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Time is on their side: The new crop of major champs

By Randall MellApril 10, 2018, 11:30 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Patrick Reed could hear the storm coming.

All those roars Sunday at the Masters, they were like thunderbolts cracking all around him.

“I saw Jordan and Rickie storm up those leaderboards,” Reed said.

That would be Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, whose bold Sunday charges tested more than Reed’s shot making as he fought to hold them off and win his first major championship.

Spieth came from nine shots back to briefly catch Reed, with Fowler nearly catching him coming from five shots back.

“I knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Reed said. “It's just a way of God basically saying, 'Let's see if you have it.’ Everyone knows you have it physically, with the talent, but do you have it mentally? Can you handle the ups and downs throughout the round?”

Reed’s breakthrough victory in the majors is further evidence the golf gods are asking tougher questions than they ever have.

Further evidence that today’s players may be more explosive and more fearless than the game has ever seen.

Further evidence that the sport is richer and deeper with young talent than it’s ever been.

Reed keeps an epic new run of young major championship winners going. He’s the fourth different player age 27 or younger to win a major over the last four majors played. That’s never happened before in the modern era.

They’re making it tougher to win multiple majors.

Nine of the last 10 major championships have been won by first-time major winners.

The last four Masters have been won by first-time major champions.

This trend is emboldening Fowler and others who haven’t won a major to believe they can follow Reed’s footsteps at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 10 weeks.

“I am ready to go win a major,” Fowler said. “But this was kind of the first major week that I understood that, and known that, and felt that.


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“So I'm ready to go. I'm really looking forward to this year and the three majors that are left.”

Rory McIlroy, who was looking to complete the career Grand Slam, got run over by Reed in their pairing together.

While McIlroy knows his golf history, he made a mistake trying to turn his major championship experience against Reed on Saturday evening, before Reed headed home to sleep on his first 54-hole lead in a major.

“I feel like all the pressure is on him,” McIlroy said. “He’s got to go out and protect that, and he’s got a few guys chasing him who are pretty big-time players. He’s got that to deal with and sleep on tonight.”

McIlroy is sharp guy, but, boy, did that tactic backfire.

McIlroy shot 74 and was pretty much irrelevant on the back nine.

While Reed may have a feistier edge than most of today’s young players, he could be the poster boy for the era’s fearless style of play.

“Patrick is not scared,” Fowler said. “He won’t back down. He’s a fighter.”

Reed reveled hearing so many prognosticators on Sunday morning pick McIlroy over him. It was like high-octane fuel for him. Same thing when he heard fans cheering more for McIlroy at the first tee, and later for Spieth and Fowler as they made their charges.

Spieth, 24, suggested after a fast start Thursday that owning a green jacket is a formidable difference maker once the first tee balls are in the air at Augusta National.

“Once you win here, you have an advantage over anybody who hasn't won here,” Spieth said.

That makes sense, but not as much sense as it used to make, at the Masters or in any other major.

Youthful bravado is trumping experience more than it ever has.

“Patrick is a member of the Masters club now,” Spieth said. “He’ll have a green jacket forever. His name is etched in history.”

At week’s start, Gary Player said he believed somebody in his 50s could win a major now, the way players today take such care of themselves.

Actually, with so much talented youth hoisting trophies now, that feat could be more difficult than ever.

At 47, Phil Mickelson was hoping to eclipse Jack Nicklaus as the oldest winner of the Masters. He arrived at Augusta National with momentum from a victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship last month, but he barely made the cut Friday. He left Sunday conceding that time is beginning to weigh on him on these major championship stages. He will turn 48 on Saturday of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he will be looking once again to complete the career Grand Slam.

“I put a little bit too much pressure on myself in the majors now, because I know that I don't have a ton of time to win them, especially U.S. Opens,” Mickelson said. “But these next two U.S. Opens, Shinnecock and Pebble Beach, give me two really good opportunities. So, I need to get my game sharp.”

Tiger Woods is still putting his game back together after so much time away with his back issues, but he must have left Augusta National knowing Reed makes it harder to win here in the future, that all these young first-time winners are making it harder for anyone to win.

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McCarthy wins Web.com Tour Championship by 4

By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals.

''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.


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Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for 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.

Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

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LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”


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For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.


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He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.


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McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.