Woods still the center of attention at Augusta

By Joe PosnanskiApril 8, 2015, 8:09 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The last time there was this much buzz about a golfer returning to play at the Masters was … well, yeah, it was when Tiger Woods returned in 2010 after his unfortunate detour onto the covers of more or less every supermarket tabloid in the world.

Before that, though, it was the return of Bobby Jones himself.

The big story of the first Masters in 1934 was that Jones – the Masters Tournament founder who had retired from golf in 1930 after the tickertape parade he was given for winning the Grand Slam – announced he would actually play. Jones returning after four years wasn’t just the big story. He was the only story. His return was the only reason that the biggest sportswriters of the time stopped in Augusta on their way north from spring training.

This time around, Woods’ layoff was only two months, not four years. But the mystery of the layoff, the secrecy of his sun-up-to-sundown woodshedding to right his game, the hunger to have a riveting Tiger Woods at the top of the golf world again … all of it has made his return to golf crush every other story at the Masters.

“I think everyone is just curious to see how he comes back,” says Rory McIlroy, who has his own compelling story. “As a golf fan, I’m sort of interested.”

“I know as much as anybody,” says Phil Mickelson, who has his own compelling story. “And I’m as curious too.”

“It’s been a dream of mine to be in contention with Tiger Woods in a major championship and at Augusta,” says Jordan Spieth who, yes, has his own compelling story too.

What can we realistically expect from Woods this week? That’s the fun and confusing part: There’s absolutely no way to know. The last time we saw Woods, he was walking off the golf course in San Diego and griping that his glutes would not activate. He seemed to be in some pain. And his game seemed to be in shambles. In Phoenix a week earlier, he had shot 82 and chipped so poorly that other players were rubbing their eyes in disbelief. He was playing poorly again before his unactivated glutes sent him back to Florida to endure intense daily remedial sessions of golf basics.

“I worked my ass off,” Woods says. “That’s the easiest way to describe it … People would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again.”

Many are expecting Woods to struggle, but it should be said that Woods’ contagious confidence – along with a good practice round on Monday – has some people entertaining the possibility that Woods could do something special this week. “When you’re talking about a world-class golfer, you just don’t know,” says 2013 champion Adam Scott. “I’m sure he has high hopes. His level of comfort around this golf course must be extremely high. … With Tiger, anything’s possible.”

Adam Scott is a great example of just how much of a shadow Woods is casting over the Masters this year: Have you even heard his name? Scott says he is enjoying flying low and relatively unnoticed. In years past, he has had to endure being the top story going into a Masters before. For several years, Scott had the awkward title as the best golfer to never win a major championship. That title has always been a magnet for pre-tournament stories.

This time around, the player who probably should receive the heaviest “When will he finally win a major?” scrutiny is Rickie Fowler, who last year became only the third player (after Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods) to finish top five in all four major championships in a year. Unlike Nicklaus and Woods, Fowler did not actually win any of them. You would expect the pressure on Fowler to be intense, but with so much focus on Woods, though, Fowler has been all but invisible this week.

“I don’t care if I’m the favorite or not or if the odds are with me or against me,” Fowler says. “I’m going to go out there and try to win myself a major.”

There has been similar indifference toward a collection of talented Americans – led by the world’s No. 4-ranked player, Jordan Spieth, along with Dustin Johnson (No. 7), Jimmy Walker (No. 10), J.B. Holmes (No. 12) and Patrick Reed (No. 15) – who have been playing superbly of late. None of them have won a major championship yet.

The most captivating of those players is Spieth, who has a victory and two second-place finishes in his last three tournaments. He’s probably playing better than anybody coming into the tournament. He also has some unfinished business here; he led the Masters by two shots on Sunday last year and then was passed by Bubba Watson. He finished as the youngest runner-up in Masters history but that was little consolation.

“I guess the hardest lesson I took from last year was that I had an opportunity to make a dream come true,” he says. “I had it in my hands. And then I was just a little anxious. You can make the excuse that as a first-timer and as, whatever, 20 years old, that’s likely to happen. But in my mind, I was playing the best … and I didn’t quite close it out.”

Even Phil Mickelson is generally being ignored this week; and Mickelson has been a reliable headline-making machine for two decades. He is a three-time Masters winner, and last week in Houston he actually showed a few signs of life by playing well in his first couple of rounds. Mickelson has had just one top-10 finish in the last year and a half, but it was when he finished second at the PGA Championship last year; big tournaments still seem to bring out his best. He turns 45 in June, but it’s Augusta, and it’s April, and this has been Mickelson’s favorite time and place.

“I think driving down Magnolia Lane is rejuvenating,” Mickelson says. “It gives me new energy. … The thing about Augusta is that, for me personally, I don’t feel like I have to be perfect. So it relaxes me. Even though I may not have my best stuff on any given day, I still feel like I can shoot in the 60s.”

And after all of that, yes, there’s the guy most people actually expect to win the golf tournament, the world’s No. 1 player, Rory McIlroy. He comes to Augusta having won the last two major championships, and he looks to become just the sixth player – after Woods, Gary Player, Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen – to win the career Grand Slam. If he does win, he sets himself up to become the second golfer (after you know who) to win the four modern major championships consecutively.

And even McIlroy’s amazing quest is being swamped by the Tiger Woods story.

“I don’t feel any less or any more pressure because he’s here,” McIlroy says of Woods. “You know, it’s great that he’s here. Does it give people something else to talk about? Yes. But I’m not necessarily listening to anything that anyone is saying. So it doesn’t really make a difference to me.”

McIlroy’s history at Augusta is a tortured one. In 2011, he led the Masters by four shots entering the final day, and then he had a nightmarish back nine that began on No. 10 when he pulled his drive into an area many longtime Masters observers did not even know existed. He shot 80 that day and fell to 15th place. He then finished 40th the next year, 25th the next, and last year he was eighth. But even that top-10 finish was disappointing. McIlroy was even par on the par 5s, where a player of his length and talent should dominate.

“I’ve been thinking about getting the eagle too much,” he says. “If I can just play the par 5s a little better …

“If you’re looking at the [major championship] courses, this is the one that should set up best for me with my ball flight … If I play the way I know I can around here and just have a good week on the greens, then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have a good chance.”

So many storylines, and still the only one that seems to matter, at least for now, is Tiger Woods. Well, there’s a grand Masters history of such overshadowing. You might note that the first player to win the Masters was a Midwesterner named Horton Smith. He made a long birdie putt on the 17th hole to edge Craig Wood. Just about every paper in the country, though, led with the fact that Bobby Jones finished 13th. One columnist wrote that the only significant thing to come out of the tournament was just how much more fun professional golf was with Bobby Jones playing.

If Tiger Woods finishes 13th, or anything even close, you can expect more of the same.

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Storms halt Barbasol before Lincicome tees off

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2018, 11:29 pm

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - Brittany Lincicome will have to wait until the weekend to resume her bid to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Overnight storms delayed the start of the second round Friday in the Barbasol Championship, and an afternoon thunderstorm suspended competition for good. The round will resume Saturday morning with much of the field still to play.

The second stoppage at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came 20 minutes before Lincicome's scheduled tee time.

Lincicome was near the bottom of the field after opening with a 6-over 78 on Thursday. The first LPGA player since Michelle Wie in 2008 to start a PGA Tour event, she needs a huge rebound to join Babe Zaharias (1945) as the only female players to make the cut.

Troy Merritt had the clubhouse lead at 15 under, following an opening 62 with a 67.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”