Tiger miserable after winning at Match Play

By Randall MellFebruary 23, 2012, 12:19 am

MARANA, Ariz. – Men march into root-canal surgery with more bounce in their step.

They walk into IRS audits more cheerfully.

Walking up the 18th fairway, Tiger Woods led his match with Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano Wednesday at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but you wouldn’t have known it. Woods looked miserable. In fact, it is difficult remembering him look more miserable winning anything in his life.

Mell: Tiger Tracker on Day 1

Opening-round recaps

You know it was partly the cold he caught, the hacking cough told you as much, but it was mostly the bad golf, a disappointing day of ball striking and balky putting. Woods spent too much time hiking through the desert to enjoy this victory, too much time squeezing past scrub brush and cacti looking for golf balls. Woods played shots from places a rattlesnake wouldn’t feel comfortable, but he survived, which is pretty much the best you can say about his first-round performance.

Woods defeated Fernandez-Castano, 1 up, with a brilliant up-and-down from a bunker at No. 18, halving the hole and claiming the match. When it was finally over, mercifully over, Woods was more relieved than satisfied.

“I don’t think either one of us had our best stuff today,” Woods said.

Woods was 2 over on his card through 11 holes.

Fernandez-Castano was right, you know. Woods was “beatable.” Afterward, Fernandez-Castano was kicking himself for failing to take advantage.

“If there was one day to beat Tiger, this was it,” Fernandez-Castano said. “I had my chances and didn’t take the opportunity. You can’t do that with one of the greatest players in history.”

Woods advances to the second round, where he faces a stiffer test against Nick Watney, who routed Darren Clarke, 5 and 4.

In Wednesday’s start, Woods didn’t look comfortable from the beginning. He backed off shots on the range to fight through coughing spells.

At the first hole, Woods missed an 8-foot birdie chance to halve the hole. At the second, he pushed his tee shot into the desert, forcing him to play left-handed to escape the brush. He lost that hole to fall 2 down.

After fighting back to take the lead, 1 up, with birdies at the seventh and eighth holes, Woods gave it back with a brutal adventure at the 10th. He pulled his tee shot into the desert, where he was fortunate to escape without a snake bite or cactus needles stuck in his rump. He slapped his second shot out from under a bush, but the shot skidded behind another bush. He impressively whacked his third shot right through that bush, but it ballooned and fell short in a waste area on his way to losing that hole with a double bogey.

“We both made our share of mistakes, there’s no doubt about that,” Woods said. “Somehow, I was able to move on.”

Give Woods credit. He advanced. He fought through the waywardness to win.

“It was just an emotional match for both us,” Woods said. “It was tough, it was tough on both of us.”

Actually, match play might be good for what has been ailing Woods. Every match somewhat mirrors the pressure of being in the hunt in the final-round of a stroke-play event. With failures to close out victories in his last two starts, match play gives Woods a chance to putt under that kind of must-make pressure.

“Today, I hit a couple bad putts,” Woods said. “But I had a hard time reading these greens.”

While Woods holed a 52-foot bomb for birdie at the seventh, he missed a load of other birdie chances. He missed the 8-footer at the first, another 8-footer at the fifth and a 12-footer at the sixth. At the 17th, he missed a 9-foot birdie chance to end the match.

There were back-nine highlights. There was Woods’ marvelous tee shot at the short 15th, a 343-yard par 4. Woods drove the green and just missed his 20-foot eagle chance. That win squared the match.

The match got ugly for Fernandez-Castano at the 15th. When he missed his birdie chance there, the fans whooped and yelped and cheered. At the 16th, when Fernandez-Castano missed a short par putt to give Woods the lead, fans cheered wildly again, this time before Woods had even holed out.

There was little chatter between these two until the match was nearly over. It was intensely played.

“Tiger is a true gentleman,” Fernandez-Castano said. “I had good chances. I’m sure he played far from his best.”

But well enough to advance.

Watch live coverage of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Golf Channel, Thursday/Friday 2-6PM ET; Saturday noon-2PM ET; Sunday 8AM-1PM ET. NBC coverage can be seen live Saturday/Sunday, 2-6PM ET.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”