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Can it be the old Tiger is back?

By Rex HoggardDecember 1, 2017, 10:36 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – Throughout the course of his storied career Tiger Woods has answered to countless qualifiers.

Dominant. Absolutely.

Inspiring. Yep.

Relentless. Unquestionably.

Polarizing. From time to time, sure.

But the classification that stands out this week is something altogether new – coy.

From the moment the golf world turned its eye to Albany and this week’s Hero World Challenge, Woods has soft-peddled his chances, the byproduct, no doubt, of four back procedures and fusion surgery in April.

Having been down this painful road so many times in his career, it’s perfectly understandable that Woods would downplay his chances of contending this week.

Following Friday’s 68, which felt much more like a 63, he can no longer duck and cover behind his one-day-at-a-time mantra. That notion collapsed when Woods rolled in an 18-footer for eagle at the ninth hole to take solo possession of the lead.

So much for lowered expectations.

Woods cooled on his inward loop with bogeys at Nos. 12 and 18 to finish in a tie for fifth place, five strokes behind front-runner Charley Hoffman.

Although there are still 36 holes remaining and a star-studded and accomplished field standing between Woods and the storybook finish he’s tried so desperately to distance himself from, there was no ignoring the buzz Tiger’s Friday charge created at Albany and beyond.

Fans cheered, social media surged with speculation and even those who should be shuttered off from the frenzy took notice.

Patrick Reed was finishing his round two groups in front of Woods when he glanced at the leaderboard coming down the 18th hole. It was hard to miss and harder to ignore.


Hero World Challenge: Articles, photos and video

Full-field scores from the Hero World Challenge


“It's never a good thing when he's ahead of you because just watching the highlights of him in his prime when he has any kind of lead going into Sunday, I think it's like 93 or 94 percent he wins the golf tournament,” Reed reasoned. “I would hate to ruin that percentage.”

It’s worth pointing out that just four days earlier Reed pined for the glory days of Woods and a chance to compete against his idol at something even approaching 100 percent.

Even Justin Thomas, the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, got into the act. Having spent as much time as anyone with Woods in recent weeks, Thomas echoed the thoughts of many in his generation when asked about Tiger’s return following 10 months of competitive inactivity.

“I'm probably just as excited to watch it as you are,” Thomas said. “I just get a front row seat to it on Thursday, but I'm also looking forward to trying to kick his ass, to be perfectly honest.”

The line was delivered with a smile and laugh. There is no lack of respect for Woods among the current crop of world-beaters. In fact, on Thursday Tiger credited the group’s collective engagement in recent months for helping him through the recovery process.

Still, this week has been defined by a sense of the unknown. How would Woods play? Could he compete against the likes of Justin, Dustin, Brooks and Jordan? As those answers seem to slowly crystalize, the vibe is starting to feel a little different.

Ernie Els knows the feeling. He endured Tiger’s best for the better part of two decades and he has the scars to prove it. On Thursday, Els – who designed the Albany layout – had a message that the current generation should seriously contemplate.

“It was a hard thing for me, a little better for him,” said Els during the Golf Channel broadcast when asked about competing against Woods in his prime. “I would love to see him play, half, let’s say past half, as close as he was against these youngsters and see what happens.”

That scenario suddenly seems closer to reality than it did just 48 hours ago. There is rust, as evidenced by Woods’ wayward drive into the dunes at the 18th hole that led to bogey, and his pace on the greens on Day 2 was suspect, but there’s still no ignoring his position on the leaderboard or his play this week.

There’s been a narrative in recent months that even if Woods returned to competition and was pain-free, which has always been the ultimate arbiter of his competitive fate, that he no longer held sway over his competitive counterparts the way he once did. Whether that notion holds true depends on the next 36 holes and beyond, but Woods’ former swing coach Hank Haney offered an interesting take on the subject.

“We will see what all these people say about how Tiger doesn’t scare anyone anymore if he plays like this, he didn’t scare people to victory, he played way better than them,” Haney tweeted on Friday.

For his part, Woods remained uncharacteristically coy.

“As I told you guys earlier this week, I didn't know what to expect because I hadn't played, I hadn't competed, I haven't had a fused back before in my life,” Woods said. “These are all new things.”

