McIlroy two back in Abu Dhabi after back-nine blitz

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2014, 1:12 pm

Red numbers were plentiful Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Here's how things look through two rounds in the U.A.E., where Craig Lee and Rafael Cabrera-Bello share the lead with a former world No. 1 close behind:

Leaderboard: Rafael Cabrera-Bello (-9), Craig Lee (-9), Danny Willett (-8), Rory McIlroy (-7), Thomas Bjorn (-7), Ricardo Gonzalez (-7)

What it means: After sharing the lead following an opening-round 67, Cabrera-Bello again sits atop the leaderboard after a 4-under 68 Friday. He's tied alongside Scotland's Lee, who seeks his first career European Tour win. It appears the man to watch, though, is McIlroy, who carded a 5-under 67 despite a double bogey on No. 6. The Ulsterman closed with five birdies on the back nine - four across his final six holes - and appears to be garnering momentum heading into the weekend.

Round of the day: After a 1-over 73 in the first round, Willett appeared in jeopardy of missing the 36-hole cut. The Englishman fired a bogey-free, 9-under 63 Friday, however, the lowest score of the week by two shots. His round included seven birdies in addition to an eagle at the par-5 eighth hole.



Best of the rest: Like Willett, Tommy Fleetwood was able to make it around Abu Dhabi Golf Club Friday without dropping a shot. The Englishman carded four birdies across a six-hole stretch from Nos. 4-9, and his round was highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 finishing hole. At 6 under, Fleetwood will enter the weekend three shots off the pace as he looks to follow up his tie for third at last week’s Volvo Golf Champions with a similar result.

Biggest disappointment: Though he entered the week as the highest-ranked player in the field, Henrik Stenson finally showed he was human and will miss the cut after rounds of 74-72. The Swede, who won both the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai to close 2013, struggled to create any momentum this week in the desert and carded just five birdies across 36 holes. At 2-over 146, he missed the cut by two shots in the only Desert Swing event he has yet to win.

Main storyline heading into Saturday: Several notable names were able bounce back Friday from mediocre opening rounds, including Phil Mickelson (73-70) and Sergio Garcia (76-68). While both will play the weekend, they're still looking up at McIlroy, who backed up a solid start with a second round that showed flashes of the talent that took him to world No. 1. He'll be the man to watch in Saturday's third round, though Bjorn is another notable name with a recent win to his credit who is very much in contention through 36 holes.

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LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”


Final FedExCup standings

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For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.

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Woods now listed as Masters betting favorite

By Will GraySeptember 24, 2018, 12:03 am

Now officially a winner again on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods has become a popular bet for folks thinking about next year's Masters.

The trip down Magnolia Lane is still seven months away, but Woods' breakthrough victory at the Tour Championship has led bettors to flock to the window to lay down cash on the four-time champ to add green jacket No. 5 next spring at age 43.

Woods was listed at 12/1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook when odds opened after the PGA Championship, behind only 2015 champ Jordan Spieth. That's where he remained for the subsequent six weeks, but after a stirring performance at East Lake Golf Club he's now listed as the 9/1 betting favorite for the first major of 2019.

Here's a look at the latest odds via the Westgate, as many of the top contenders head to Paris for the Ryder Cup:

9/1: Tiger Woods

10/1: Jordan Spieth

12/1: Dustin Johnson

14/1: Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

16/1: Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler

18/1: Jon Rahm

20/1: Jason Day

25/1: Bubba Watson

30/1: Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Tony Finau