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Tour players excited to have Woods back

By Nick MentaNovember 1, 2017, 8:38 pm

LAS VEGAS – He’s coming back.  Again.

And thus his colleagues on Tour are getting asked about him. Again.

Tiger Woods on Monday announced that he will make his return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge in Albany.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because we were all in this position one year ago, when Tiger ended another injury layoff with a start in the Bahamas. That return lasted just seven competitive rounds before he withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic in early February and underwent anterior lumbar interbody fusion surgery in April.

Thereafter, it seemed highly unlikely we would see Woods again in 2017. Even just a month ago at the Presidents Cup, the U.S. assistant captain made it clear that he hadn’t been greenlit to hit balls farther than 60 yards and admitted he didn’t know what his future held.

At the time, Charley Hoffman, one of the 17 players who will compete against Woods in Albany, had “zero” idea he would be in a field with Tiger so quickly.

“There were times, playing ping pong or doing whatever, where you could tell he had movement but that he wasn’t fully healed yet,” Hoffman said Wednesday at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. “I don’t know if Tiger knew [he’d be playing so quickly]. This is just me talking, but I think he was waiting for doctor’s clearance. I don’t think he knew if they were going to say yes, no, or indifferent.”

“But, you know Tiger, once he gets the OK to do something, he’s probably full-bore in.” 

That mindset is likely how Woods went from “there’s no rush” to “I am excited to return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge” over the course of a month.

Like Hoffman, many of Woods’ peers on Tour – those who were willing to engage in Tiger talk during practice rounds at the Shriners – weren’t surprised by Woods’ desire to come back and compete.

Shriners Hospitals for Children Open: Articles, photos and videos

That list starts with Kevin Chappell, who hit balls beside the 14-time major winner at the Tiger Woods Invitational earlier this month.

“I was fortunate enough to do a clinic with him a week [after the Presidents Cup]. I saw how good he was hitting it. I was not surprised to see him commit based on what I saw in Monterrey,” Chappell said.

“He said he’d only been practicing a few days, but we got into … not a full game of HORSE, but it was kind of like, ‘Hey, can you hit this shot? Can you hit the shot?’ He had them all. It was kind of impressive to see. It was tough to tell how far the ball was going, just because we were on the range, but I was impressed with the sound. He’s always made a special sound. To hear that, and to see the ball control he had only a few days into practicing, was impressive.”

And even if Woods’ progression from chipping to competition seems quick, Kevin Na will tell you it really isn’t.

“Once you start swinging full, for a professional golfer, I only think it takes about a month to be ready,” Na said.

Still, he stressed, there’s a difference between being “ready” and being “tournament-ready.” And the only way for Tiger to get tournament-ready, as we’ve heard him say so many times before, is to participate in actual tournaments.

Regardless of whether he’s competitive or not in his first start, Bubba Watson made it clear that it will be a treat just to see Tiger tee it up, considering how little Woods has been around on Tour the last few years.

“When Tiger Woods says he’s going to play again, how would you not love it?” Watson asked. “You always want your legends to keep playing. It’s a sad day when they hang it up.

“We should all be thrilled to see a great champion like that show up and be able to play again, not just [for his own health], but also for the game of golf.”

Na echoed Watson’s excitement, but offered reasonably tempered expectations about what’s possible for a soon-to-be 42-year-old coming off four back surgeries.

“I’m excited he’s coming back. He’s a living legend, obviously,” Na said. “Hopefully, he plays to the level that – to be honest, I don’t think he’ll ever get back to the level he once played at – but, you know, good enough to where he plays.”

Ernie Els, who’s been on Tour for Woods’ entire career and has battled him at his very best, is optimistic Woods could find his form again if his health just cooperates.

“Hopefully, the back holds up, because I do feel he can get to some of his best play, but people have to be patient with him,” Els said. “It’s been a long layoff. Out here, things have changed dramatically. Performance-wise, if he gets a couple top-20s, top-30s in his first few goes, that’s great stuff. And then, once the juices start flowing, who knows what he can do?

“He’s, mentally, the strongest player I’ve ever seen. Physically, if he can get over the hurdle, get into the swing of things out here, and get comfortable, I think he can do good things again.”

To Ernie’s point about just how much the PGA Tour has changed, Woods’ success in his early 20s was once an outlier. Instead, it’s now the norm, with guys like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas making their marks early. Woods played a big part in reshaping the Tour as more and more young players modeled themselves in his image. If he is able to once again play on a consistent basis, he’ll have to contend with monsters he helped create.

“It will be great to see him back out here competitive again among this group of young, talented individuals,” Graeme McDowell said. “I feel like he’s moved the bar to a very, very high level, and guys are stepping up.”

Unlike when guys were scrambling to keep up with Woods, it will be Tiger’s turn to catch up with the Tour. Assuming, of course, his back lets him try.

“Hopefully,” Watson added amidst his enthusiasm, “he is truly healthy enough when he gets to that moment to tee it up.”

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''

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Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 11:34 pm

The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.

Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.

Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.

Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).

This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.

Jason Seaman and Kristi Hubly Seaman

Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting

By Tim RosaforteMay 25, 2018, 10:33 pm

Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.

Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.

“You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC. 

Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.

 “I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.”