Woods returns in time for one last shot at glory

By Doug FergusonAugust 6, 2011, 6:09 pm

Given the circumstances of a most peculiar year, the slogan of the final major - “Glory’s Last Shot” - might not apply to Tiger Woods.

In some respects, the PGA Championship is more like a fresh start.

This is the seventh time in his 15 years on Tour that Woods has come to the last major of the year without having made any progress toward the record that matters the most to him - the 18 professional majors won by Jack Nicklaus.

In three of those seasons, he was changing his swing. Last year, he was going through a divorce.

This year, he simply hasn’t played.

Since closing with a 67 at the Masters, briefly sharing the lead on Sunday until his game stalled and he tied for fourth, Woods went four months without playing a full round because of recurring pain in his left knee and Achilles tendon. He missed only four tournaments he ordinarily would have played, but two of them were the U.S. Open and British Open.

Woods returned to golf only one week before the PGA Championship. His scores at the Bridgestone Invitational weren’t terribly impressive, but what mattered as much to him was that his left leg felt as strong as ever.

“We get four chances to peak per year, and unfortunately, I was only able to try and peak for one,” Woods said. “Obviously, my timetable isn’t very long to try and peak for the last one here.”

Yes, it’s his last shot of the year to try to win a major.

Could this also be his last shot at restoring belief that he still can reach or even break the Nicklaus benchmark? That he could get back to No. 1 in the world? That his red shirt on Sunday could still mean something?

Some of these could get answered when the 93rd PGA Championship gets under way Thursday at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Woods is only 35. Nicklaus, when he was this age, went on to win five more majors in his career, and the Golden Bear might have won more if he had not already broken the record once held by Bobby Jones.

But the trauma in Woods’ life - physical and emotional - makes him an old 35.

It’s more than the four surgeries on his left knee dating to his freshman year at Stanford. Woods used to walk into the locker room or onto the practice range fully aware that the other players were looking at him as golf’s best player, and the guy they would have to beat. Now they look at him the way everyone else does, wondering what’s going on inside his head, curious what kind of scores he might post.

The swagger is gone because Woods hasn’t won a tournament in 20 months. The aura is gone because golf looks deeper than ever. Three of the last five major champions are in the top 10 in the world and still in their 20s - U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and defending PGA champion Martin Kaymer.

Like so many other young players, they have no reason to be afraid of Woods because they have not competed again him at his best.

And there are no guarantees they ever will.

“It would be a little intimidating if you knew for sure that he was going to come back and play the way he did in 2000 or 2001,” McIlroy said. “But who knows for sure what way the game is going to go?”

It’s a question that has been asked - and not answered - since Woods first returned at the Masters last year after his image was shredded over extramarital affairs.

His “comeback” lasted one tournament - a tie for fourth in the 2010 Masters - until he missed the cut in his next tournament with his highest 36-hole score ever, then withdrew a week later from another tournament with a neck injury. He picked up a new swing coach in Sean Foley late last summer and showed signs of immediate improvement, only to start this year with ordinary results.

He came back at The Players Championship on May 12 from what was described as “minor injuries,” only to quit after nine holes. Woods pledged not to return until he was 100 percent healthy, even to the point of missing two majors.

Another setback now and the skepticism will be as great as ever.

Still, he doesn’t see the PGA Championship any differently from other years, whether he was trying to win his first major of the year or his third in a row.

“It’s a major championship,” he said. “We get four a year and try to peak four times a year. It’s as simple as that.”

Not even after 13 majors have come and gone without his name on the trophy? Not even after not being certain for most of the summer that he could play the PGA Championship this year?

Woods shook his head.

“Feels the same,” he said, then raising his eyebrow with a slight grin and adding, “Looking forward to it.”

So many others feel the same way.

The PGA Championship doesn’t get the same respect from the public as the other majors, some of that because it’s at the end of the schedule and football starts to occupy American minds.

But there is no denying how tough it is to win. It features by far the strongest field of any major, with 99 of the top 100 in the world ranking scheduled to be at Atlanta Athletic Club when it gets under way on Thursday. If no one withdraws, that will be the most top-100 players at any major since the world ranking began in 1986.

For some, there could be a sense of urgency.

That particularly holds true for Lee Westwood, the first golfer to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world late last year and the best active player to have never won a major. And there had to be a feeling of “When is it my turn” for the 38-year-old Englishman when he watched one of his best friends, 42-year-old Darren Clarke who was No. 110 in the world, cradle the silver claret jug at the British Open last month.

