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Despite the numbers, it's advantage, Woods

By Rex HoggardJanuary 28, 2018, 11:09 pm

SAN DIEGO – It was a magical day for one of the sporting world’s most accomplished, if injury-plagued, legends.

No, not Tiger Woods. The honor went to Roger Federer, the ageless champion who at 36 years, 173 days became the second-oldest man to win a tennis Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

Through injury and collective doubt and against a growing collection of younger, more powerful opponents, Federer etched Grand Slam No. 20 into his portfolio. That’s six more Grand Slam titles than Woods, who has always been linked to Federer as a benchmark of greatness, but on the same day the Swiss magician turned back the clock at Melbourne Park, Tiger was chipping away at his own reclamation project at Torrey Pines.

There were no victory laps for Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open, the site of so many seminal moments in his career, no familiar brushes with greatness, just a gritty performance that may not look like much on paper but added up to something much greater than the sum of its parts.

For the week, Woods failed to break 70 and batted a dismal .303 from the tee – hitting just 17 of 56 fairways. His iron play was, at times, something we’d expect from a 14-handicap, not a 14-time major champion.

“I need to work on some things,” Woods reasoned after a closing 72 in increasingly difficult Santa Ana winds.

Indeed, he does.

This new version of Woods looks something like the old version of Phil Mickelson, a player who is prone to miss fairways by first downs, not paces, yet someone who seemed to relish the challenge of escaping from even the most precarious of situations.

Woods was an equal opportunity offender, missing fairways right (62 percent) and left (37 percent), and appeared utterly baffled by his driver, which seemed so promising the last time he played at the Hero World Challenge.


Full-field scores from the Farmers Insurance Open

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


But this wasn’t Albany, site of December’s “friendly” in the Bahamas, and Woods quickly came to the conclusion that playtime was over.

For Woods, all of those concerns are part and parcel of this most recent comeback. Following a year of competitive isolation after fusion surgery on his lower back in April, he’s clearly content with the long view.

“I can feel some of the things I'm doing wrong in my swing, so we're going to go back to work,” he explained. “It's nice to have two weeks off, but it's more important that I got this tournament under my belt where I can feel some of the things I need to work on because hometown speed versus game speed is two totally different things.”

If wild misses off the tee and iron shots that too often came out short and spinny aren’t exactly what we’ve come to expect from arguably the game’s greatest player, Woods’ tone was downright conciliatory.

Contending would be nice and winning is always the ultimate end game, but on the grand check list of things he wanted to accomplish this week remaining off the disabled list and getting a feel for a game that after so much time – the last time he played the weekend in an official PGA Tour event was the 2015 Wyndham Championship – were the primary conclusions.

There were moments of clarity, particularly on Sunday when he set out some two hours and eight strokes off the lead. He played a strangely predictable game of bounce-back golf just before the turn, finishing the loop birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie.

In less time than it took Hideki Matsuyama, who was paired with Woods on Sunday, to complete his backswing, he was brilliant – like his 323-yard drive down the middle of the 14th hole – and the next moment just bad – such as when his drive sailed helplessly right on the next hole.

Throughout it all, his short game was vintage Tiger and his putting a savior, particularly on Friday when he birdied two of his final three holes to make the cut on the number.

“Obviously, he has to drive it better. The short game looked pretty tight, and that’s always a plus. And he looks comfortable putting. He just needs to get some reps,” his caddie, Joey LaCava, said. “He needs to get back to Florida to get more practice in, get more reps, and get tournaments under his belt. It’s like when I started with him in late 2011 and early 2012, he just needs some time and he just needs some competitive rounds.”

And he was healthy, healthier than he’s been in five years, healthy enough to hit balls after his round and endure cold, morning starts that had become his competitive kryptonite in recent years.

“It was nice,” Woods smiled when asked about his surgically repaired back. “Some of the shots I had to hit out of the rough, out of the trees, shaping them both ways, and a few times I had to jack up the speed and had no issues at all.”

There was a time when Woods and Federer had running text exchanges, giving each other the needle every time one would add to his Grand Slam total the way only legends who are rewriting the record books can.

Those exchanges have reportedly fallen off in recent years, a byproduct of Woods’ major drought, no doubt. The last time Tiger was on the right side of one of those bouts was a decade ago when he won the 2008 U.S. Open on this same course.

“He's young, he's 36. I guess it's all relative,” Woods joked when asked about Federer’s victory. “In that sport he's very old, but in our sport, I'm only 42, that's not that old.”

Nor did he feel as far off as his statistics would suggest. For the first time in some time Woods is healthy and happy enough to believe, truly believe, that the road ahead may hold some promise after all.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.

 

A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”