Tiger Woods turns his doubts into another great year

By Doug FergusonSeptember 15, 2009, 12:33 am
BMW Championship 2007 LogoLEMONT, Ill. – Tiger Woods is turning into quite the trivia buff.

During the third round of the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago, he saw a couple of familiar faces as he walked off the 10th tee and approached as if wanting to impart some important information.

“Which city sits on two continents?” he said. “And what country has the most lakes?”

His favorite golf question: The eight major champions with the letter “z” in their surname.

When it comes to his own trivia, Woods often doesn’t have a clue.

Tiger Woods BMW Championship
Tiger Woods reacts on the 18th green after winning the BMW Championship at Cog Hill. (Getty Images)

He kept track of the score at the BMW Championship, which was all that mattered to him. Woods built such a big lead at Cog Hill with his course-record on Saturday that his only goal for the final round was to break par.

He closed with a 68 and wound up winning by eight shots.

In an era when a three-shot margin is considered comfortable, this was the fourth straight year Woods has won by at least eight, and the 10th time in his PGA Tour career. He was asked if big victories like that gave him additional satisfaction.

“First of all, I did not know that,” he said with a smile that suggested he was pleased to find out.

Odds are, he isn’t aware that he tied Sam Snead with his sixth year of six victories or more. To put that in perspective, only one other player over the last 25 years has won six times in a season – Vijay Singh in 2004.

So really, has anything changed about Woods?

He makes winning look ridiculously routine. Because he usually plays only the stronger courses, his adjusted scoring average is 68.06, giving him a 1.26 margin over second place. Such a gap is not unlike Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes – or even Woods in the world ranking, in which he has doubled the lead over Steve Stricker.

So why is Woods so proud of his game? Why does he call this one of his best years when he didn’t win a major?

Only he can appreciate how badly his ligaments were shredded in his left knee. Only he knows the extent of the surgery, not to mention the eight-month recovery that allowed doubts to invade his mind about how quickly he could get back to where he was.

Woods has been saying all summer that he never could have imagined winning so much after such a major surgery. Yet the more he keeps winning, the harder it is to believe him.

“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year … any of you guys probably wouldn’t have predicted I would have had a year like I did,” Woods said Sunday. “To be as consistent as I’ve been this year, I’m very proud of that.”

Even so, consistency is nothing new.

Over the last three years, Woods has finished out of the top 10 only seven times in 40 tournaments. Go back to Hoylake for the 2006 British Open, and he has won 52 percent of his PGA Tour events.

Sure, there are some noticeable differences.

  • For the first time since he was a 20-year-old rookie, he had a lead in the final round on the PGA Tour and lost. Making it that much worse, it happened in a major for the first time ever, and it was Woods’ last chance to win a major this year.
  • He failed to win a major, which is how he typically measures a successful year.
  • He missed the cut in the British Open for the first time, including two starts as an amateur.

So what makes this year so different? His own doubts.

“There was so many uncertainties at the beginning of the season,” Woods said. “I didn’t know how the leg was going to respond. I’ve never had a leg that was stable. What kind of shots could I play? How was my recovery going to be from day-to-day? Am I going to hurt again? A lot of these things, I didn’t know.

“To come back and be, as I said, this consistent feels pretty good.”

For Woods to keep raving about exceeding expectations speaks to how low he might have set the bar after knee surgery.

Look back at his reaction, when he screamed and ran into a hug with caddie Steve Williams after making a 15-foot birdie to win at Bay Hill. Yes, it was the last hole. It was for the win. The extra emotion comes from being his first victory since knee surgery.

So even if winning this year looks routine, it isn’t to Woods.

And while the victories continue to pile up – his 71st on the PGA Tour – it is no less amazing.

After his third round at Cog Hill, Stricker headed to the range with his father-in-law and coach, Dennis Tiziani. This has been Stricker’s best year, with three PGA Tour victories and a career-high No. 2 world ranking.

His caddie, Jimmy Johnson, was chatting about the turning points in the season when he realized Stricker had won three times in his last nine starts. That’s winning at a 33 percent clip, which is strong stuff.

Then he was told Woods has won 30 percent of his tournaments over a 13-year career.

Johnson just laughed. What else can you do?

As for that trivia question? Istanbul lies between Europe and Asia. Canada has the most lakes.

What that has to do with anything remains a mystery.

But if Woods were to win the Tour Championship next week in Atlanta, he would be the first golfer to go over $11 million for a season. He probably doesn’t know that.

