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Punch Shot: Whens, wheres and whats for Tiger

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2017, 2:00 pm

Tiger Woods’ agent says the 14-time major winner is cleared to practice “with no restrictions.” GolfChannel.com senior writers Ryan Lavner and Rex Hoggard discuss what this news could mean for Tiger's future.

Lavner: Well, Rex, three weeks ago Tiger told us that he didn't know what the future held for him. Now we do: He has been cleared for full golf activity. What's your biggest takeaway from this week's news?

Hoggard: He's a quick healer. At least if I remember his tone at the Presidents Cup, which hovered between cautiously optimistic and wistful.

Lavner: This all seems a bit quick, though, no? He went from being able to only hit 60-yard wedge shots to pumping driver at Medalist, knowing full well that golf swing is going to get scrutinized by every armchair swing coach on the planet. That suggests he’s further along than he suggested.

Hoggard: That's probably a safe bet – an under-promise, over-deliver deal – but speaking with his manager last night he stressed that Tiger continues to take this most recent comeback slowly and will proceed with caution. All of which seems to mean we won't be seeing him teeing it up in December at his Hero World Challenge.

Lavner: Right, Steinberg's comment on Monday night: "[Tiger] has told me he’s going to take it very, very slowly.” This time, can we actually believe him? Tiger said the same thing at the start of the year, then clearly wasn't right at Torrey and hopped on a long flight to Dubai, where he promptly WD'd.

Hoggard: Yes? No? I don't know. One would think after going through this so many times he'd be inclined to err on the side of caution, but I've seen this show before and know how it turns out. It seems clear he should be ready to compete again by the beginning of next year, the key will be what his schedule looks like.

Lavner: And please, Tiger: Stop trying to return at Torrey! Yes, it's one of your old playgrounds, but it's always chilly in the morning and the South Course ranks annually as one of the most difficult on Tour. Perhaps I'm in the minority, thinking he doesn't need to play a full regular-season slate anymore in order to prepare for the majors, but Phoenix seems like a more safe starting point.

Hoggard: I don't think he ever played a "full" regular-season schedule, but I see where some would think less is more at this point. Phoenix is a solid option, as is the CareerBuilder Challenge. Nothing like Golf in a Dome to build confidence. It will be interesting to see if he ventures to the Middle East again. Nothing good will come from that.

Lavner: Except money, lots and lots of money.

Hoggard: No doubt, but I'm not sure there are enough zeros on those checks to justify jeopardizing another comeback. How many more of these does he have in the tank? Listening to him at the Presidents Cup, I would say not many.

Lavner: None of us are swing gurus, of course, but it was striking that Hank Haney, one of Woods' former coaches, replied to Tiger's swing video with "that's a swing he could win with." To me, that seems like a gross oversimplification. This isn't 2013: Today's Tour is insanely strong and deep, and Tiger had already begun to show issues with his mental and short game. In other words, a swing that won't wrench his back is only part of the problem.

Hoggard: That may be Haney being a tad overly optimistic. There is no scenario where he comes back and dominates like he once did, he simply doesn't have the firepower to compete against this generation. That said, Davis Love III won on Tour at 51 years old following a similar fusion surgery (beating Tiger, no less). If – and it’s a big if – he can stay healthy I do think he can win again.

Lavner: Forget winning again. Merely being a regular contender would be a Herculean feat, considering what he has been through.

Hoggard: So this is where our roads diverge? OK, I agree it's a long shot, but put him on the right golf course with a swing that's not going to send him back to the DL he can win again. You can't hide talent.

Lavner: Let's wrap this up with some rapid-fire questions. Where does Tiger come back?

Hoggard: Torrey Pines.

Lavner: I'll say Augusta.

Lavner: How many events does he play in 2018?

Hoggard: 12.

Lavner: I'll take half that – 6 – and call it a successful year.

Hoggard: How many majors does he play?

Lavner: Think he plays all of them, plus The Players and his event.

Hoggard: Three (he hasn't played all four majors in a year since 2013).

Hoggard: Best chance to win?

Lavner: Um ... I guess the Masters? His T-17 in 2015 while battling the chipping yips showed there's still some magic in there. I imagine Jordan Spieth will have other ideas, however.

Hoggard: Agree. Can he stay healthy for an entire year?

Lavner: As healthy as a (then-)42-year-old with a million surgeries can be – assuming he doesn't make any scheduling miscues, like rushing his return or a Dubai trip or too many back-to-back starts. Those are the types of avoidable mistakes that can derail his progress, perhaps for good.

Hoggard: Relative, indeed. If he's still upright and swinging the club in September it will have been a successful season, regardless of results.

Lavner: That should do it. I win, again.

Hoggard: This is a weird game. Pleasure. 

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Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''


Full-field scores from the Sanford International


Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

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Glover (64) leads Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Web.com Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Web.com Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Web.com Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Web.com Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

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Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

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McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”