Good health is Tiger's biggest ally in 2014

By Rex HoggardJanuary 29, 2014, 3:01 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – “It’s never easy when you’re injured, but I guess it depends on the injury. Some can be completely mental,” the player said without looking up from his practice session.

It wasn’t Tiger Woods who figured that when dealing with ailments large and small it’s often a question of mind over matter, it was Paul Casey but given both players’ history with the MRI machine it seemed an apropos observation.

Casey, like Woods, has endured his share of injuries, everything from a severe case of turf toe to a dislocated shoulder, and realized early in his career that not all injuries are created equal. Some, regardless of the best efforts of modern medicine, linger long past the rehabilitation process.

Woods, for example, embarked on his quest to overhaul his swing with Sean Foley in part to protect a left knee that had become brittle as a result of endless practice and the physical realities of torque.

It stands to reason that his rebuilt left knee was an ever present speed bump in the years following surgery in 2008 and could explain a competitive swoon that led to winless seasons in 2010 and ’11.

Conversely, the world No. 1 began 2014 with a clean bill of health. Sure, there were the back spasms during The Barclays and a strained left elbow that kept him from playing his own AT&T National last summer, but relatively speaking last year was one of his healthiest in recent memory.

“Did you see Barlcays?” Woods responded when asked if he was encouraged by his ability to largely avoid the DL in 2014. “Relatively, yes. I was pleased to get through the season. Relatively.”

Fair enough, it wasn’t exactly a clean card. But he did make it through 2014 without a dramatic WD, like the injury-induced early exits at Doral in 2012 and The Players in ’10 and ’11. And that, by any measure, is encouraging.

This is important viewed in contrast to those winless 2010 and ’11 campaigns, because during those two calendars he managed just 21 starts. That dry spell was the byproduct of serious injuries that are sometimes more difficult emotionally than they are physically to move past.

In early 2012, Casey figured he’d completely recovered from the shoulder injury that he sustained during a snowboarding accident when his trainer tossed him a baseball and told him to start throwing.

“I threw the first one pretty weak and he said, ‘No, really throw it,’” Casey recalled. “I couldn’t do it. I had a real fear of letting (his shoulder) go.”

Considering Woods’ well-documented knee woes it’s not difficult to imagine how hard it was for him to throttle back up to 100 percent even with a doctor’s note declaring him right as rain.

Woods’ ailing elbow and balky back in 2013 were, without question, concerning, but considering his record – five PGA Tour victories and his PGA Tour 12th Player of the Year award – whatever mental aftermath wrought by those injuries was manageable.

“I definitely feel fit. There’s no doubt about that,” said Woods on Wednesday at the Dubai Desert Classic.

For all the micro-analysis following his Saturday struggles at Torrey Pines and his first 54-hole missed cut on the PGA Tour it seems the more compelling measure of Woods’ success, and his potential, rests in his ability to avoid the doctor’s office.

If Woods’ third-round 79 at the Farmers Insurance Open was weighing on him when he arrived in Dubai he wasn’t showing it.

“I was just a fraction off and a fraction off on a golf course set up that hard, it bit a lot of us and, unfortunately, it bit me pretty hard,” he said. “I needed to make a few changes – just a few slight adjustments and I did that.”

Changes he can make. No player throughout the course of his career has proven more adept at adjusting on the fly than Woods and with a renewed confidence in his swing a few missed fairways on a Torrey Pines course masquerading as a U.S. Open stop is no reason to lose sleep.

Making it through an entire year without a single injury-induced WD, however, is a reason to be confident that his body can withstand the rigors of countless swings and his mind can execute without fear.

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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.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”