Tiger's progress is a process

By Jason SobelNovember 13, 2011, 10:09 pm

The following words were going to be written whether Tiger Woods ran away with the Australian Open title or – as was the case – only made a serious run at claiming his first victory in two years: This performance was another step in the right direction.

During his lengthy absence from the winner’s podium, Woods has repeatedly talked about the “process” of returning to elite form. Though he didn’t create the term, he has espoused its importance – and for good reason.

The first step of this process was putting together short stretches in which he flashed his previous brilliance, perhaps a four-birdies-in-five-holes output that would at least whet the appetite of the masses. The next step was producing full rounds of proficient, mistake-free golf and posting a solid number.

He eclipsed the next step this past weekend in Sydney, which included both backing up one good round with another and bouncing back from a poor round with a positive one. His opening-round 68 was followed by a 67 the next day; a third-round 75 was eclipsed by another 67 on the final day. In the end, it resulted in a solo third-place result.

Reason for encouragement, sure, but still part of the process, as Woods himself acknowledged afterward.

“I’ve just got to keep plugging along,” he explained. “I’m showing some progress.”

Others on Team Tiger remain similarly cautiously optimistic. A text message from instructor Sean Foley at the midpoint of the Aussie Open, when Woods led by a stroke, only allowed: “He has been working hard. Lots of work ahead of us, however.”

Discussion: How will Tiger's week be viewed?

There are undoubtedly more steps in the process. The next would be putting together four consecutive stellar rounds at one tournament, followed by backing up a positive performance with another one in his next start. It’s at that point when the “Old Tiger” will be fully reverted to his past form.

That doesn’t halt the influx of “Is he back?” questions that permeate every time he plays well and once again surfaced during his latest appearance. If the tone surrounding Woods’ week had a been-there, done-that type of feel, there’s good reason for it.

When he returned from his post-scandal self-imposed leave of absence at last year’s Masters, many were quick to declare him 'back.' They we're right – literally, at least – and it appeared his game may have been back as well, based on a fourth-place finish.

It wasn’t that easy, though, as Woods struggled in ensuing starts, leaving such status very much in doubt. Still, every time he showed glimpses of the past, the subject was broached.

At the U.S. Open, where he posted a glorious back-nine 31 in the third round, only to give way to disappointment the next day … at the Australian Masters, where a late rally gave him a share of fourth place ... at the Chevron World Challenge, where a miraculous charge by Graeme McDowell kept him from winning ... at the Masters (again), where he actually led during the final round before finishing fourth (again).

Of course, in order to fully answer the “Is he back?” query, we need to address the true meaning of that insinuation. Is it dominating major championships by double-digit win totals again? Prevailing in 28 percent of his starts? Or regaining the No. 1 ranking in the world?

Don’t expect Woods to once again conquer major fields like he did in his historic season of 2000, but then again, don’t expect anyone else to accomplish that, either. The bar is only raised so high because he had a few once-in-a-lifetime performances twice in a summer.

Regaining his previous victory percentage won’t be any easier, but he needs the first one before he can even think about winning them in bunches. Making it even tougher is the fact that he now plays in fewer tournaments and his propensity for only competing against the most elite fields shouldn’t help this cause.

As for the No. 1 ranking, well, that’s still a long way from happening, but there is reason for optimism. On the two-year OWGR rolling calendar, he won’t lose any more victories, because there are none to be lost. Starting at 58th prior to playing Down Under, Woods could ascend the list in a hurry with a few strong results – as we’ve seen from other players in his position or lower recently – and he’s well aware of that impact.

“I had a really good year two years ago in ’09 where I think I won six or seven tournaments around the world, so those points all came off this year and I didn’t make any points back,” he said. “So next year’s going to be a fun year, because basically I have nothing and I’m not really losing any points. So I’ll have nothing but positive gains next year. By playing well, by winning golf tournaments, I’ll climb the world ranking.”

Whether climbing the world ranking, winning a singular tournament title or once again dominating the game’s landscape at its most elite level means he’s “back,” well, that can be left open to interpretation.

What we do know is that according to Woods, there will be no eureka moment. As he keeps saying, this is all part of the process – and in his latest start this past weekend, the process progressed nicely.

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Finau lifts team to opening 62 on improving ankle

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 6:24 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Tony Finau continues to thrive on his injured ankle.

Playing for the first time since the Masters, where he tied for 10th despite a high-ankle sprain, Finau matched partner Daniel Summerhays with six birdies to shoot a combined 10-under 62 in fourballs Thursday at the Zurich Classic.

Finau still isn’t 100 percent – he said he's closer to 70 percent – even after two weeks of rest and physical therapy. During that time he worked with doctors at the University of Utah Orthopedic Center and also the training staff with the Utah Jazz. Before the Zurich, he had played only nine holes.

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“Sometimes simplicity is huge in this game,” he said. “There is not a lot of thoughts in my swing in the first place, so there can’t be that many thoughts when you don’t practice. It served me well today.”