Westwood is represented by Chubby Chandler at International Sports Management, who is going for an agent’s Grand Slam. His clients have won all three majors this year - and four of the last five including Louis Oosthuizen at St. Andrews last year. Not many could have imagined Westwood would not be among them.

Luke Donald is No. 1 in the world and also without a major.

And don’t forget the Americans, although that’s been easy to do lately. They now have gone six majors without winning, dating to Phil Mickelson at the 2010 Masters, the longest drought since this configuration of majors began in 1934. The highest-ranked American is Steve Stricker, who is 44 and starting to run out of time.

“It’s the last chance this year, and then we’re all a year older,” Stricker said. “And for me, a year older means the window is getting shorter. It would be nice to get one. I’m not putting pressure on myself to win. Don’t get me wrong - I’d love to win one. But I’m not putting extra pressure on myself to do it.”

That’s the worst way to come into the PGA Championship, because as this major has shown, it could be anybody's.

More evidence comes from a year on the PGA Tour that few saw coming.

There already have been six PGA Tour rookies to win this year, the most since the Tour began keeping complete records in 1970. Some of that might be due to Woods being out of the mix because he used to win five or more every season.

Only three Americans from the Ryder Cup team last October have won tournaments - Mickelson, Stricker and Bubba Watson. And 12 of the top 30 players in the world who are PGA Tour members have failed to win on golf’s strongest Tour this year, a list that includes Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Adam Scott and yes, Tiger Woods.

“It’s been a weird year,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “At least six or seven people have won Tour events that at the start of the year you would never have heard of unless you followed the Nationwide Tour or Q-school. Jim Furyk is struggling to make cuts, Dustin is not playing like he normally does.”

Then he paused and showed a slight grin.

“Tiger might win,” he said. “Hard to believe, but he might. It’s been an odd year.”

Maybe that shows the state of Woods more than anything. Woods could win the PGA Championship, and it would be considered a surprise.

Getty Images

Ko (68) off to best start of year at Kia Classic

By Randall MellMarch 23, 2018, 12:39 am

Lydia Ko didn’t take long to put last week’s missed cut behind her Thursday at the Kia Classic.

She got off to her best start of the year.

With a 4-under-par 68, Ko was tied for seventh, just two shots off the lead, with the afternoon wave off at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif.

“I would say I didn't hit the ball fantastic, but just being able to hole some good birdie putts was key,” Ko said.

Ko scrambled her way to her low opening round of the year in light rain. She hit just seven of 14 fairways and 11 greens, but only needed 25 putts.

“This is a pretty tough golf course,” Ko said. ”I think putting is a huge key around this course, where if you do miss a green, making those clutch par putts and then making those birdie opportunities that you get.”

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Aviara’s poa annua greens have been known to give players fits, but Ko had her flatstick working. After making the turn at 1 over, she made five birdies on her second nine.

Ko, 20, won at Aviara two years ago but missed the cut there last year.

“I love Carlsbad,” Ko said “I would say it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s nice to come back to a place where you’ve played well and love the area.”

Ko, seeking her first victory since July of 2016, has her new coach, Ted Oh, working with her in Carlsbad this week. Oh made the trip to Asia last month, helping Ko to her tie for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship. But, she missed the cut in Phoenix last week in her next start.

“All I can do is try my best,” Ko said. “Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this good momentum going.”

Getty Images

Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 2

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 12:32 am

Here is how things played out on Day 2 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play. Click here for Day 1 match results:

Group 1: Adam Hadwin (38) def. Dustin Johnson (1), 4 and 3: After a dominating performance at last year’s Match Play, where he never trailed in any match, Johnson is already mathematically eliminated. He got routed on Thursday by Hadwin, after the Canadian built a 2-up lead at the turn and then poured it on with wins on the 11th and 13th holes.

Group 1: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Bernd Wiesberger (52), 5 and 4: Kisner made three consecutive birdies midway through the front nine to set the tone, then kept the pressure on Wiesberger, who knocked off DJ on Wednesday, to earn the full point and stay in the mix to advance.

