Woods in Players hunt for first time in years

By Joe PosnanskiMay 11, 2013, 12:09 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Here, in a nutshell, is what it is to be Tiger Woods: All week people keep asking him about why TPC Sawgrass has caused him so much agony through the years.

What is it about this course and this tournament that gives you heartburn, Tiger? Do you ever wish you could sneak on the course on the middle of the night and build a mall on top of it, Tiger? If you had a choice between playing TPC Sawgrass or wrestling two alligators at the same time, which would you choose, Tiger?

This has been the constant drumbeat, all week, how TPC Sawgrass has kicked Tiger Woods around like some crunched up Diet Coke can on the side of the road … and how Tiger Woods feels about being the crunched-up Diet Coke can.

So it was almost jolting when Woods – after shooting his second 67 in two days – casually reminded everyone that, you know, he has actually won here.

No, check that, he’s won here twice.

And he’s also had a few other great moments here too.

“I know how to get around this golf course,” Woods says with a smile on his face.

Well, of course he’s won here. He’s won everywhere, man, he’s won everywhere.

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Here, at this course that hates him, he launched himself into the national consciousness. Here, at 18, he won his first U.S. Amateur – coming back from five shots down in the final 12 holes to beat Trip Kuehne in one of the most gripping and mesmerizing performances in that tournament’s history.

Here at this course, in 2000, he shot 9 under as a 24 year old and reached a playoff in The Players Championship. He was already so dominant a player that it was considered huge and shocking news when he lost to former PGA champion and PGA Tour Player of the Year Hal Sutton in that playoff.

Here at this course, the very next year, he won The Players Championship and hit one of the most famous shots in golf history, the impossible 60-foot putt on the 17th hole that NBC’s Gary Koch called “better than most” as it rolled toward and then into the cup.

Remember: Tiger Woods has been answering questions all week about how much he HATES this place.

But this is the splendor of Tiger Woods’ golf career. It is true that, compared with most other courses, TPC Sawgrass has given Woods a rough time. Twice in the last three years he has withdrawn from The Players Championship. He only has one top-10 finish here since winning The Players in 2001. But in Tiger Woods’ world, even the bad places are good. Even the unhappy courses have beautiful memories. That’s how incredible his career has been.

Which leads to the most fascinating question about Tiger Woods at age 37: What keeps him so engaged? He’s rich beyond the very limits of the word. He could not be more famous. He has played golf better than anyone before him. What is it that makes him stalk every putt and grind out every shot? What is it that sends him to the range for hour after hour after hour to completely reshape and reinvent his game? This is no joke by the way, this part of reinventing his game. We all know how Woods has entirely changed his swing. But Woods says his chipping style is now entirely different from a decade ago.

“You don’t chip like you did 10 years ago?” a reporter asked Woods incredulously. Woods, 10 years ago, had one of the great short games in the history of golf. He really doesn’t chip the way he did then?

“Nope,” Woods said.

“You got rid of that?” the reporter asked.


“That’s quite an achievement.”

“Thank you,” Woods said, sly smile on his face.

What is it that keeps him coming into the press tent to answer the same questions that he wasn’t especially interested in answering the last 20 times?

Sure, it’s easy to say that no matter how much money you make you always want more and no matter how many titles you win, you always want to win another. It’s easy to say that Woods is hungrily chasing Nicklaus’ record for most major championships, and he remains four behind (18-14*) and that deeply motivates him – that mythical but indisputable title as the greatest golfer who ever lived.

*Some people would consider The Players Championship to be the fifth major … if you count those, Nicklaus would actually expand his lead over Woods to six, 21-15, because Nicklaus won three Players, Woods has won one.

On the other hand, some people think the Memorial – Nicklaus’ own tournament – should be the fifth major. Nicklaus won the tournament twice. Woods, however, has won it five times already. So, if that counted, Nicklaus would only be leading 20-19.

Of course, the whole thing is silly – four majors are plenty.

Yes, surely, Woods is motivated by history and his place in it. But there is something more. There must be something more. It seems to me there is something about Tiger Woods – something about the best athletes – that is unquenchable. My friend Mel Stewart, who won the gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly at the 1992 Olympics, says only half jokingly that he gave so much of his life to swimming that, in the process, he became part fish.

There’s something to that – some part of Tiger Woods that simply must be under the duress of competition and simply must succeed. No, this isn’t his favorite course. This isn’t a major, despite the PGA Tour’s efforts. The prize money will just dissolve into his riches. The title, if he wins it, will be tacked on to his 100-plus professional wins – ranking somewhere below the U.S. Opens and Masters and British Opens.

But he’s hungry anyway. Why? I don’t know if competing makes Tiger Woods “happy” as we generally understand the word, but I think it’s engrained in him. I think there’s just a part of Tiger Woods that only comes alive on weekends when his name is near the top of the leaderboard.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.