There is certainly plenty of uncovered ground this week, from a new back, a new outlook and maybe even a new, slightly more controlled swing; but there’s no denying that this is starting to feel so familiar.

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M. Jutanugarn finally joins sister in LPGA winner's circle

By Associated PressApril 23, 2018, 1:42 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn won the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open by two shots for her first victory in six years on the LPGA Tour, joining sister Ariya as the second siblings to win on the tour.

The 23-year-old from Thailand shot a 3-under 68 for a 12-under 272 total Sunday at Wilshire Country Club in the tour's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Jutanugarn won in her 156th start after three career runner-up finishes, including at the Honda LPGA Thailand in February. She had 21 top-10 finishes before winning.

Seven-time winner Ariya tied for 24th after a 70. She joined the predominantly Asian crowd to follow her older sister's final holes, crying as Moriya two-putted to close out the win.

Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam were the first sisters to win on the LPGA Tour.

Hall of Famer Inbee Park shot a 68 to tie for second with Jin Young Ko (70).

Park had opportunities, but she wasn't able to put pressure on Jutanugarn playing in the final threesome. However, Park will return to No. 1 in the world when the rankings come out Monday, knocking off top-ranked Shenshen Fang, who tied for 12th.


Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


Jutanugarn began the final round with a two-shot lead and never wavered in fulfilling the potential she first displayed as the LPGA Rookie of the Year in 2013. After a birdie at the second hole, she reeled off nine consecutive pars before sinking birdie putts at 12 and 13.

She overcame a tee shot that narrowly missed going out of bounds for another birdie at 15 to lead by three.

Jutanugarn ran into trouble on the par-4 16th. Her approach landed on the green and rolled off it, stopping inches from dropping into a bunker. Her chip shot ran well past the hole and her par putt just missed catching the edge of the cup. That left her with a short putt for bogey, her first in her previous 28 holes, trimming her lead to two shots.

Ko's tee shot on 18 landed about 4 feet from the hole, giving her a chance to cut Jutanugarn's lead to one shot with the Thai facing a long birdie attempt.

But Ko missed, leaving Jutanugarn room to maneuver. Her birdie putt came up a couple feet short, but she calmly parred the hole to win. Ariya rushed onto the green and joined others in emptying water bottles on her sister before they embraced.

So Yeon Ryu (68) finished fourth at 7 under. American Emma Talley (67) and Eun-Hee Ji (71) tied for fifth at 6 under, making Ji one of four South Koreans to place in the top five.

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After Further Review: Tour players embracing new ideas

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 1:26 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On players embracing new ideas on the PGA Tour ...

PGA Tour players are trying to tell commissioner Jay Monahan something: They like new.

In the second year of the two-man team format at the Zurich Classic, 10 of the top 14 players in the world have signed up, including all four reigning major champions. It’s the first time all four have been in the same field since the Tour Championship. If the laid-back event offered world-ranking points – it doesn’t, and that’s part of the appeal – the winner would have received 62 points. That’s the same as the Genesis Open.

Sure, some sponsor obligations are involved in boosting the field here, but there’s no other way to look at this: Today’s PGA Tour players are not only willing to play events that are a departure from the 72-hole, stroke-play norm. They’re encouraging it. - Ryan Lavner


On Moriya Jutanugarn's breakthrough win ...

As much love as there is between the Jutanugarn sisters, it couldn’t have been easy for Moriya, watching her baby sister, Ariya, soar past her as one of the LPGA’s dominant stars the last few years. Mo, though, never betrayed an inkling of frustration or envy.

That’s what made Mo’s breakthrough LPGA victory Sunday at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open especially meaningful for everyone who has admired Mo’s devotion to her sister. Mo was always a fixture, waiting in the wings to celebrate whenever Ariya hoisted a trophy.

So emotions were high late Sunday, with Ariya waiting in the wings this time, with Ariya sobbing in Mo’s arms after the victory was secured. It was heartwarming for more than Apple, the mother who raised these talented, loving sisters. As always, Apple was there, too, soaking both her daughters in tears of joy. – Randall Mell


On the tough scheduling decisions facing the PGA Tour ...

