going to be about Woods.

He had not hit a competitive shot in 144 days, since winning the Australian Masters on Nov. 15 for his 82nd victory around the world. A four-time Masters champion, he has never come to Augusta National with so much uncertainty – about his game, and mostly how fans would respond to a player whose impeccable image had been shattered by tawdry tabloid tales of sex.

The patrons were on their best behavior, as expected at the most polite tournament in golf. Augusta National can't control the perimeter of the course, however, and a couple of planes toted banners that poked fun at Woods - one for his pledge to get back to Buddhism ('Bootyism,' the banner said), another mocking claims he needed therapy as a sex addict.

On the ground, the gallery was mostly positive, with a few exceptions.

'He doesn't have the right character and integrity to represent golf,' Larry Isenhour said. 'That's why I came out early this morning to applaud Jack Nicklaus.'

Nicklaus, the six-time Masters champion, joined Arnold Palmer as an honorary starter. The two old rivals hit the ceremonial tee shots to open the Masters, and chairman Billy Payne said, 'The 2010 Masters is now officially begun. Have fun.'

And they did.

Clouds moved in quickly and kept the sun from baking out the greens, and some of the hole locations allowed for birdies. The low scores weren't a surprise, only the names next to them.

Watson had two birdies in three holes to put his name on the leaderboard and bring back memories of his magical run at Turnberry last summer when he missed an eight-foot putt on last hole of regulation and then lost in a playoff at the British Open. He never went away this time, never made a bogey and wound up matching his best score ever at Augusta.

'I don't know if you can put an age on how anybody is playing, but he's playing like one of the best players in the world right now,' said Steve Marino, who played with Watson, as he did in the third round at the British.

Mickelson came to the Masters for the first time without having finished in the top five all year, but he looked as comfortable as ever, particularly on the back nine with an eagle-birdie-birdie stretch that put him atop the leaderboard at 67.

'I do love this place,' Mickelson said. 'I don't have to be perfect. I can miss a shot and still recover. It relaxes me when I go down Magnolia Lane.'

Westwood, Europe's top player, had only broken 70 twice in his Masters career until running off seven birdies for a 67.

Throughout the morning, however, anticipation was building toward Woods' return. A single row of fans stood behind the ropes along the first fairway a half-hour before Woods teed off. When he approached the green, the crowd stood 10-deep in spots, a gallery that included European Tour chief George O'Grady and about 15 people from Woods' circle - his mother, friends, employees, Nike chairman Phil Knight and other sponsors.

Given all that transpired over the last five months – revelations of his womanizing, the loss of sponsors and a shattered reputation – it figured to be as nervous as Woods has been over an opening tee shot since his first as a pro.

'Fore, please. Now on the tee, Tiger Woods,' the starter said.

The crowd let out a spontaneous cheer, and more applause followed when Woods found the fairway. 'One of the best drives I've ever seen him hit,' swing coach Hank Haney said.

From there, it looked as though Woods had never been gone.

'I got into the flow of the round early,' Woods said. 'Got into the rhythm of just playing, making shots, thinking my way around golf course.'

Nothing required more thought than the ninth hole, where Woods hit the signature shot of his return to golf. He hit his drive too far left, blocked by the pines, and studied his options. A high soft shot into the breeze? A sweeping hook around the trees?

'Too much wind for a 6-iron,' he eventually told caddie Steve Williams.

With a 5-iron, he played a low hook and side-stepped all the way into the fairway to see the ball bound onto the green and settle about 15 feet from the flag, setting up an unlikely birdie.

'I'm surprised it held, because it did come out pretty low,' Woods said.

There were flashes of a more personable player. After a tee shot into the gallery at No. 5, a man said, 'Let's go, Tiger' when he arrived at the ball. 'Where am I going to go?' Woods said back to him with a smile as he waited for the green to clear.

'I said thank you all the way. I was saying thank you all day. People were just incredible all day,' he said. 'It was unbelievable. I mean, all day. People, I haven't heard them cheer this loud in all my years here. Certainly helped keep my spirits up because I was missing a bunch of putts out there.'

The first fist pump came on his 8-foot eagle putt at the eighth hole.

And he still had a temper. He appeared to curse and slammed his club on the 11th when his tee shot headed toward the trees, and he slung down the driver after another poor shot on the 14th.

Mostly, though, this was his day to smile - he was playing golf again, and playing it well.

Hardly any rust from his five-month layoff, and no unusual jitters, either.

'I was just pretty calm all day. I was just trying to plod my way along and not throw away shots,' Woods said. 'It wasn't a day I could slash it all over the place. Had to hit the ball well and make some putts. ...

'I felt this is what I can do. This is what I know I can do. Just go out there and just play,' he added. 'I expected to go out here and shoot something under par today.'

Woods confessed no special satisfaction in his performance, dismissed any notion that it signified redemption.

'It meant that I'm two shots off the lead,' he said flatly. 'That's what it means.'

Nothing beyond that?

'I'm here to play a golf tournament,' he answered.

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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Sweet 16

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

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JT advances to quarters, closing in on No. 1 ranking

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Justin Thomas continued his impressive run at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and finds himself another step closer to overtaking Dustin Johnson in the World Golf Ranking.

Thomas rolled past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the first knockout stage and will face Kyle Stanley in the Elite Eight. He must advance to Sunday’s championship match to overtake Johnson as the new world No. 1.

“It wasn't anything crazy or special. Just played solid golf tee to green. And it was forcing him to make a lot of putts,” said Thomas, who has played 61 holes this week, won 24, lost six and hasn’t trailed in four matches.

Stanley, who needed a playoff victory over Paul Casey on Friday to advance to the weekend, defeated Sergio Garcia, 3 and 1.

Bubba Watson also continued his solid play, rallying from an early deficit to beat Brian Harman, 2 and 1. He will play Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who defeated Charles Howell III, closing with back-to-back birdies for a 1-up victory.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

But as impressive as Thomas has been, Sweden’s Alex Noren has quietly continued to impress, going undefeated in pool play and closing out Patrick Reed on the 15th hole for a 5-and-3 victory.

“He's such a tough competitor,” said Noren, who will face Australian Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals. “I managed to hole a few birdie putts. When we both had good chances, he just missed and I managed to make those.”

Former Match Play champion Ian Poulter also advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over Louis Oosthuizen. He will play Kevin Kisner, who converted a 10-foot putt at the 18th hole to defeat Matt Kuchar, 1 up.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.