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Molinari hopes to inspire others as Rocca inspired him

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:43 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Francesco Molinari was 12 years old when Costantino Rocca came within a playoff of becoming Italy’s first major champion at the 1995 Open at St. Andrews.

He remembers being inspired by Rocca’s play and motivated by the notion that he could one day be the player who would bring home his country’s first Grand Slam title. As he reflected on that moment late Sunday at Carnoustie it sunk in what his victory at The Open might mean.

“To achieve something like this is on another level,” said Molinari, who closed with a final-round 69 for a two-stroke victory. “Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Constantino in '95 coming so close. Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was at the time, watching him vie for the claret jug.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Molinari had already made plenty of headlines this year back home in Italy with victories at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and the Quicken Loans National earlier this month on the PGA Tour.

A major is sure to intensify that attention. How much attention, however, may be contingent on Sunday’s finish at the German Grand Prix.

“It depends on if Ferrari won today. If they won, they'll probably get the headlines,” Molinari laughed. “But, no, obviously, it would be massive news. It was big news. The last round already was big news in Italy.”

Molinari won’t have any competition for the front page on Monday; Ferrari didn’t win the German Grand Prix.

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Schauffele on close call: Nothing but a positive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Playing in a final group at a major for the first time, Xander Schauffele awkwardly splashed out of three pot bunkers, went out in 40 and still somehow had a chance to win at Carnoustie.

Playing the 17th hole, tied with Francesco Molinari, Schauffele flared his approach shot into the right rough and couldn’t get up and down for par. He dropped one shot behind Molinari, and then two, after the Italian birdied the final hole.

Just like that, Schauffele was doomed to a runner-up finish at The Open.

“A little bit of disappointment,” he said. “Obviously when you don’t win, you’re disappointed. Hats off to Francesco. I looked up on 17 and saw he got to 8 under, which is just incredible golf and an incredible finish.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Schauffele did well to give himself a chance. The 24-year-old was in the final group with Spieth, but both youngsters fell off the pace after rocky starts. The Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year birdied the 14th but couldn’t convert a 15-footer on the treacherous 16th that would have given him a one-shot cushion.

“It’s going to go in the memory bank as a positive,” he said. “I had a chance to win a major championship. I was in the final group. I had to face a little bit of adversity early in the round, and I still gave myself a chance. Anyone can look at it however they want to, but I’m going to look at is as a positive moving forward and try to learn how to handle the situations a little better next time.”  

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They came, they saw and Molinari conquered The Open

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – From a perch above the 17th tee, next to a three-story grandstand that may well be the tallest structure on the Angus coast, the 147th Open Championship unfolded with more twists and turns than a Russian novel.

It was all there like a competitive kaleidoscope to behold. In quick order, Rory McIlroy’s title chances slipped away with a whimper, a par at the last some 100 yards to the left of the 17th tee. Tiger Woods, seemingly refreshed and reborn by the Scottish wind, missed his own birdie chance at the 16th hole, a half-court attempt near the buzzer for a player who is 0-for-the last decade in majors.

Moments later, Kevin Kisner scrambled for an all-world par of his own at No. 16 and gazed up at the iconic leaderboard as he walked to the 17th tee box, his title chances still hanging in the balance a shot off the lead.

Francesco Molinari was next, a textbook par save at No. 16 to go along with a collection of by-the-book holes that saw the Italian play his weekend rounds bogey-free. He also hit what may have been the most important drive of his life into what a Scot would call a proper wind at the 17th hole.

Xander Schauffele, who was tied with Molinari at the time at 7 under par, anchored the action, missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 16th hole. Moments later the Italian calmly rolled in a 5-footer for birdie at the last to finish his week at 8 under par.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


All this unfolded over a frenzied final hour of play at Carnoustie, offering just a taste of what the other four-plus hours of play resembled.

“I couldn't watch Xander play the last two holes, to be honest,” said Molinari, who became the first Italian to win a major. “That's why I went to the putting green, because I probably would have felt sick watching on TV,”

Carnoustie may not be the fairest of the Open rotation courses, but it certainly delivers the dramatic goods regularly enough.

Woods’ prediction earlier in the week that this Open Championship would come down to no fewer than 10 would-be champions seemed hyperbolic. It turns out he was being conservative with his estimate.

All total, 11 players either held a share of the lead or moved to within a stroke of the top spot on a hectic Sunday. For three days Carnoustie gave, the old brute left exposed by little wind and even less rough. Earlier in the week, players talked of not being able to stop the ball on the dusty and dry links turf. But as the gusts built and the tension climbed on Sunday, stopping the bleeding became a bigger concern.

