Even at familiar Torrey, is Woods ready to compete?

By Doug FergusonJanuary 25, 2017, 12:14 am

SAN DIEGO - Tiger Woods was quick to set the record straight, with a smile.

As he gets ready to embark on his 21st season on the PGA Tour, a reporter mentioned to Woods that he had won at Torrey Pines ''seven or eight times'' and asked how much his comfort level was a factor in deciding where to start his year.

''Eight times,'' Woods replied. ''And one as a junior, so it's technically nine. So I like that place .''

Woods first dipped his toes in the water eight weeks ago in the Bahamas at an unofficial event with an 18-man field and no cut. Expectations were low, and so was the stress. Still, it was his first competition since a pair of back surgeries kept out of golf for 15 months. It was an important first step.

Torrey Pines is sure to invite greater inspection.

There is no other golf course on the PGA Tour that Woods knows better or is more comfortable playing.

Yes, he also won eight times at Bay Hill and Firestone. Bay Hill was always feast or famine for Woods; even during his peak years, he failed to finish inside the top 20 on five occasions. What gives Torrey Pines the edge over Firestone is that during an 11-year stretch, Woods never finished more than four shots behind the winner against a 156-man field. And one of those was a U.S. Open on a left knee that was surgically rebuilt a week later.

But while positive memories are powerful in golf, they can be a double-edged sword for a 41-year-old golfer on the mend, especially when the most recent memories are a reminder of how he began a rapid slide from the top of the world rankings.

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The 18th hole at Torrey Pines will forever be remembered for Woods making a 12-foot birdie to force a playoff in the 2008 U.S. Open, which he won the next day for his 14th major. The last time Woods played it in competition was in 2014. He came up well short from 254 yards and into the water, took a drop, flew the green into a plugged lie in the bunker and made double bogey on his way to missing the 54-hole cut.

Woods didn't play the South Course in 2015 because he withdrew after 11 holes of the opening round on the North Course when his back tightened on him during fog delays and he couldn't get his glutes activated.

Those are his two most recent trips to the Farmers Insurance Open.

Woods undoubtedly will lean more on his body of work at Torrey, which is unparalleled.

His first victory as a professional was in 1999, when he made the cut with two shots to spare and shot 62-65 on the weekend for a two-shot victory.

He won five straight times at Torrey in four years, twice in 2008. At the PGA Tour event that year, Woods opened with a 67 on the South Course and a caddie who stayed behind to watch him finish on the 18th said, ''He just won two tournaments with one round.'' Sure enough, Woods won by eight shots that week, then returned in June and won the U.S. Open despite not having walked 18 holes from the Masters until the opening round at Torrey.

Here's another way to look at his record: His performance at Torrey Pines alone is better than the PGA Tour careers of every player in the field except for Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Padraig Harrington (six victories, but three majors).

But what does it all matter?

This is a different day for Woods, a time when hopes are higher than expectations.

Woods is so enthusiastic about being healthy enough to compete that he has scheduled four tournaments over the next five weeks, which will take him from San Diego to Dubai to Los Angeles to South Florida. Not even he knows how he will hold up, though he's willing to find out. That alone is progress.

He is at No. 663 in the world, a product of having played just 12 times in the last 24 months.

''I think he's excited,'' Jason Day said. ''Who wouldn't be excited to play after 17 months off?''

On a soft golf course that still had puddles in the fairway on Tuesday because of the rain, Woods is playing the opening two rounds with Day and Dustin Johnson, two of the best in the world. Day has been at No. 1 since March. Johnson is the U.S. Open champion with one of the most powerful swings in golf.

Woods said if his back feels good, then he can prepare. And if he can prepare, he says he can compete.

That's where he is.

Even at Torrey Pines, it figures to take more than a week to figure out how far he has to go.

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain fired a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

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Local favorite Yu Liu was in sole possession of seventh place after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.

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"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.