Masters is on Woods' mind

By Randall MellFebruary 26, 2014, 10:59 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – You won’t find any azaleas blooming along PGA National’s Champion Course this week.

No dogwoods, either.

But if you’re Tiger Woods, you can almost smell them anyway.

Or imagine draws on the practice range here turning around the bend at No. 13 at Augusta National.

Or high fades settling down on the 15th green on a Masters Sunday.

Woods says the specter of the Masters looms strong now with the PGA Tour schedule turning to the Honda Classic and this week’s start of the Florida swing.

“Once we get to Florida, I think we're all thinking about our way to Augusta,” Woods said after his pro-am round Wednesday. “Some guys usually start at Doral, some guys start here, but once we get to Florida, now most of the guys are getting pretty serious about their prep to Augusta.”

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Phil Mickelson can feel it, too, as he makes his first start at the Honda Classic in a dozen years.

“This is kind of where guys like myself and others are getting geared up for that event,” Mickelson said. “It’s important to get competitive, get sharp mentally and focused, and play some good golf, get in contention.”

That is something Woods hasn’t done in his sluggish beginning to 2014. In his two starts this year, he has tied for 41st at the Omega Dubai Masters and failed to make the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open. There’s the usual fretting and angst among analysts over Woods’ lack of form. Woods posted a 79 at one of his favorite venues, Torrey Pines, in his last PGA Tour start.

His pedestrian start is fueling speculation that at 38 Woods is more beatable than ever despite his five wins a year ago. It’s fueling speculation that major championship titles will be harder to come by. Woods, after all, is looking for his first major championship victory since ’08, his first Masters title since ’05.

“I think now the players really believe that, yes, Tiger is terrific, and he won five times last year, and he was really good, but he was beatable,” NBC’s Johnny Miller said. “Before, it was like, if he had his A-game, you could just kiss it off.  It wasn't going to happen.  He was just so much better than everybody, and so much better under pressure, and so much better on Sundays, and so much better in the majors. It was not a fair fight. Now, it’s a fair fight.”

Woods is looking for his first top-10 finish this year. If he doesn’t get it, alarms are sure to go off among the experts. Woods has never failed to finish among the top 10 in his first three starts in his 18 years as a pro.

Even Notah Begay, the NBC course reporter who knows Woods’ game as well as any analyst, recognizes a narrowing of the gap between Woods and other top players. He sees Woods less able to contend when he’s not on his game.

“I think his game has come back down to earth a little bit,” Begay said. “I do think he has the ability to create that separation, and he doesn't necessarily have to have his A-game. But it used to be that he could be somewhat off of his game and still finish in the top 10. If you just look at his top-10 performances over the last two or three years, they're not as high of a percentage as they were prior to the scandal.”

Woods is making just his third start at the Honda Classic. He was brilliant closing with a 62 in his first year in the field in 2012, nearly catching Rory McIlroy after starting the final round nine shots back. Last year, he was ordinary at PGA National, tying for 37th.

A victory this week does more than soothe the angst around Woods’ sluggish start. It sends a message he is ready for the year’s first major. He has never made the Masters his first win in any season. All four years he won a green jacket, he took at least one win with him to Augusta National.

Woods played his pro-am Wednesday with swing coach Sean Foley in tow. He said he isn’t focused on form. He’s focused on winning.

“It feels good,” Woods said about his overall game. “I was pleasantly surprised how well I was hitting it today, and just getting a feel for the greens and how the short game is playing out of this grass, versus up at Medalist.”

What Woods ultimately wants is the feeling he’s ready to win the Masters.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson


9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari


5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick


5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello

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Koepka autographs local kids' 'Go Brooks' sign after win

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 2:30 pm

Brooks Koepka is a two-time U.S. Open winner, but that doesn't mean he's now too big to go sign a couple pieces of cardboard in somebody's front yard in the middle of the night.

Koepka's girlfriend, Jena Sims, posted two pictures to her Instagram story on Sunday of "Go Brooks" signs she says were put up by some local kids in the area where Koepka was staying for the week.

The first is dated prior to Koepka's final-round tee time.

The second is from Sunday night.

And here, separately, for no reason in particular (other than the fact that she posted it) is a video of Sims running over a parking cone at last year's U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

Speaking of kids, just feels those two are gonna make it.

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Koepka moves to No. 4 in world with U.S. Open win

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:05 pm

After successfully defending his U.S. Open title, Brooks Koepka reached a new career high in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Koepka held off Tommy Fleetwood to win by a shot Sunday at Shinnecock Hills, becoming the first player to go back-to-back in nearly 30 years. As a result, he jumped five spots in the latest rankings to No. 4, six spots higher than he reached with last year's U.S. Open victory at Erin Hills.

Fleetwood finished alone in second place and moved up two spots to No. 10, tying his career-best placement. Patrick Reed moved up two spots to No. 11 by finishing fourth, while fifth-place Tony Finau went from No. 37 to No. 31.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

It was a largely quiet week in the rankings despite the fact that a major championship was contested. Outside of Koepka and Finau, the only other player inside the top 50 to move up or down more than three spots was Jason Dufner, who went from 53rd to 48th with a T-25 finish.

Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1 for the second consecutive week, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Koepka and Jordan Spieth. Jon Rahm dropped one spot to No. 6, with Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Fleetwood rounding out the top 10. Hideki Matsuyama fell two spots to No. 12, dropping out of the top 10 for the first time since October 2016.

Despite a missed cut at Shinnecock, Tiger Woods actually moved up one spot to No. 79 in the latest rankings. He plans to play the Quicken Loans National and The Open in the coming weeks, which will be his final two chances to move into the top 50 in time to qualify for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The event is being held for the final time this summer at Firestone Country Club, where Woods has won eight times.