Partnering with Summerhays, his fellow Utah resident and a friend for more than a decade, they combined to make 12 birdies during an opening round that left them only two shots back of the early lead.

Asked afterward how his ankle felt, Finau said: “Feeling a lot better after that 62. A great remedy for something hurting is some good golf.”  

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Sources: Woods returning to Wells Fargo

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 26, 2018, 6:07 pm

Tiger Woods is expected to return to competition at next week's Wells Fargo Championship, according to multiple Golf Channel sources. The news of Woods' participation was first reported Thursday on "Golf Central."

Woods has not played since a T-32 finish at the Masters. A winner at Quail Hollow in 2007, Woods has not made the cut there since a fourth-place showing in 2009 and has not played Wells Fargo since 2012. He missed last year's PGA Championship at Quail Hollow because of injury.

Woods has until 5 p.m. ET Friday to officially commit to next week's field. When reached for comment by GolfChannel.com, Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, explained that Woods' plans were not yet finalized.

"We don't know right now (if Woods will play)," Steinberg said. "We'll know later this afternoon. We're working on a couple things."

A trip to Charlotte would be another sign that the 42-year-old is ready to return to a customary schedule, as next week's event would be followed by Woods' expected return to The Players for the first time since 2015. Woods has already committed to the U.S. Open, which will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major victory.

After starting the year ranked No. 656 in the world, Woods is up to No. 91 in the latest world rankings. He recorded three straight top-12 finishes during the Florida swing, including a runner-up finish alongside Patrick Reed at the Valspar Championship and a T-5 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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USGA receives more than 9,000 U.S. Open entries

By Will GrayApril 26, 2018, 4:31 pm

The field of contestants for golf's most democratic major has been set.

The USGA announced that it received 9,049 entries for this year's U.S. Open, with the deadline for entry expiring at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. That total includes 515 applications on the final day, 115 in the final hour and a buzzer-beater from Drew Caudill, a 32-year-old pro from Mount Vernon, Ohio, who beat the entry deadline by only 23 seconds.

This marks the seventh straight year that the USGA has received more than 9,000 entries, but the total marks the second straight year of a decline in applications. At least 9,860 players entered each year from 2013-16, topping out in 2014 when 10,127 applications were received. But last year there were 9,485 entries for Erin Hills, and this year's return to Shinnecock yielded only one more application than the USGA got in 2005.

For the vast majority of entrants, the next step is a spot in 18-hole local qualifying which begins April 30 and runs through May 17. The fortunate few advance from there to 36-hole sectional qualifiers, played May 21 in Japan and June 4 across 11 other sites in the U.S. and England.

A total of 54 players are already exempt into the 156-man field, including 12 former winners. The only remaining ways to earn an exemption from qualifying are to win either The Players or BMW PGA Championship next month, or be ranked inside the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings on either May 21 or June 11.

The U.S. Open will be played June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., which is hosting the event for the first time since 2004.

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Report: Houston Open may move to Memorial Park in '19

By Will GrayApril 26, 2018, 3:48 pm

Still without a permanent spot on the PGA Tour schedule, the Houston Open appears to be on the move.

According to a report from the Houston Business Journal, there is a proposal in place to shift the tournament downtown in 2019, returning to Memorial Park Golf Course which previously hosted the event from 1951-1963.

While formal relocation plans have not been announced, the tournament officially reached the end of an era this week when the Golf Club of Houston, which has hosted the event since 2003, informed the Houston Golf Association that it would no longer serve as tournament host moving forward.

"We received notice this week from the Golf Club of Houston regarding the club's decision to no longer host a PGA Tour event," read an HGA statement obtained by GolfChannel.com. "Currently, the HGA's focus is on securing a long-term title sponsor. The Golf Club of Houston has been a great venue for the Houston Open dating back to 2003 and we look forward to maintaining a great relationship with the club."

Such a move would be a win for Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, who has expressed an interest in returning the tournament within city limits. The Golf Club of Houston is located in Humble, a suburb 20 miles northeast of downtown.

"This move would place the tournament on center stage in downtown Houston, creating a central location for the city to rally around," read marketing materials cited in the Business Journal report. "Houston Proud Partners of the Houston Open would have the opportunity to collaborate with the Houston Golf Association on this historic move and make a lasting statement that would be seen for generations."

The Houston Open's lineage dates back to 1946, but its future remains in question. Shell Oil ended its 26-year sponsorship of the event in 2017, and this year it was played without a title sponsor and financed in part by the HGA.

The tournament has also carved out a niche with its pre-Masters slot on the schedule, where it has been played every year but once since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007. But next year that coveted position will go to the Valero Texas Open, leaving Houston's place on a revamped 2019 schedule in question.

The Houston Open remains one of only two tournaments on the current Tour calendar without a title sponsor. Earlier this week Charles Schwab signed a four-year deal to sponsor the Fort Worth Invitational beginning in 2019, and a report this week indicates the other unsponsored event, The National, may be on the verge of moving from the Washington, D.C. area to Detroit.