If most majors are defined by two-way traffic, a potpourri of competitive fortunes to supercharge the narrative, this Open was driven in one direction and a cast of would-be champions with a single goal: hang on.

A day that began with three players – including defending champion Jordan Spieth, Kisner and Schauffele – tied for the lead at 9 under, quickly devolved into a free-for-all.

Kisner blinked first, playing his first three holes in 3 over par; followed by Spieth whose poor 3-wood bounded into a gorse bush at the sixth hole and led to an unplayable lie. It was a familiar scene that reminded observers of his unlikely bogey at Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole last year. But this time there was no practice tee to find refuge and his double-bogey 7 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.

“I was trying to take the burn out of the equation by hitting 3-wood to carry it. It was unlucky. It went into the only bush that's over on the right side. If it misses it, I hit the green and have a birdie putt,” Spieth said.



Schauffele’s struggles coincided with Spieth’s, with whom he played on Sunday, with a bogey at the sixth sandwiched between a bogey (No. 5) and a double bogey (No. 7).

This opened the door to what the entire golf world has awaited, with Woods vaulting into the lead at 7 under par, the first time since the ’11 Masters he’d led at a major, and sending a low rumble across the course.

Since Woods last won a major, that ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one leg, Spieth and Schauffele, who Tiger spotted four strokes on Sunday, graduated from high school; McIlroy went from phenom to four-time major winner and Donald Trump was transformed from being a TV celebrity to the President of the United States.

But the fairytale only lasted a few minutes with Woods playing Nos. 11 and 12 in 3 over par. They were the kind of mistakes the 14-time major champion didn’t make in his prime

“A little ticked off at myself, for sure. I had a chance starting that back nine to do something, and I didn't do it,” said Woods, who finished tied for sixth but will have the consolation prize of moving into the top 50 in the world ranking to qualify for the last WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in two weeks.

But as Woods faded, McIlroy made a familiar move, charging in an eagle putt at the par-5 14th hole to tie Molinari and Schauffele at 6 under par. The Northern Irishman would run out of holes, playing the final four in even par to finish tied for second, but the moment wasn’t lost on him.

“It was great, just to be a part of it and hear the roars. Tiger being back in the mix. You know, everything,” McIlroy said. “There's a lot of big names up there. It was nice to be a part of it. For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win. My mindset was go and spoil the party here.”

By the time the final groups reached Carnoustie’s finishing stretch it was a two-man party, with Molinari proving for the second time this month that boring golf can be effective.

Although he’d won the European Tour’s flagship event in May, Molinari decided to add the Quicken Loans National to his schedule because of his precarious position on the FedExCup points list (122nd) – he won that, too. The week before the Open, he fulfilled his commitment to play the John Deere Classic, a requirement under the PGA Tour’s new strength of field rule, and finished second.

Although his track record at The Open was nothing special – he’d posted just a single top-10 finish in his first 10 starts at the game’s oldest championship – his machine-like game was always going to be a perfect fit for a brown and bouncy links like Carnoustie and a topsy-turvy final round.

“I told his caddie earlier this week, because I didn’t want to say it to [Molinari], I have a good feeling this week,” said Molinari’s swing coach Denis Pugh. “It was the perfect combination of clarity and confidence.”

With the sun splashing against the baked-out fairways, Molinari emerged from the clubhouse, wide-eyed and a little dazed after what could only be described as a major melee, his no-nonsense, fairways-and-greens game the perfect tonic for an Open that defied clarity until the very end.

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Spieth and Schauffele were put on the clock Sunday

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Contending in a major championship on what is largely considered the toughest major championship course can be hard enough, but as Jordan Spieth reached the 10th tee box, he was given another layer of anxiety.

Spieth, who was playing with Xander Schauffele on Sunday at Carnoustie, was informed that his group had fallen behind and been put on the clock. On the next tee, he was given a “bad time” for taking too long to hit his drive.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I handled it OK, but looking back, you know, that was a turning point in the round,” said Spieth, who played Nos. 10 and 11 in even par and finished tied for ninth after a closing 76. “If you get 1 under on those two holes with a downwind par 5 left [No. 14], it's a different story.”

Spieth, who began the day tied for the lead with Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under, had dropped out the top spot with a double bogey-7 at the sixth hole. He was tied for the lead when officials put his group on the clock.

“I took over the allotted time on the tee on 11 to decide on 3-iron or 3-wood, but throughout the day, I think I played the fastest golf I've probably ever played while contending in a tournament,” he said.