Group 2: Justin Thomas (2) def. Patton Kizzire (48), 3 and 1: After DJ’s early exit, Thomas now has a clear path to world No. 1, if he can win the Match Play this week. Thomas did his part, improving to 2-0 after taking a 3-up advantage and then making birdie on 16 and 17 to close out Kizzire. That sets up a winner-take-all match against Francesco Molinari on Friday.

Group 2: Francesco Molinari (21) def. Luke List (60), 3 and 2: Molinari dropped seven birdies on List and won the 13th, 14th and 16th holes to move to 2-0 this week.

Group 3: Chez Reavie (43) def. Jon Rahm, 1 up: On the verge of surrendering a big lead against Rahm, Reavie’s par on 18 was enough to secure a 1-up victory. He led 3 up with three to go, but Rahm birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to send the match to the last. But there, from just short of the green, Rahm hit his pitch shot well past the flag and couldn’t make birdie. Now 0-1-1, Rahm, last year's finalist, is now eliminated.

Group 3: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Keegan Bradley (63), 1 up: Bradley once again kicked away a late lead. One day after coughing up a 2-up lead with three to play, he squandered a 1-up lead with three to play against Aphibarnrat. Bradley made bogey on 17, then was stymied behind a tree after his drive on 18. Barnrat rolled in a 15-footer for birdie to improve to 2-0.

Group 4: Jordan Spieth (4) def. Haotong Li (34), 4 and 2: Spieth held up his end of the deal, winning the fifth hole with a birdie and never trailing from there. He poured it on late with the Chinese star, winning the 13th, 14th and 16th holes. He'll play Reed, his Ryder and Presidents Cup partner, on Friday in a winner-take-all match.

Group 4: Patrick Reed (19) def. Charl Schwartzel (49), 1 up: In a wild match that saw that only three halved, Reed hung on to defeat Schwartzel, 1 up. Two up with three holes to play, Reed lost the 16th, escaped with a bogey halve on the 17th and then was out of position on the final hole. But he nearly holed his wedge shot, rattling the stick and leaving his ball on the front edge for a conceded birdie and narrow victory.

Group 5: Cameron Smith (46) def. Hideki Matsuyama (5), 1 up: One down with five to play, Smith won the 14th with a par, then chipped in for birdie on 16 to take a 1-up lead. At 2-0, he’s now in control of the group.

Group 5: Patrick Cantlay (30) def. Yusaku Miyazato (53), 1 up: In control throughout, Cantlay bogeyed the 17th hole to return the match to all square. On the home hole, he busted a drive to the front-left corner of the green, then made birdie to win and improve to 1-1.

Group 6: Rory McIlroy (6) def. Jhonattan Vegas (44), 2 and 1: Needing a victory to avoid an early exit, McIlroy won two consecutive holes before the turn and then added a win on 13 to give himself the cushion he needed down the stretch, holing a 6-footer for par on 17 to close out Vegas. McIlroy now has a chance to advance with a victory over Harman on the final day of pool play.

Group 6: Brian Harman (18) def. Peter Uihlein (57), 4 and 2: Harman never trailed in knocking off Uihlein, who soundly defeated McIlroy on Day 1. With 1 ½ points, Harman is in the driver’s seat, but he needs at least a halve against McIlroy on Friday (and a Uihlein loss) to advance.

Group 7: Sergio Garcia (7) def. Dylan Frittelli (41), 2 up: All square with six holes to go, Garcia birdied 13, won 14 with a par and then drove the 18th green for a conceded birdie to close out Frittelli, the former Texas Longhorn, and improve to 2-0 this week. He'll play Schauffele in a winner-take-all match on Friday.

Group 7: Xander Schauffele (20) def. Shubhankar Sharma (62), 3 and 1: Schauffele improved to 2-0 this week by thoroughly handling Sharma, the darling of the recent WGC-Mexico event, never leading by fewer than 2-up on the back nine and playing 3 under.

Group 8: Jason Dufner (42) def. Jason Day (8), 3 and 1: Dufner took down one of the pre-tournament favorites with a steady closing stretch. Five of his six wins came after Day bogeys, but Dufner turned an all-square match on 14 tee into a 3-and-1 victory.

Group 8: James Hahn (56) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 3 and 1: Hahn jumped all over the South African, winning the first three holes and never holding less than a 2-up lead on the back nine. With his victory, each player in the group has a 1-1 record.

