Torrey Pines shines less without Woods

By Doug FergusonJanuary 24, 2012, 9:59 pm

SAN DIEGO—Tiger Woods and Torrey Pines used to be a winning combination.

Except for his first full season on the PGA Tour, Woods never missed what used to be called the Buick Invitational, the same brand that happened to be on his golf bag. He not only won six times, his worst finish was a tie for 10th, when he finished two shots out of a playoff.

Woods winning at Torrey was so predictable that in 2008, when the public course along the Pacific Ocean was to host the U.S. Open that summer, he opened with a 67 on the South Course. A caddie watching from behind the 18th green said, “He just won two tournaments with one round.” And he was right.

Times have changed.

Woods can be found 12 time zones away this week in Abu Dhabi, where he joined the rest of the European Tour stars.

This will be the third time in the last four years that Woods will not be at Torrey Pines to start his season. He was recovering from knee surgery in 2009, and he was in a Mississippi clinic in 2010. A year ago, still in the early stages of revamping his swing, he couldn’t break par on the weekend and tied for 44th.

His absence is an example of how little it takes for the landscape to evolve on the PGA Tour, which can have more to do with the tournaments than the players they try to attract.

Woods has his own agenda, and he has that right.

He is getting a $1.5 million appearance fee at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, and while that’s about half what he used to get, the practice dates to the era of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. In this case, Woods has a relationship with the title sponsor, which supports his foundation. Woods has been mixing golf with business as long as he’s been on tour, and he’s not alone.

Torrey Pines is still the first PGA Tour event on network television. It’s still a pretty place to be. But it is lacking luster, and that would have been unfathomable just four years ago.

That it follows the Humana Challenge only illustrates how quickly the perception of tournaments can change—good and bad.

The Humana Challenge no longer has Bob Hope in the name of the tournament, but that beats having no hope at all. Such was the case only a few years ago when it was considered to be on life support. It had no title sponsor. Phil Mickelson, the star attraction, stopped playing when the event tried new courses such as the Classic Club, which was anything but that.

Humana came on board, along with former president Bill Clinton, creating a platform to preach good health. The bigger change was reducing the event from five rounds to four, the rotation from four courses to three, the format from three amateurs to two.

It was a smash hit.

Mickelson returned. So did Greg Norman, mainly to play the third round with Clinton. The field strength was nearly double what it had been in recent years.

A half-dozen other PGA Tour events can appreciate the turnaround.

The Houston Open used to be a few weeks after the Masters, which one magazine referred to as “No Man’s Land.” It was a dead time in golf, between the Masters and late May when focus shifts to the next major.

“The historical weakness of our player field had become such a topic that we were continually working to overcome that in the local market, much less with the national perception,” tournament director Steve Timms said.

Opportunity didn’t so much knock as it tapped on the door.

Atlanta wanted out of its date before the Masters because of bad weather (and because Woods doesn’t play that week). The Players Championship moved from March to May.

The Houston Open took the date, not knowing if it would work. Then, Augusta National went back to offering a spot in the Masters to PGA Tour winners, and Houston no longer had a problem—it had an identity.

It was the last chance to get into the Masters. That coincided with a surge in Europeans, many of whom play Houston to get ready for the Masters. The tournament did its part by trying to create course conditions to help players prepare for Augusta.

The Honda Classic felt like it was that “other” event in Florida—stuck behind Doral, right before Bay Hill and The Players. Then it settled on a solid course (PGA National), The Players moved to May and Doral became a World Golf Championship. That means there are two WGCs in a three-week span, with Honda in the middle.

Now it gets Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, among international stars, and is likely to get Woods, who has moved to the area.

The Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., also was on the ropes. It had been in that dead zone after the Masters, and when Chrysler was the sponsor, the company preferred being in the fall to coincide with the auto shows.

The tournament made some changes on its own—a new board of directors, moving to Sedgefield Country Club, a new title sponsor and a new date—the week after the PGA Championship and before the FedEx Cup playoffs begin. It now is the last chance for players to qualify for the playoffs or improve their position and last year attracted the likes of Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk.

“All those things were the right move,” tournament director Mark Brazil said. “We’ve seen '09 better than '08, '10 better than '09, and '11 way better than '10 from a field perspective. It’s still a challenging date, but it’s starting to work.”

The John Deere Classic has settled into a date the week before the British Open. The Barclays took the opening playoff event and boasts the strongest and deepest field this side of the majors and The Players. It also has a great rotation of courses.

As for Torrey Pines?

Abu Dhabi very well could be a one-year agreement with Woods. He might be back next year.

Getty Images

Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

Getty Images

Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

Getty Images

Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

Getty Images

Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”