Tiger Woods tied for lead after opening 66 in Australia

By Doug FergusonNovember 12, 2009, 6:14 pm
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MELBOURNE, Australia – Tiger Woods putted for birdie on every hole but the last one. He birdied all the par 5s. And the one time he took on one of the short par 4s at Kingston Heath, he came within inches of reaching the green.

It was just the kind of performance a massive crowd at the Australian Masters expected to see.

Despite a bogey on his final hole when he drove into a tea tree, Woods put together a stress-free round of 6-under 66 on Thursday to share the lead after one round with James Nitties and Branden Grace.

“I bogeyed the last hole and missed two short putts for birdie,” Woods said. “Other than that, it was a pretty good day.”

It felt like more than that to the kind of gallery typically seen only at major championships. Tournament officials said 21,356 people came through the turnstiles, with about 5,000 others giving Kingston Heath a buzz it hasn’t felt in years.

“It was like when I first turned pro and (Greg) Norman used to play,” Cameron Percy said after a 67. “It was like a major, basically.”

Nitties, who easily retained his U.S. PGA Tour card in his rookie season, played behind Woods and quietly joined him in the lead with two birdies over his last three holes.

Grace, a 21-year-old from South Africa, made his first tournament round in Melbourne a memorable one by running off four straight birdies at the turn. He had the lead to himself until a bogey on the 17th.

“I’m up there, and hopefully I can keep playing that way for the next three rounds,” he said.

Woods missed only two fairways in a round that was relatively free of trouble until he pulled his tee shot on the ninth hole, had to chip out of the tea tree into thick rough, did well to bounce it on the green and took two putts from 40 feet. He chose to lay back from the bunkers on several of the short holes, although birdie chances didn’t come by the bushel. Woods hit away from the flag when he didn’t have the right angle; other times, he simply hit poor shots.

“I did a lot of lag putting,” he said.

He made his move toward the end of the round, hitting 3-wood to the 294-yard sixth hole that held its line to the left of the bunkers and came up just short of the green, leaving an easy chip to a foot. After a poor tee shot left him a bad angle to the green on the seventh, Woods hit 8-iron over the corner of trees to 20 feet for another birdie, then hit 8-iron to 7 feet on No. 8 to set up his third straight birdie.

Far more impressive than the golf, however, was the gallery.

Traffic was backed up along Kingston Road outside the club for miles in the hour before Woods teed off.

“I know,” he said. “I was stuck in it, too.”

The tournament has been a sellout for months, and it remains peculiar to see a ticket window at an Australian golf tournament with a sign that says “Sold out.” The cap was at 100,000 tickets for the week – not all of them come through the front gate – and while it was impossible for some 25,000 fans to stay on one hole, whoever couldn’t fit in moved ahead to the next couple of holes.

That turned into a treat for the likes of Seve Benson, playing in the group ahead of Woods, feeling like a rock star himself.

“It was amazing,” Benson said after a 70. “After a couple of holes, you get used to it. But then you realize that they were not on the hole before. They had been there for awhile waiting.”

Thousands headed for the exit when Woods finished, although a fair crowd stuck around for the afternoon, even though the action slowed severely. Mathew Goggin, who played in the final group at Turnberry with Tom Watson, had a 69 to match the best score in the afternoon, when bleachers were half-full.

Most of the crowd followed Adam Scott, slowed by a three-putt bogey from 10 feet in his round of 71. Stuart Appleby also had a 69.

Perhaps the toughest spot was playing behind Woods, as marshals allowed the gallery to stop in the middle of crossing areas so that the fans entirely circled every green on which Woods, defending champion Rod Pampling and Craig Parry were putting.

Parry holed a 50-foot putt on the fourth and shot a 70, while Pampling had a 71.

Among those in the gallery was Woods’ mother, Kultida, who usually only travels to Augusta National and Sherwood Country Club for her son’s tournament in December.

Percy and Doug Holloway were at 67, while Greg Chalmers was in the group at 68.

Geoff Ogilvy, the only other player besides Woods in the top 50 at Kingston Heath, took double bogey on his final hole for a 72.

Nitties already was fired up about coming home to Australia, especially after a successful rookie campaign in which he tied for fourth in the FBR Open to get his year started right. Then came a week of practice, with the Heath buzzing over Woods.

“Tiger’s here, so it’s huge,” he said. “I love it. You want to do well in front of your local crowd.”

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”