Group 9: Tommy Fleetwood (9) def. Kevin Chappell (33), 7 and 6: Avenging an opening-day loss, the Englishman won the first four holes and needed to make only three birdies in a monster rout of Chappell. The 2017 Presidents Cupper made five bogeys and conceded two other holes but still has a chance to win the group.  

Group 9: Ian Poulter (58) def. Daniel Berger (26), 2 and 1: Playing this event for the first time since 2015, Poulter improved to 2-0 on the week with a solid victory over Berger, one of many young American up-and-comers. Using the same putter that he put in play at the epic 2012 Ryder Cup, Poulter won three of the first four holes and never backed down. He is guaranteed at least a playoff Friday. 

Group 10: Paul Casey (10) def. Kyle Stanley (45), 4 and 2: A winner at the Valspar, Casey stayed hot in Austin, taking a 3-up lead at the turn and improving to 2-0 this week. He needs only a halve on Friday to advance.

Group 10: Russell Henley (51) def. Matthew Fitzpatrick (31), 2 and 1: Shaking off a narrow loss to Casey on Wednesday, Henley took control of an all-square match by winning the 12th and 14th holes and then rolling in a tricky 25-footer on the 17th green to put away Fitzpatrick. Still alive in pool play, Henley needs to beat Kyle Stanley, and hope Casey loses, to force a playoff.

Group 11: Bubba Watson (35) def. Marc Leishman (11), 3 and 2: Coming off an impressive opening victory, Watson erased an early deficit, then won Nos. 12-14 to put away Leishman, who is now eliminated. Watson is guaranteed at least a playoff Friday.

Group 11: Branden Grace (23) def. Julian Suri (64), 2 and 1: After a shaky start, Grace made four birdies over his last 11 holes to knock off the surprise Day 1 winner, Suri, who was the last man into the field. Watson is still in control of the group heading into the final day.

Group 12: Tyrrell Hatton (12) def. Brendan Steele (36), 3 and 2: All square through 12 holes, the Englishman made four birdies and an eagle over his last eight holes to improve to 2-0 this week. Hatton needs only a halve Friday to advance.

Group 12: Alexander Levy (55) def. Charley Hoffman (22), 1 up: Levy led from the sixth hole, but Hoffman slowly cut into the deficit and took the Frenchman to the final hole. Levy’s par was enough to notch his first point and stay alive in pool play.  

Group 13: Alex Noren (13) def. Thomas Pieters (39), 5 and 4: Noren made quick work of Pieters in what could be a match of future Ryder Cup teammates. Noren built a 4-up lead after seven holes and then cruised from there, moving to 2-0 this week and eliminating Pieters. In 30 holes this week, Noren has made 12 birdies and no bogeys.

Group 13: Tony Finau (29) def. Kevin Na (61), 3 and 2: In a contrast of styles, the powerful Finau birdied the first three holes and never looked back against Na, setting up a battle of unbeatens in a winner-take-all match on Friday.

Group 14: Phil Mickelson (14) def. Satoshi Kodaira (40), 1 up: Four down through seven holes, Mickelson was on the verge of being eliminated before running off a series of wins, including on 16 and 17 to push the match to the final hole. Then, on 18, he pitched to 8 feet and drained the birdie putt to complete the remarkable comeback.

Group 14: Charles Howell III (59) def. Rafa Cabrera Bello (17), 3 and 1: After knocking off Mickelson on Day 1, Howell pulled away from Cabrera Bello late, winning the 14th, 15th and 17th holes – only one of which with birdies – to take control of the lead. At 2-0, Howell is assured of at least a playoff.

Group 15: Webb Simpson (37) def. Pat Perez (15), 3 and 1: Matched up against the fiery Perez, Simpson seized control of the match with wins on the 11th and 12th holes, sank a 20-footer on 15 and then won the 17th after Perez put his tee shot in the hazard. Now 1-0-1, he’ll have a winner-take-all match against Kim on Friday.

Group 15: Si Woo Kim (50) def. Gary Woodland (24), 5 and 3: Kim won the first hole and never looked back, grabbing a 3-up lead at the turn and leading by as much as 5 up after 12 holes. He is now 2-0. 

Group 16: Matt Kuchar (16) def. Yuta Ikeda (47), 1 up: Though he wasn’t nearly as hot as in his opener against Johnson, Kuchar played solidly, going 3 under (including concessions) and making par on 17 to edge ahead of Ikeda and eke out a narrow victory. 

