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Randall's Rant: Augusta is Tiger's advantage

By Randall MellFebruary 26, 2018, 7:02 pm

Last weekend’s exhilaration watching Tiger Woods race ahead of schedule in his return to the game comes with a bit of a hangover this morning.

Last weekend’s fun comes with a headache yet to conquer.

There is still so much work left for Woods to catch up to the legion of young stars taking control of the game.

He couldn’t catch Justin Thomas Sunday at the Honda Classic, with Thomas winning his eighth PGA Tour title at 24, which sets Thomas up for a run at back-to-back Player of the Year awards.

As good as Woods looked at PGA National, as much promise as he showed in just his third PGA Tour start after yet another back surgery, he finished eight shots behind Thomas.

Yes, that’s not the number that mattered in any reasonable measurement of where Woods is in his comeback, but he flipped a switch in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

The tempered expectations aren’t so tempered anymore.

“My expectations have gone up,” Woods said.

How the 42-year-old fares against Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and the other 20something stars will be the gauge going forward.

Yes, and Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, too. They may be in their 30s now, but they are in their primes.

As Woods stepped to the first tee Sunday to try to make a run at the leaders, the challenge beyond the week looked him square in the eye and smiled.

His fellow competitor, Sam Burns, a 21-year-old playing on a sponsor exemption, reminded Woods that formidable new waves of youth are going to pour in behind Spieth, McIlroy and Thomas.

Woods saw in Burns how these young guys have the ultimate respect for him, but no fear of him.

Burns acknowledged being extremely nervous meeting Woods for the first time at the first tee, but then he striped his tee shot down the middle. And then he nestled up alongside Woods walking down the first fairway, to crack an ice-breaking joke.

“Man, it’s crazy all these people came out to watch me today, isn’t it?” Burns said.

Burns was good naturedly bantering, enjoying his chance to play against Woods for the first time outside a video game.

Leaving Honda, Woods was asked if he was beginning to feel like the “old Tiger” again.

“I feel like an older guy,” Woods cracked. “Sam is half my age. That’s a little different.”

Burns beat Woods Sunday, putting up a 68 with Woods shooting 70.

Yes, that score didn’t really matter in the lens we were using to evaluate where Woods is at in his comeback, but it matters going forward.

It always mattered in the past to Woods, too.

He was all about beating everybody.

There was territory to be staked, messages to be delivered and advantages to be built in every pairing.

Woods won’t be getting any younger, so Father Time will keep stealing advantages he once built. But there’s one special place where Woods may yet have immunity to that.

If his game keeps coming together this quickly, there’s one place he still holds the advantage on these young guys.

You know where this going, to Augusta National, and the Masters.

With his swing speed remarkably reinvigorated, with his iron play coming back, with his short game restored, all he needs is for his putter to return to full blossom with all those dogwoods and azaleas.

Augusta National is the one place where Woods can most emphatically turn the tables on all these young stars, even Spieth, who has a victory and two second-place finishes in the last four years.

“I’m just building toward April,” Woods said. “I’m trying to get myself ready for that, and I feel like I’m right on track for that.”

The Masters is five weeks away, but if Woods keeps putting his game together, he won’t feel five weeks older. He may look 10 years younger. That’s the transformative effect Augusta National has on players who know how to unlock its secrets.

Jack Nicklaus, of course, won there at 46, but he also made that Sunday run at the leaders when he was 58.

Ben Crenshaw won there when he was 43, Gary Player when he was 42 and Sam Snead when he was almost 42.

Raymond Floyd, Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples remained competitive there into their 50s.

While Woods has work to do catching all these young stars on the game’s larger landscape, the tables could easily reverse at Augusta, where youth may very well be wasted on the young.

Woods doesn’t need all his powers back to be special there again. He knows that. He knows it’s where all these young guys may have to measure up to him again.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”