Positives for Tiger on Day 1 despite being 9 back

By Jay CoffinApril 10, 2015, 12:55 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods’ game either has been poked and prodded or hailed and lauded following every round of his professional life.

Perhaps for the first time ever, we should do none of the above regarding his opening 73 Thursday at the Masters. Sit back and appreciate the fact that an aging champion returned to his favorite playground and gave it a go.

Two months ago, when last we saw Woods, he was an absolute mess. He couldn’t hit a green with a pitching wedge from the middle of the fairway. The most elementary of chip shots provided hold-your-breath moments. He went out of his way to hit bump and runs from around the green instead of attempting flop shots for fear of hitting nasty skulls. And we will never forget the worst moment, when Woods withdrew after 11 holes at Torrey Pines because his glutes failed to activate.

Since Woods announced he was going to play the Masters last Friday, the golf world has gone haywire with prognostications. It was ratcheted up Monday when he played 11 holes in a practice round and was several shots under par. Some of that subsided Tuesday when he hit a few more wayward shots. Woods went for a back-nine stroll with Jordan Spieth and Ben Crenshaw on Wednesday and Gentle Ben gushed about how well Woods played.

Still, those practice-round performances coupled with a newfound happy-go-lucky attitude has seemingly made Woods the de facto Mayor of Augusta this week. The betting public was so smitten with Woods that his odds of winning dropped from 40-to-1 to 25-to-1 overnight.

Now that the first round is in the books, there’s no real hope that Woods is going to contend, especially with the New Kid on the Block doing his thing in just 64 shots at the top of the leaderboard. That Woods returned at the Masters, after missing last year because of injury, was the story.

“I felt good,” Woods said. “I felt like I hit the ball well enough to shoot 3 under par.”

That’s certainly one way of looking at it. Woods also played poorly enough to shoot 3 or 4 over par.

First, the positives.

Woods’ short game, of all things, bailed him out again and again. He short sided himself on the monstrous par-4 10th hole and got up and down from a bunker when he converted a 5 footer for par. On the next hole, he blew his approach well right of the green and got up and down again for par.

On the historic par-3 12th hole, Woods hit a terrible tee shot short and the ball rolled back into the water. After a drop he pitched the ball to kick-in range and made bogey. Next he hit his second shot left of the par-5 13th hole and got up and down for birdie by making a putt from 8 feet.

“It’s my strength again,” Woods said matter-of-factly about his short game, almost as if he doesn’t realize how poorly he played mere months ago.

“That’s why I’ve busted my butt. That’s why I took time off. That’s why I hit thousands and thousands of shots to make sure that it’s back to being my strength.”

Many of the mistakes can be chalked up to competitive rust. It’s also abundantly clear that Woods focused so much on cleaning up his horrid short game that he failed to pay more attention to some of the other aspect of his game. There was a sloppy three-putt on the first hole, a poor bunker shot on the fourth, two terrible swings on the ninth hole where Woods was lucky to escape with bogey.

Simply, though, it was a bizarre day at the office.

Is all of this progress? Considering where he was, absolutely it is. But this is still Tiger Woods and it’s exceedingly difficult to swallow that a 73 at Augusta National is an acceptable result. He’s hovering around the cut line for goodness sake. There used to be times when Woods could overpower these hallowed grounds, but we knew down deep, as much as we wish it weren’t true, that he was going to struggle to break par.

“I’m glad he’s back,” said playing partner Jimmy Walker. “He had some good pars where he got up and down. It was good to see him playing good.”

That seemed to be the theme of the day for everyone but Woods.

He grinded all day, blamed slow green speeds for the reason he didn’t putt better and threw out various expletives along the way. Those were all shades of the old Woods. Nothing, though, was more vintage Woods than a never-say-die comment in a post-round interview.

“You know, I’m still in it. I’m only nine back,” he said as he sits in a 41st-place tie. “And we have a long way to go.”

He’s come a long way already.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”