Group 16: Ross Fisher (27) def. Zach Johnson (54), 2 up: After a remarkable comeback against Kuchar to earn a halve on Day 1, Johnson couldn’t summon the same magic on Thursday. Though he won the 15th to cut Fisher’s advantage to 1 up, Johnson couldn’t convert birdie putts on the last three holes.

Getty Images

Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 12:20 am

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson: 0-2-0 (2) J. Thomas: 2-0-0 (3) J. Rahm: 0-1-1 (4) J. Spieth: 2-0-0
(32) K. Kisner: 1-0-1 (21) F. Molinari: 2-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat: 2-0-0 (19) P. Reed: 2-0-0
(38) A. Hadwin: 1-0-1
(48) P. Kizzire: 0-2-0 (43) C. Reavie: 1-1-0 (34) H. Li: 0-2-0
(52) B. Wiesberger: 1-1-0
(60) L. List: 0-2-0 (63) K. Bradley: 0-1-1 (49) C. Schwartzel: 0-2-0
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama: 1-1-0 (6) R. McIlroy: 1-1-0 (7) S. Garcia: 2-0-0 (8) J. Day: 1-1-0
(30) P. Cantlay: 1-1-0
(18) B. Harman: 1-0-1 (20) X. Schauffele: 2-0-0 (25) L. Oosthuizen: 1-1-0
(46) C. Smith: 2-0-0 (44) J. Vegas: 0-1-1 (41) D. Frittelli: 0-2-0 (42) J. Dufner: 1-1-0
(53) Y. Miyazato: 0-2-0 (51) P. Uihlein: 1-1-0 (62) S. Sharma: 0-2-0 (56) J. Hahn: 1-1-0
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood: 1-1-0 (10) P. Casey: 2-0-0 (11) M. Leishman: 0-2-0 (12) T. Hatton: 2-0-0
(26) D. Berger: 0-2-0 (31) M. Fitzpatrick: 0-2-0 (23) B. Grace: 1-1-0 (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
(33) K. Chappell: 1-1-0 (45) K. Stanley: 1-1-0 (35) B. Watson: 2-0-0 (36) B. Steele: 1-1-0
(58) I. Poulter: 2-0-0 (51) R. Henley: 1-1-0 (64) J. Suri: 1-1-0 (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren: 2-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson: 1-1-0 (15) P. Perez: 0-1-1 (16) M. Kuchar: 1-0-1
(29) T. Finau: 2-0-0 (17) R. Cabrera Bello: 1-1-0 (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-1 (27) R. Fisher: 1-1-0
(39) T. Pieters: 0-2-0 (40) S. Kodaira: 0-2-0 (37) W. Simpson: 1-0-1 (47) Y. Ikeda: 1-1-0
(61) K. Na: 0-2-0 (59) C. Howell III: 2-0-0 (50) S.W. Kim: 1-0-1 (54) Z. Johnson: 0-1-1
Getty Images

Players lament 'meaningless' Friday WGC matches

By Rex HoggardMarch 23, 2018, 12:17 am

AUSTIN, Texas – The drawback of round-robin play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is that 20 players will tee off on Friday with no chance to advance to the knockout stages.

Although those who haven’t won or halved a match heading into the final day of pool play can still improve their finish, which means more FedExCup points and earnings, they can’t make it to the weekend, which for many makes it somewhat meaningless.

“Knowing that you are playing a match that you might get 2 more FedEx points and $20,000 or whatever it is. It's tough. It's hard,” said Rory McIlroy, who is 1-1-0 and can advance to the weekend if he wins his match on Friday against Brian Harman.

“You try to go out with the mindset that I'm going to maybe try things or if you are working on your golf swing, it's a good round to take advantage of trying different things,” McIlroy said. “[But] there's going to be guys going out there tomorrow that would really just want to be on a plane tonight going home.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Even more curious, there will be players with no way of moving on who will dictate who does make it to the weekend. Matthew Fitzpatrick, for example, is winless this week and will play Paul Casey on Friday. If Fitzpatrick wins it will set up a playoff scenario between Casey, who is 2-0-0, and either Russell Henley or Kyle Thompson, who both have one victory, to decide who advances out of the pod.

“It's not technically meaningless,” Casey said. “But it's frustrating when you know you can't possibly win the golf event. None of us turn up here to gain some points. It's to try and win an event.”