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Good and bad: Woods puts on a variety show

By Rex HoggardMarch 9, 2018, 12:03 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Tiger Woods’ round on Thursday at the Valspar Championship had a little bit of everything.

There was drama, excitement, frustration and even a moment of trepidation when the game’s most injury-plagued athlete took on an oak tree and appeared to lose (spoiler alert: He said he’s fine).

He entertained and aggravated with equal abandon on a demanding day at Innisbrook Resort, which Woods hasn’t seen since pleated pants and baggy shirts were all the rage.

There was even some vintage rivalry banter between Woods and his longtime antagonist Phil Mickelson, who won last week’s WGC-Mexico Championship to end a victory drought that had stretched beyond four years.

“I wouldn't be surprised if [Woods] went out and won this weekend to one-up me again,” Mickelson said Thursday on the Dan Patrick Show.

Seems Lefty’s not just a 43-time winner on the PGA Tour. Perhaps he’s a bit clairvoyant as well.

Despite the ebb and flow of Day 1’s outing at Innisbrook, which Tiger last played in 1996 when it was a mixed team event, Woods emerged with a 1-under 70 which left him tied for eighth place and just three strokes off the lead.

He missed as many greens (nine) as he hit in regulation, wasn’t much better at finding fairways (7 of 13) and seemed to follow every birdie with a bogey, and yet when he completed a chilly round on a blustery day he sounded like a man who’d just checked an item off his bucket list.

Full-field scores from the Valspar Championship

Valspar Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It feels great,” Woods said when asked the state of his game. “Today was tough, man. I don't know if these people really understand how hard it was out there trying to pull a club, trying to figure out the wind direction, the gusts.”

The roller coaster started early, with a tap-in birdie at the first hole, followed by a bogey at No. 4. He birdied the eighth only to bogey the ninth. You get the idea.

There were back-to-back birdies at Nos. 10 and 11 to move to within two strokes of the lead, which is held by first-year Tour player Corey Conners, only to slip back with bogeys at the 12th and 13th holes.

As has been the case throughout this most recent comeback, Woods’ short game was vintage. He was 5-for-9 in scrambling, but he continued to struggle off the tee.

But if his ball-striking was a concern, Woods wasn’t letting on.

Although the Tampa-area stop was never a part of Woods’ rotation, he’s embraced the Copperhead Course, which ranked as the 17th-toughest on Tour last season, for what it is – a demanding test of every area of his game.

“I enjoy when par is a good score, it's a reward,” he said. “There are some tournaments when about four holes you don't make a birdie you feel like you're behind. Today I made a couple birdies, all of a sudden that puts me fourth, fifth, right away. That's how hard it is. It's the reward to go out there and make a couple birdies here and there and I like that type of challenge.”

To his point, Woods’ playing partners on Thursday – Jordan Spieth, the field’s highest-ranking player, and Henrik Stenson – combined to shoot 8 over par.

On Wednesday, Woods said he decided to add the Valspar Championship to his schedule after playing the Honda Classic, where he finished 12th. It was his second consecutive week of tournament golf and an encouraging sign that his body could withstand the rigors of competition.

With that box checked, he’s now turned his attention to honing his game with an eye toward the Masters. To do that he must test his swing under pressure, and although Innisbrook isn’t a major it certainly asks major questions.

His play at the par-4 16th hole was a microcosm of Woods’ eventful day. Hitting an iron off the tee, Woods watched it sail well left of the fairway. From an impossible lie and with a tree restricting his backswing he hooked his approach just right of the green. He also banged his arm into the tree, which prompted a wince from Woods and a collective deep breath from his fan base.

“The hand is fine. I didn't hit my hand. My forearm hit the tree a little bit,” Woods explained.

Woods would par the hole, chipping to 3 feet to complete the magic trick, and nearly dropped his tee ball at the 17th hole for an ace, a shot that stopped a foot from the flagstick for the day’s final birdie.

Perhaps it wasn’t Woods’ score that gave him confidence as much as it was his position on a leaderboard that was crowded with the relatively unproven likes of Conners, Whee Kim and Kelly Kraft, who were tied for second place and have a combined zero victories on Tour.

Or maybe it’s the progress he’s made with his game in an exceedingly short period of time that lifted Woods’ spirits on a gloomy afternoon.

“I'm pleased with every aspect of my game,” he said. “I drove it well, I hit a lot of good iron shots today and I had some good speed on the putts. Greens are a little bit grainy and I hit a lot of good ones. Spanked a couple here and there. I thought I really did well today, overall.”

Overall, it was impressive and irksome. You know, a little bit of everything.

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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.”