Tiger Woods ramps up play heading for homestretch

By Doug FergusonJuly 28, 2009, 4:00 pm
2006 Buick Open Barring any scheduling surprises, Tiger Woods is about to try something new.
 
He had played three weeks in a row on the PGA Tour in every season since he was a rookie ' including a career-high five straight weeks in early 1999 ' until last year, when two knee surgeries crimped his schedule.
Tiger Woods 2009 British Open
Tiger Woods is coming off a missed cut at Turnberry going into the Buick Open.(Getty Images)
That third consecutive tournament, however, has never been a major.
 
This year looks like it will be different. Woods decided to play this week at the Buick Open, where he is a two-time winner and has never finished worse than 11th in eight previous starts at Warwick Hills.
 
Next week is the Bridgestone Invitational, and while Woods has yet to make that official, he has never missed a World Golf Championship in America when he wasnt on crutches. Besides, he is a six-time winner at Firestone, one of his favorite golf courses.
 
Then its off to Hazeltine for the PGA Championship, his last shot at winning a major this year.
 
That he chose to play the Buick Open was only a mild surprise. Woods likes the golf course, and although he ended a decade-old endorsement contract one year early because of the economy, there remains a sense of loyalty to his longtime relationship with Buick.
 
Weve had a great relationship with Tiger for nine years, and this is his way of showing that, said Larry Peck, Buick-GMCs national promotions manager. He provides such a lift.
 
Woods didnt offer much insight on his Web site, saying only that he was looking forward to the Buick Open and the golf course suits my eye, a loose translation for I see myself winning.
 
What his appearance at Warwick Hills should not suggest is any sense of panic.
 
Woods has not played more than two weeks in a row since returning from reconstructive knee surgery. Even though he is leading the PGA Tour money list by more than $500,000 and his three victories are more than anyone else, he has played only 10 times this year.
 
Some have suggested he needs to play more.
 
Then there was his last tournament, nothing short of a disaster. Woods played a six-hole stretch at Turnberry in 7-over-par and wound up missing the cut in the British Open by one shot, only his second missed cut in a major and his first weekend off in three years.
 
Swing coach Hank Haney worked with him last week in Florida, then offered a self-deprecating assessment as he headed to the airport.
 
Hes doing really good, Haney said. He had a bad tournament, and Im getting fired.
 
He has been working with Woods for more than five years and knows what kind of scrutiny to expect. He was on the range at Augusta National when Woods vented about how poorly he was hitting the ball, and speculation soon shifted to Haney being shown the door.
 
Haney looks more at the big picture.
 
Woods hit the ball great at the Memorial, then finally got some putts to fall on the final day to shoot 65 and win. He hit it just as well at Bethpage Black and never got anything to drop at the U.S. Open. And he continued to play well at Congressional, where Woods won a duel with Anthony Kim to capture his AT&T National.
 
Turnberry was a surprise, nothing more.
 
There wasnt cause for that much alarm, Haney said. Hes played so well, it was a little easier to brush off.
 
Even so, there is a sense of urgency this time of the year.
 
Woods is at the halfway point of his schedule ' that includes The Presidents Cup, tournaments in Asia and Australia, and his Chevron World Challenge in December ' but he has only two months left in the meat of the PGA Tour schedule.
 
And there is only one major left.
 
Woods rarely plays the week before a major, but there has always been an exception or two for the PGA Championship. He has played five times the week before the PGA Championship, and last year won at Firestone by eight shots before winning the PGA at Southern Hills.
 
The last time he played three in a row? That was during the inaugural year of the FedEx Cup in 2007, when Woods tied for second at the Deutsche Bank Championship, then won the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship.
 
He has played at least three straight weeks 21 times in his career, and twice won all three events (Disney, Tour Championship and American Express at the end of 1999; and the PGA Championship, Firestone and Deutsche Bank in 2006).
 
Whether he can win three in a row this time will be as trivial as the other two streaks.
 
What people will remember is whether Woods wins the last one.
 
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    Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

    By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

    There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

    Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

    She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

    It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

    Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

    "It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

    Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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    Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

    By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

    Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

    “I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

    “It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

    The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

    “All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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    Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

    He picked up his clubs three times.

    That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

    This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

    Not that he was concerned, of course.

    Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

    “It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

    At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

    “I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

    Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

    Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

    Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

    In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

    That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

    “He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

    “I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

    Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

    Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

    So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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    Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

    By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

    Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

    Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

    Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

    He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

    “I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

    “With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”