Getty Images

Grateful Woods happy with opening round at Hero

By Rex HoggardNovember 30, 2017, 10:42 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – Those with even a passing interest in social media likely noticed over the last few days the return of one 14-time major champion.

You may have even noticed that much of the conversation has focused on how far Tiger Woods is hitting his driver, which by every account is dial-back-the-golf-ball long. On Thursday, paired with Justin Thomas, Tiger hammered that narrative home – literally.

At the first hole, he pounded his drive down the fairway. Yep, past JT, who last year averaged 309.7 yards off the tee. At the second, Woods launched another missile high into the windy Caribbean sky. You guessed it, well by the reigning PGA Championship winner.

Again and again, Woods turned back the clock with an impressive combination of power and, with a few notable exceptions, precision off the tee. But that tells only a portion of the Day 1 story.

There’s so much more to golf than simply prodigious drives, like a short game which still seems to be a work in progress for Woods. He caught his chip heavy at the fourth, and again at the ninth on his way to his first bogey of the day. Two holes later he sent another delicate pitch some 30 feet long (although to be fair, there were some highlights like the up-and-down at No. 12).

“It's frustrating because I have a hard time with this into-the-grain, ball sitting down,” said Woods, who turned in 1 under. “I have to hit the ball high. I'm used to using the bounce and hitting behind it a little bit and getting it up, but it's so sticky that it's really hard to do. I haven't quite figured it out yet.”

You could see this coming. Since he started his run up to this week’s start, his first since having fusion surgery on his lower back in April, Woods has spent extra time working on his short game.


Hero World Challenge: Articles, photos and video

Full-field scores from the Hero World Challenge


Before the social media universe begins coming up with answers for Woods’ short game woes, know that Albany is an exacting test around the greens, with putting surfaces that are ringed with swales and collection areas; and following more than eight months of complete inactivity a player’s touch is always going to be the final tumbler to fall into place.

But it was neither Woods’ wonderful driving or his wanting short game that mattered on Thursday. It wasn’t even an opening-round 69 that left him tied for eighth, three strokes off the lead held by Tommy Fleetwood. No, what mattered was his participation.

He wasn’t going to be perfect straight off the DL. In fact, it’s highly unlikely he figures it all out before Sunday’s curtain call. But for those watching his round the most important takeaway was that he remained upright and off the trainer’s table.

“All I'm trying to do is just keep plodding along. Today if I take away the two 6s and play the round correctly, then I'm probably tied for the lead,” Woods said. “So it's just little things like that I need to clean up and hopefully I can do that tomorrow.”

Moral victories have meant little to Woods throughout his career and he probably won’t spend Thursday night celebrating on his yacht, Privacy, which is moored in the nearby harbor.

With Woods the story never ends at the quantifiable.

More than two years removed from his last competitive tournament and five years since his last PGA Tour victory, Tiger’s reach still far transcends his competitive relevance.

Forget the final score, 41 million Google results can’t be wrong.

“What do you guys want to talk about?” joked Thomas following his round when he was approached by reporters, a playful nod at this week’s headliner.

The instant analysis came fast and, to be honest, without many facts at this early juncture. Woods largely drove the ball well, putted well, but needs to clean up his short game and the big miss – like at the 15th hole when he airmailed his drive into the dunes right of the fairway.

Completing an under-par round with an edge to his voice that hasn’t been there in some time, however, is what those who have awaited this day should celebrate.

“He was such an inspiration to me, I had to come out and watch,” said Tour frat brother Bryson DeChambeau, the winner of this year’s John Deere Classic who ventured out to Albany to play the role of spectator.

DeChambeau’s take was shared by many and helped temper expectations for what is always the best story in sports – the reclamation project.

Through the 1,000-yard gaze that defined so much of his career, Woods seemed to allow a moment of contemplation after having so many years of pain and uncertainty. The man whose aura has always been defined by his ability to compartmentalize and stay grounded in the here and now, was asked his thoughts before teeing off on Thursday.

“I was very thankful this morning,” he allowed. “I was in my head thanking all the people who have helped me in giving me a chance to come back and play this round again. There were a lot of people that were instrumental in my life; friends, outside people I've never met before, obviously my surgeon. I was very thankful.”

Of all the elements that defined Woods’ Day 1 return, it may be that gratitude that should give golf a reason to be truly optimistic.

Getty Images

Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''


Full-field scores from the Sanford International


Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

Getty Images

Glover (64) leads Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Web.com Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Web.com Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Web.com Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Web.com Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

Getty Images

Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

Getty Images

McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”