Golf back to business as usual Thursday at Sawgrass

By Jason SobelMay 10, 2013, 12:16 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It was just after 11 a.m. on another sun-splashed Florida morning when an older gentleman strode outside the ropes to the left of TPC Sawgrass’ second fairway, turned to his female companion and inquired, “What time does the cheater tee off?”

It would have qualified as the most damning question surrounding the current state of the game if not for the one she offered in response.

“Which one?”

Their accusations aside, nobody around here is accusing anyone of failing to play by the rules – either inside or outside the ropes – but these have been a wild last few months when it comes to hot-button issues around the game.

From the legitimacy and legality of deer antler spray to an exoneration based on a technicality to a quixotic lawsuit filed in a fuss, from a major rules decision to a convening committee to a full-blown controversy, golf has seemingly become about everything other than birdies and bogeys.

Or at least it had – until Thursday happened and everything old was new once again.

During the opening round of The Players Championship, there was no talk of spray from any animal, no lawsuits filed, no major rules decisions and – surprise, surprise – no full-blown controversies. Instead, there were legions of birdies and not quite as many bogeys, the result of a day that looked refreshingly like business as usual.

OK, so maybe “business as usual” doesn’t necessarily describe a little-known 27-year-old Georgia Tech graduate named Roberto Castro firing the third-ever 9-under 63 in tournament history, tying Hall of Fame members Greg Norman and Fred Couples in an unexpected yet brilliant display of golf.

Not that he has this course figured out after one spin around the track.

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“I don't think anyone's figured out what the secret is to this place,” he said after a round that included an eagle and seven birdies. “Davis [Love III] won 21 years after winning the first time, so I'm sure there were plenty of water balls in between those two wins.”

Other than Castro’s surprise visit to the top of the leaderboard, though, this was a day that appeared “as scripted” as they say in the television biz.

Not far behind the leader were Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, the world’s top two players, finally giving performances on this course worthy of their lofty status. McIlroy posted a bogey-free 6-under 66, leaving little doubt as to whether he will end his missed cut streak here at three. Meanwhile, Woods was one stroke further back, posting birdie on each of the four par-5 holes, an often overlooked secret ingredient to his success.

It’s still early, sure, but the start at least put Woods in contention to be in contention, so to speak, searching for his first serious title run since winning this event a dozen years ago.

“This is a tricky golf course,” Woods explained. “It doesn't take much to make a bogey around here. I think that's kind of what [course designer] Pete [Dye] had intended, and I'm sure that most of the guys throughout their careers really haven't had too many other days that are spotless on their cards.”

Others signs of regularity reigned, too. It was a leaderboard that boasted Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Webb Simpson – four of the world’s top 30 players and four solid ball-strikers whose scores are hardly a shock.

But it didn’t stop there.

Phil Mickelson posted a birdie on the 13th hole … then followed by fading his tee shot on 14 into an awaiting pond en route to a double-bogey. Same old story.

Padraig Harrington opened par-eagle-double-birdie-bogey on his way to a 68 … as the noted tinkerer went with a belly putter and no glasses this time. Sounds about right.

Jason Dufner smacked a 9-iron into the devilish par-4 closing hole and found the bottom of the cup for eagle … and almost, sort of, kind of cracked a smile. Nothing new there.

Even Vijay Singh – he of the deer antler spray admission and ensuing exoneration and inexplicable lawsuit – got through the day in relative peace, save for a few fans who made their stances known about his tribulations from outside the ropes.

It was even peaceful for him after the round, when just as following every other round he’s played this year, he declined to speak with any media after a 2-over 74.

If that’s not business as usual, nothing is.

All of which should be considered comforting news amidst the recent tumultuous nature of the game. For one day, at least, golf was about birdies and bogeys again. 

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Key stats from Woods' historic win at East Lake

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 23, 2018, 10:47 pm

Tiger Woods won his 80th career PGA Tour title on Sunday with a two-stroke victory at the Tour Championship. Here are the key stats from the final round at East Lake.