According to multiple sources, officials at Colonial are poised to announce a new sponsorship agreement with Charles Schwab Corporation on Monday.

While this is good news for the folks in Fort Worth, Texas, who were in danger of finding themselves on the wrong side of timing, there remain some tough decisions to be made in the next few weeks.

If the PGA Tour’s plan is to end its season before Labor Day beginning in 2019, something must give. Currently, the Houston Open, a staple on Tour since 1946, and The National are without sponsors. When the music stops in a few weeks and the circuit announces the ’19 schedule, there’s a good chance one, or both, of those events will be the victims of bad timing. – Rex Hoggard

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Triplett hole-out wins Legends of Golf playoff

By Associated PressApril 23, 2018, 12:12 am

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Kirk Triplett holed out from a bunker for birdie on the first playoff hole Sunday in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf to lift himself and partner Paul Broadhurst past Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman.

''Well, you're trying to make it, but you know realistically it doesn't go in very often,'' Triplett said. ''You're trying to give your partner a free run at it. You don't want to hit it up there 20 feet past or do something silly. I'm just trying to hit it the right distance and get it on the right line.''

Langer and Lehman took it in stride.

''You kind of learn to expect it,'' Lehman said. ''These guys out here are so good and Kirk Triplett is a magician around the greens. The odds of making that shot are probably not good, but you certainly expect him to hit a great shot and he did and it went in.''

Lehman and Langer missed birdie putts after Triplett holed out.

''I kind of felt like we both hit pretty good putts, misread them, both of them,'' Lehman said. ''I hit mine probably too hard and Bernhard's was too soft, but you have to hand it to the guys who hit the shot when they have to hit it.''


Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf


Broadhurst and Triplett closed with a 6-under 48 on the Top of the Rock par-3 course to match Langer and Lehman at 24 under. Langer and Lehman had a 47, playing the front nine in alternate shot and the back nine in better ball.

The 56-year-old Triplett won his sixth PGA Tour Champions title.

''That's a big roller-coaster - three good shots and mine, right?'' Triplett said. ''I'm feeling a little dejected walking down that fairway there, a little sheepish. To knock it in it just reminds you, this game, you know, crazy stuff.''

Broadhurst claimed his third senior victory.

''I don't get too emotional, but that was something special,'' the 52-year-old Englishman said.

Spanish stars Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal had a 48 to tie for third with 2017 winners Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco. Singh and Franco, the third-round leaders, shot 50.

Mark Calcavecchia-Woody Austin (48), John Daly-Michael Allen (49), Steve Stricker-Jerry Kelly (50) and David Toms-Steve Flesch (52) tied for fifth at 20 under.

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Mullinax (T-2) comes up short of maiden win

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 12:06 am

The Valero Texas Open saw an unheralded player break through to earn a maiden victory, but unfortunately for Trey Mullinax his day will have to wait.

Mullinax started the final round within a shot of the lead, having fired a course-record 62 during the final round. He trailed Andrew Landry by one shot for much of the final round while racking up six birdies over his first 11 holes, but a pair of late miscues meant the former Alabama standout had to settle for a share of second place, two shots behind Landry.

A final-round 69 marked a career-best finish for Mullinax, who is playing this season on conditional status and whose lone prior top-10 this season came after he Monday qualified for the Valspar Championship.

"I know my game's there, I'm playing really well," Mullinax told reporters. "Give all credit to Andrew, he played really well today, rocksteady. He was putting great, hitting great shots."


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Given time to reflect, the 26-year-old will likely look back on the final two holes where nerves appeared to get the best of him. Looking to put some pressure on Landry, Mullinax chunked his pitch on the short 17th hole into a greenside bunker, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on the course.

Then Mullinax was unable to convert a 9-foot birdie putt on the final green, which would have forced Landry to make his 8-foot par putt to avoid a playoff. Afforded the luxury of two putts for the win, Landry rolled in his par save to cement a two-shot win.

"Made a bad bogey on 17, but just you've got to hit some bad shots," Mullinax said. "Would have liked to have got the putt on 18 to fall to put a little bit of heat on him, but this experience that I'm gaining right now is just going to help me down the road."