Woods confident he can claim Firestone, PGA victories

By Jason SobelAugust 1, 2012, 7:53 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Tiger Woods returns to Firestone Country Club this week, site of a touchdown on his personal scoreboard of 74 career PGA Tour victories. One more and his extra point becomes a two-point conversion, apropos of almost nothing, other than this being Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend here in the Northeast Ohio area.

Much like the most celebrated gridiron greats, Woods can’t find the end zone every time – even on what could substitute as a decided home field advantage.

The analogies and puns can end here, but so has his domination at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Two years ago, mired in the worst season of his career, he finished in a share of 78th place out of the 80 competitors who finished four rounds; last year, in his first tournament after being sidelined three months due to injury, he came in a middling T-37.

If that doesn’t appear like enough to sound the alarm in Camp Woods, well, that’s because it isn’t – nor should it be. Tiger is cruising along this season with three wins and five other top-25 results in 13 starts so far; below the norm for his career, yes, but above the norm for those of everyone else.


Video: Woods' WGC-Bridgestone news conference


It should serve as a testament to the lack of duress facing Woods right now that the most strife he’s incurring is the fact that he hasn’t won one of three (or four, or five, depending on your count) World Golf Championship events since all the way back in 2009.

OK, so maybe that’s not entirely true…

There is the little case of Woods failing to claim a major since one year earlier, the historic victory at the 2008 U.S. Open leaving him with 14 in perpetuity – or at least until he beats perpetuity in a playoff.

So far this year he failed to break par in any round at the Masters; turned a title contention entering the weekend at the U.S. Open into a share of 21st place; and got into the mix at the Open Championship, finishing T-3.

For a player who so often maintains that he wants to “peak four times each year” and ranks his place in history based on major championship wins, the questions remain: How does he quantify a successful season? And if he doesn’t win a major this year, can it still be considered a success?

“Well, I've said this many times in the past: Winning golf tournaments makes it successful, but winning a major makes it a great year,” Woods said Wednesday. “You can go from having a so-so year to all of a sudden winning one major, and all of a sudden it's a great year, because you're part of history when you do something like that.

“[Open Championship winner] Ernie [Els] has been consistent this year. I think that he would attest to that he's playing better, but then all of a sudden it just jumps you into a different category.”

Woods has one remaining opportunity to elevate his season into that category and it will come at next week’s PGA Championship. On Tuesday, he practiced at The Ocean Course, turning what was a great unknown into a little less of an unknown.

“It's going to be long,” he confided. “I mean, I think it's going to be close to 7,700 yards, and that's a big ballpark. A lot of the holes are crosswind holes. … Having paspalum greens is different. I've only played on paspalum greens one time. But they drain great. They're going to be firm.”

What makes this week unique for Woods is that unlike each of the year’s first three majors, he annually tees it up in competition directly before playing the PGA. At stake is an eighth career win at Firestone and a fourth win this season and an opportunity to regain the No. 1 ranking in the world.

Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s a chance to get himself into position to claim that elusive 15th major title next week – the one thing that would turn this season, under his own definition from a successful campaign to a great one.

And he’s well aware, of course. When asked to elucidate his thoughts on the difference between the two and whether a three-win, no major season would be eclipsed by those whose lone victory was a major, a wide grin came across his face.

With thoughts squarely on winning not only this week but next week as well, Woods declared in his own inimitable style: “It’s not over yet.”

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”