• 80th career PGA Tour win; first since 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

• Two wins behind Sam Snead for most in PGA Tour history

• Snead was 47 years old when he won his 80th career PGA Tour title (Woods is 42)

• 43-for-45 converting outright 54-hole leads in PGA Tour career

• 24-for-24 converting 54-hole leads of three or more shots

• First win in 1,876 days; 118 players won on PGA Tour between Woods' wins

• Third career Tour Championship victory (most all-time)

• Has won Tour Championship in three different decades (1999, 2007, 2018)

• Fifth PGA Tour event won in three different decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)

• Projected to move to 13th in World Ranking with victory

• Was ranked 1,199 before beginning of 2017 Hero World Challenge

• Snead won 11 times after turning 43 (Woods turns 43 in December)

• Eighth PGA Tour win in Georgia; fourth-most of any state (Fla., Calif., Ohio)

• Extended lead to four strokes with birdie on first hole of round

• Second in field in strokes gained: putting this week

• First in field in scrambling this week (17-for-24)

• Finished second in FedExCup; was making first Tour Championship start since 2013

• Led field in one-putt percentage this week (51.4%)

• Finishes season first on PGA Tour in strokes gained: approach

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)

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Rose captures FedExCup, $10 million

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2018, 10:45 pm

ATLANTA – Like the “Price is Right” big wheel, $10 million spun around and around on Sunday, waiting to land on someone. It rolled past Dustin Johnson, looked like it was going to settle on Tiger Woods, and then made a final tick to rest on an ecstatic Justin Rose.

Rose won the FedExCup title on Sunday at the Tour Championship, two-putting for birdie on the par-5 18th to secure the big bonus. Woods, who won the tournament, finished second, with Bryson DeChambeau third.

Rose entered the final round as the projected winner, tied for second in the event, three shots back of Woods. However, it was a struggle from the start for the – now former – world No. 1. Rose made four bogeys and one birdie over his first 15 holes, and when he bogeyed the par-4 16th, the scenario became clear: Play the last two in 1 under or lose the cup.

Final FedExCup results and payout breakdown

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Johnson had an outside shot at claiming the $10 million, but parred the last. He finished in solo third place, four back of Woods.

Woods, meanwhile, was in command of the tournament from the start on Sunday. He played steadily, for the most part, and no one provided a challenge. In order to win the cup, he needed to win the event – which was close to a lock all day – and Rose needed to finish in a three-way tie for fifth or worse.

So, here he was, Rose, tied for SIXTH place on the 18th hole. A birdie and he’d jump into a three-way tie for fourth – as well as into a mountain of cash.

Rose hit the par-5 18th in two and successfully two-putted to clinch the cup. He didn’t win a playoff event, but his MC-2-2-T4 results were good enough, points wise, to capture the season-long race.

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Social media explodes over Tiger's 80th win

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 23, 2018, 10:45 pm

After a five-year hiatus, Tiger Woods made his triumphant return to the winner's circle on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

As evidenced by a quick look at social media, Woods' win set the golf world on fire, with everyone from Jack Nicklaus to Michelle Wie sending their congratulations to the 42-year-old.

Here are the best reactions from a wild Sunday at East Lake, where Woods claimed PGA Tour victory No. 80:

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Highlights: Tiger's final round at East Lake

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 23, 2018, 10:40 pm

Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship on Sunday by two strokes. Here are the highlights from the final round.

Woods got off to a great start with a birdie on No. 1.

He then made eight straight pars to close out the front nine in 1 under par. Woods started the back nine with a bogey at 10, but he rebounded with this birdie at No. 13.

Woods leaked some oil coming in with bogeys at 15 and 16, but this par putt on 17 gave him a crucial two-stroke lead heading to 18.

For the fourth straight day, Woods smoked his drive on 18.

A huge gallery followed Woods up the 18th hole.

Woods missed his birdie putt on 18, but it was an easy par for a two-stroke victory and win No. 80.