Woods grabs Farmers lead with 65; Phil makes cut

By Doug FergusonJanuary 26, 2013, 12:42 am

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods made it look easy on a dreary day at Torrey Pines and wound up in a place he hasn't been in five years.

He had the 36-hole lead by himself at one of his favorite PGA Tour stops.

Woods didn't miss a shot during a four-hole stretch around the turn on the North Course that included a 5-iron to 5 feet for eagle and a wedge that one-hopped off the pin to set up birdie. It carried him to a 7-under 65 on Friday and gave him a two-shot lead in the Farmers Insurance Open.


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''I feel good right now,'' Woods said. ''I'm leading the tournament.''

Woods was at 11-under 133 and had a two-shot lead over Billy Horschel, with six other players three shots behind. Already a favorite with seven wins as a pro at Torrey Pines, Woods had even more in his favor going into the weekend. He had a 74-0 edge in PGA Tour wins against the next seven players behind him.

Horschel, who had to go back to Q-School to get his card last year, had a 69 on the South Course to get into the final group.

''It's a good day and I'm excited about tomorrow – I get to play with Tiger,'' Horschel said. ''I found out when I tapped in for par. I realized he was leading and I was in second place. So yeah, looking forward to that.''

Woods caught a break in the draw by playing the easier North – it's about 600 yards shorter – on a day of light rain, a late breeze and soft conditions. But he kept the ball in play off the tee, and he got in trouble just once. That was on the par-4 eighth hole when he drove into a tough lie in the bunker, and it led to his only bogey.

There's a simple formula for playing the North – make birdie on the par 5s and pick up a few more on the short par 4s. And that's just what he did.

Woods missed birdie putts inside 8 feet on the opening two holes and was taking baby steps until he took off. It started with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th. He followed with the 5-iron that landed just left of the pin on the 18th, a two-putt birdie on the par-5 first hole, and his wedge that took one hop, struck the flag and settled 4 feet away.

It was similar to Thursday on the South Course when he played a five-hole stretch in 5 under, only this time, Woods finished strong. His approach to the seventh spun back and ran over the cup to set up a short birdie, and he finished off his routine day with a 5-wood onto the ninth green for another two-putt birdie.

''Drive the ball well here and you're going to probably have four iron shots into the par 5s,'' Woods said. ''You sprinkle that in with probably four or five wedge shots in there, a round of 6  or 7 under par is definitely conceivable.''

Brad Fritsch, a rookie from Canada, had a 67 on the South Course to lead the group of six players at 8-under 136. The others were Casey Wittenberg, Steve Marino, Jimmy Walker, Josh Teater and Erik Compton, whom Woods referred to as ''remarkable'' for being a two-time heart transplant recipient and being on the PGA Tour.

Defending champion Brandt Snedeker didn't fare so well. After opening with a 65 on the North, he made only one birdie and twice took bogey on the par 5s on his way to a 75 that left him seven shots behind. K.J. Choi, who had a 65 on the South Course, couldn't break par on the easier North and had a 73 to fall five behind.

Phil Mickelson struggled to keep his hands dry in the wet weather and finished bogey-bogey on the South for a 71 to make the cut on the number, though his work isn't over. There were 87 players who made the cut at 1-under 143, meaning there will be another cut to top 70 and ties Saturday.

Mike Weir, meanwhile, made the cut for the first time since July 2011 despite a sloppy finish for a 75 on the South. He was tied for 41st at 3-under 141. Weir last made a cut at the 2011 AT&T National, a drought that stretched to 18 events.

Still, this had the trappings of another Tiger show at Torrey.

It was his first outright lead going into the weekend against a full field since the Australian Open in 2011 (he finished third at The Lakes), and his first time atop the leaderboard at Torrey Pines since 2008. Then again, he has played only one time at this event since then when he was just starting to change his swing.

Woods is coming off a missed cut in Abu Dhabi last week to start his year.

''I've had beautiful practice sessions at home,'' he said. ''If I can do it there, I can do it out here. Even though last week I played only two days, I felt like I hit the ball well enough to shoot a better score than I did. I had a couple of days to work on it, and I came out here and felt pretty good about it.''

As much as the odds seemed stacked in Woods' favor, the tournament is only at the halfway point and Woods with a 36-hole lead no longer ranks up there with death and taxes. He was tied for the lead going into the weekend three times last year - twice at majors - and won only at Bay Hill.

The final two rounds move to the South Course, which played about 1 1/2 shots harder Friday in the rain. The greens are more receptive, sure, but the course figures to play at full length in wet conditions and at sea level.

''It was amazing how different it played from Wednesday,'' Walker said. ''I played the pro-am here on Wednesday on the South, and you could hardly stop a ball. And today, it didn't matter if you hit a 3-iron in there, it would just stop immediately. You could spin wedges. So it was a lot different, and it played a lot longer too.''

Not only have the seven players behind Woods not won on Tour, four of them had to get cards this year through either Q-School or the Web.com Tour.

But with 36 holes left, more than just those seven are still in the mix. Nick Watney played the first two rounds with Woods was only four shots behind, along with Ross Fisher of England. Charles Howell III, who has tied for third and lost in a playoff in his two starts this year, had a 72 on the South and was five shots behind.

Horschel wades into a big world Saturday, but he believes he has the experience from when he played the Walker Cup in 2007 at Royal County Down.

'There was a guy I competed against three times called Rory McIlroy,'' Horschel said. ''So there may have been 10, 12,000 people following us, and only a couple thousand following the rest of the groups. So I've dealt with crowds. I guess it's a little bit easier playing with Tiger because I guess the group ahead, they move a lot or something. Just hearing what media says. It's going to be exciting.''

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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.”