Woods still in hunt, despite putting issues

By Jason SobelJune 2, 2012, 11:33 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Well, I’ve got some good news for you, Tiger Nation, and I’ve got some bad news for you. It’s your choice which you’d like to hear first.

What’s that? Always start with the bad news? OK, the bad news is that Tiger Woods looked extraordinarily ordinary on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong. Ordinary isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that it’s becoming a recurring theme for a guy who used to leave ordinary on the driving range.

Check that: He was actually a bit better than ordinary – or at least better than average. Woods posted a 1-over 73 that dropped him from a share of second place before the round to solo fourth when it was over, but on a blustery afternoon at Muirfield Village Golf Club, with Mother Nature once again baring her teeth at Jack’s place, it still exceeded the field stroke average of 74.32.

Even so, for someone who used to turn Moving Day into his own personal holiday, Tiger’s inability to go predictably low as of late on Saturdays should be cause for alarm. He’s now failed to break 71 in his last four third rounds, his scoring average of 72.00 the very definition of ordinary, independent of conditions.

On this particular Saturday, he continued his sublime ball-striking performance this week, finding 10 of 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation. It was the putter that let him down on this occasion, as he took 32 putts for the day, including five misses from inside 10 feet.

Such stories have become a recurring theme for Woods, whose play often conjures images of a real-life Whack-A-Mole carnival game. Every time one of those undesirable little moles rears its ugly head, Woods is forced to whack it back down into the hole, only to see another spring up, ready to pounce. It’s just that in Tiger’s case, the moles represent things like driving accuracy and distance control and, yes, even putting.


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“I had a difficult time adjusting to the pace today,” said Woods, who opened his round by making a 21-foot putt from off the green on the first hole, then didn’t make anything longer than 4 feet the rest of the round. “I know they're faster than what they were yesterday. But they just didn't look that fast and I ran a couple putts by, also left a few short. And also I was trying to stay steady in this wind, which is a task in itself, too. I did the best I could today.”

I know what you’re thinking. And yes, there really is some good news to this story. Actually, for those reading this while cozily lounging in Tiger Woods pajamas, it’s great news.

He still has an excellent chance of winning this tournament.

After posting a Saturday round that he called “the highest score I could have shot,” Woods will find himself in the penultimate pairing on Sunday, just four strokes off the lead at a venue where furious leaderboard shifting is commonplace.

It’s certainly not a bad position from which to attack. Those in front of him include leader Spencer Levin, most widely known for blowing a six-stroke 54-hole lead in Phoenix earlier this year; second-place Rory Sabbatini, who entering this week had missed more cuts than he’d made; and third-place Rickie Fowler, who breaks the trend of potential optimism by serving as this week’s unofficial Hottest Golfer on the Planet with top-five finishes in each of his last three starts.

It is commonly known that Woods has never won any of his 14 major championship titles when coming from behind entering the final round, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t proficient at the task. Of his 68 career PGA Tour stroke-play victories, 20 have come when faced with that situation, including two of his four wins here at the Memorial.

“The winning score may not change from what it's at right now, or it may go higher, may go lower,” Woods mused. “We don't know. That's the hard part about this golf course is there's so many demanding holes that anything can happen.”

What we do know is that Tiger has always owned a flair for the dramatic. With the odometer currently at 72 wins – good for third place all time – his next would tie Jack Nicklaus, which is significant not only for the historic value itself, but because he could reach the mark at the tournament hosted by his hero, the man whose poster adorned his bedroom wall as a child.

If Woods is to claim his 73rd triumph on Sunday, he will ostensibly need to defeat that Whack-A-Mole game, beating down any major issues with any major components of his game.

The bad news is that he once again was forced to play that game in the third round, a balky putting stroke repeatedly popping up to make itself known. The good news is that he’s still very much in contention to win this event with 18 holes left to play.

Going into the final round, the good should outweigh the bad for Tiger Nation. It means there’s still a chance for a 73rd celebratory Sunday.

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Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.


Projected FedExCup standings

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“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”


Projected FedExCup standings

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For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Web.com Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The 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. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:14 am

ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.

For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.

“I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.

Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.

“Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”

Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.

On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.

He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.

“The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”

Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.

He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.

There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.

Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”

Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.

It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.

Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.

“I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”

In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.

He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.

The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.