Tiger Concedes He Wasnt Tiger - But Just Wait
If he's playing fairly well, he still might win. If he's playing just okay, he has a chance. The only way he definitely won't win is if he is playing below average, those once- or twice-a-year times when he goes out and nothing goes right. Those times he finishes 20th - in of a field of 144.
It's got to be a little encouraging to the rest of the field that Woods hasn't played that well yet this year. He won at Bay Hill when he wasn't at the top. At The Players Championship Woods was better, but still not up to Tiger's super standards.
The discouraging thing is that he said he has been aiming for this tournament all year. This is the week it is supposed to peak. And - it's beginning to get a little deeper into the season. Last year, two bad holes the first day probably cost him the championship. But as the year wore on, he just became unstoppable.
There's a suspicion - a very real feeling - that that is the way it is going this year. He overdid it in the off-season with a heavy emphasis on travel. There WAS a problem, Tiger finally admitted, even though he still didn't use the 'S' word - slump - even a Tiger slump.
'My problem is, I think I played too much at the end of last year,' he said.
'I played eight consecutive weeks, traveled more than 27,000 miles on four different continents, and that put a toll on my body.'
Woods was overwhelmed when he turned professional in 1996. He tried to be everything to everybody, and it just didn't work. He's learned that you have to risk looking like a jerk at times, but your body will thank you sincerely. Apparently, he still was trying to appease some people in November and December of last year.
'When I came out, I didn't feel as if I was appreciative enough,' said Tiger. 'I didn't take enough of a break. I came out and I wasn't, unfortunately, as energetic as I should have been.
'That's not to say I wasn't trying. I was really trying, trying to play. But when your energy level is not quite what it should be, sometimes it is a little more difficult. I think that is one of the lessons I've learned, but the problem is I had a lot of defending to do at the end of the year. It was kind of a catch-22 situation. But, I learned, and probably will make changes in the future towards that scheduling.'
In other words, Tiger won a lot of tournaments at the end of 1999 that he felt honor-bound to attend at the end of 2000. When the bell rang for the 2001 season, he just couldn't crack the whip in quite the same way. That won't happen in the future, be assured.
And it won't affect him at the Masters. Has he learned? 'Yeah. Yeah. Totally,' he said, and the message was clear to everyone who heard him that he won't make the same mistake.
Woods talks about being in that magical peak area in terms of certain holes, not certain tournaments. 'It comes in spurts,' he says. 'I'll play four, nine, 12 holes like I played last year, and I'll have kind of those off-holes. It's just not quite there, but it's good enough.'
Fortunately for him, the sterling play occurred several times in the big tournaments last year.
'I played really well at times last year, and a couple times just happened to be in the majors. But am I close to that? Yeah, I am pretty close, and hopefully everything will come together,' he said.
If it does, forget it. It could be another 12-shot blowout. If it doesn't, this one will probably be close. Tiger Woods, you see, holds the outcome in his hands.
What do you think of Tiger's chances this week?
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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
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.
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.
Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round
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.
“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.”
Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win
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.”
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.
Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey
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.
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.”