Wittenberg Surges NHL Player Struggles
The 37-year-old Winnipeg native carded a 4-under 68 Wednesday to take over the top spot at the halfway pole of the Canadian Tours Winter Qualifying School. After two trips around the 7,000-yard Black Bear GC, Collins has a 6-under 138 total, one stroke in front of Edmontons Danny Sahl, Scott McNeil of Calgary and Americans Chris Cureton and Casey Wittenberg.
Marc Savard of the Atlanta Thrashers, an Ottawa native looking to play his way onto the Canadian Tour after the National Hockey League cancelled its 2005 campaign last week, struggled to a 7-over 79 and is in 46th spot at 13-over.
Once final round action has wrapped up Friday, the Canadian Tour will award seven exempt playing cards for the 2005 season, with the same number of participants earning non-exempt status. The cutline to secure a card after two rounds is 1-under.
The 37-year-old Collins, who won the Manitoba PGA Championship in 1995, was consistent for the second straight day, coming on the heels of an opening-round 70 that left him one shot off the lead. Collins had a strong finish Wednesday, hitting a knockdown 9-iron from 131 yards to within two feet on the final hole for a tap-in birdie.
It was a good day, nothing spectacular but I didnt make many mistakes, said Collins, one of only ten Canadians in the starting field. Ive put myself in great position and Ill just stick to what Ive been doing. Golf can be a crazy game, so you need to stay with your game plan.
After taking seven years off from the sport as he nursed a nagging arm injury that required surgery in 1996, Collins returned to the links a year and a half ago, hoping to revive a once-promising career.
On Wednesday, Collins proved he made the right decision. Playing with American amateur phenom Casey Wittenberg, Collins held his own and is in prime position with just two days left.
Wittenberg fired a second-round 66, the low round of the day, and caught the attention of Collins.
That kid is a great player, Collins added. He made that 66 look so easy out there. Hes got some game.
Less than 24 hours after a double-bogey, bogey finish that left him with a 1-over 73, Wittenberg found his groove early Wednesday with birdies on four of his first five holes. The 20-year-old made the turn at 4-under and cruised home on the inward nine, moving up fourteen spots on the leaderboard into a tie for second.
I was pretty hot under the collar after my finish yesterday, but I gave myself a lot more opportunities today, admitted Wittenberg. It was tough (Tuesday) but at the end of the day, you have to come back out and play good golf.
Wittenberg is coming off a season to remember, highlighted by a 13th-place showing at The Masters, the best finish by an amateur in 41 years at Augusta. The former NCAA All-American at Oklahoma State University joins Tiger Woods as the only two players in history to be ranked the top amateur in the United States before starting college.
If being placed under the proverbial microscope is causing cracks in Wittenbergs armor, the 2003 U.S. amateur runner-up hides it well.
You know, if Ive learned anything, its that you cant put any more pressure on yourself. This game is hard enough, there is no need to make it any tougher. It can beat you up pretty quickly if you let it. I know what I can do and I know where I want to be. Im 20 years old. Its a learning process.
Savard, a member at the TPC at Sugarloaf who routinely plays practice rounds with PGA Tour star Stewart Cink, has had his fair share of problems on the greens thus far. Two double-bogeys Wednesday means Savard will have plenty of work to do if he wants to turn his week around, but the fourth-round draft pick of the New York Rangers in 1995 feels he can still take it low over the final two days.
Ive been hitting my driver and my irons great, I just cant make any putts, said Savard. The short stick and my chipping have been horrible, and they are usually my best attributes. Ive lost all feeling with the putter. I know I have a 68 in meI just have to get it done.
Second round scores from the 7,000-yard, par-72 Black Bear GC (A-denotes amateur):
Glenn Collins 70-68_138
Chris Cureton 72-67_139
Scott McNeil 71-68_139
Danny Sahl 69-70_139
Casey Wittenberg 73-66_139
John Humphries 70-70_140
Eddie Heinen 70-71_141
Jesse Smith 74-67_141
Billy Zihala 70-71_141
Jim Seki 74-68_142
Jesse Hibler 75-68_143
Jan Meierling 72-71_143
Brock Mulder 72-71_143
Justin Snelling 71-72_143
Chad Lydiatt 73-71_144
Brien Davis 72-73_145
Gavin Ferlic 73-72_145
Joe Horowitz 70-75_145
Ryan Kings 72-73_145
Mac McLeod 73-72_145
Yuji Makino 76-70_146
McNally. Michael 70-77_147
Matt Deschaine 74-74_148
Michael Hospodar 76-72_148
Lynn Kilduff 75-73_148
Brett Peterson 79-69_148
Greg Martin 72-77_149
JJ Williams 75-75_150
Billy Dickenson 74-77_151
Robert Kennedy 78-73_151
Pedro Park 74-77_151
Adrian Parker 77-74_151
Bret Guetz 81-71_152
Kelly Berger 78-75_153
Dan Cook 79-74_153
Juan Pablo Ibarreche 78-75_153
Scott Noble 77-76_153
Ron Hoenig 78-76_154
Evan Johnstone 78-76_154
Justin Sherriff 75-79_154
Michael Brown 81-74_155
Jerry Heinz 81-74_155
Ian Hogg 76-79_155
Rob Sitterley 78-78_156
Scott Yopchick 79-77_156
Michael Petrie 78-79_157
(A) Marc Savard 78-79_157
Shane Tripp 84-74_158
(A) Matt Yarvi 85-74_159
Jeffery Ryan 76-84_160
Jordan Totten 94-82_176
McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods
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.”
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.”
Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship
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.''
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.
Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling
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.
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.
Woods, McIlroy in Sunday super group in finale
ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy has made known his disdain for “super groups” in early tournament rounds.
Well, he’s now got one on Sunday at the Tour Championship. And it doesn’t get more super than this.
McIlroy will play alongside Tiger Woods in the final pairing, in the final round at East Lake Golf Club. Woods leads McIlroy – and Justin Rose – by three shots.
“All I can do is worry about myself,” McIlroy said. “It doesn't matter who it is I'm playing with. It's obviously exciting for the golf tournament. It's exciting for golf, in general, that he's up there. But for me, all I can do is concentrate on myself. The game is hard enough without having to – without looking at other people. Go out there, take care of my business, and hopefully that's good enough.”
This is the fifth time that McIlroy and Woods have been grouped this year. They were alongside one another in the first two rounds of the Genesis Open and the first two rounds of the PGA Championship.
In the four previous rounds, McIlroy finished better twice, Woods once, and they tied once.
“It's going to be fun. We haven't done that much of late, because I've not been there,” Woods said of going head-to-head with McIlroy for a title. “He has been there, and he's won a bunch of tournaments. So it's nice for us to go back out and play against one another, be in the mix.”
We know Woods will be wearing his traditional red in the final round. As for McIlroy?
"I think I'll wear red," McIlroy joked. "No, geez, I've regretted wearing black out here today. It was hot."
They go out at 2:05 p.m. ET.