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Healthy Woods grinds way to Farmers weekend

By Rex HoggardJanuary 27, 2018, 12:50 am

SAN DIEGO – There were almost as many narratives as there have been days of uncertainty leading up to Tiger Woods’ first start in an official PGA Tour event in nearly a year.

He would contend, he would dominate, he would struggle, he would survive. But after 36 eventful holes at the Farmers Insurance Open, there’s only one hot take that really matters – he remained upright.

It hasn’t been pretty. He’s been wild off the tee, painfully inconsistent with his iron play and not exactly vintage with his putter, although there were some signs of life on this front as a cool afternoon along the Pacific Ocean turned to dusk.

Woods called his second-round 71 on the North Course at Torrey Pines a "grind," which pretty much sums it up. But he did so standing tall, pain-free and pleased, regardless of those ridiculously unrealistic expectations.

He made the cut on the number, the byproduct of a gutty performance that shouldn’t be easily dismissed. There are all kinds of pressure in professional golf, whether you’re vying for your 15th major championship or your first made cut in an official event since 2015.

It was the latter that drove Woods on Friday.

Some 11 strokes off the lead when he made the turn and on the wrong side of the cut line, he converted a 45-foot birdie putt from off the green at the first hole (his 10th hole of the day), added another at the fifth hole and appeared to secure his weekend tee time with a 4-footer for birdie at No. 7.

But it wasn’t going to be that easy. It never is. Woods bogeyed the par-3 eighth and pushed his drive right of the final fairway, a familiar theme on Day 1.

Torrey Pines has been the sight of some of Tiger’s most clutch performances, with the 2008 U.S. Open being the standard in that category. His two-putt birdie from 75 feet at the last wasn’t for his ninth victory on the seaside layout, but it was important nonetheless.

“It's been a long 12 months. I've been away from it for a very long time,” he figured. “It's nice to get out there and compete and play. I'm still getting used to my feels, but that just takes more time under the fire.”

If playing 72 holes isn’t exactly the bar one might expect from a 14-time major champion, it’s a reality Woods seems comfortable with, at least at the moment.

The last time he played the weekend at an official PGA Tour event,  Justin Thomas - the reigning Player of the Year - was a rookie and Jon Rahm - who is poised to become the top-ranked player in the world with a victory this week - was still in college at Arizona State.

For Woods, this is every bit a marathon, and while others succumb to the urgency of now, he’s content with the scenic route - which, if his play through two days is any indication, is a wise choice. You know the deal, under-promise and over-deliver.

Full-field scores from the Farmers Insurance Open

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

At his first hole, the 10th on the North Course, his opening effort was so far left he could have taken relief from the first fairway . . . on the South Course.

He went left at his second hole and again at his fourth, a wild swipe that settled into the Southern California flora and fauna and led to a double-bogey 6. All total, his tee shots found the short grass just three times and he wasn’t much better with his irons, hitting just half of his greens in regulation.

He explained he had the “flip-pulls” early and the “spinner” late, neither worked very well.

“It has not been happening, but under competition it's a little different story,” he said. “I need to get used to what my feels are and I haven't felt these things in a while.”

It’s been nearly five years, in fact, since Woods played for anything more important than a press with his buddies in South Florida; so it shouldn’t exactly prompt a double-take that after so much time outside of the competitive fray, it’s going to take a few rounds to rediscover that edge that made him the undisputed best of his generation.

“I still need more rounds under my belt,” said Woods, who saved his week thanks to a sublime short game that converted 7 of 9 scrambling attempts on Day 2. “How far certain shots are going, what my swing feels are going to be for certain shots, certain trajectories, those are all things a lot of these guys have already built in, they've been playing. I'm just starting out.”

For those who went all-in on this most recent return, may we suggest a more measured outlook. There was nothing in his play at the Hero World Challenge - a middle-of-the-pack showing at an unofficial event on what is essentially a home course - that suggested he was poised to pick up his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. And after two trips around Torrey Pines, that particular narrative remains unchanged.

What’s worth updating is that on a cold, breezy morning, a 42-year-old with a surgically repaired lower back went out and grinded his way to something worth being proud of.

Woods acknowledged on Wednesday that his plan is to build toward April and the Masters, and although his 1-under total may not inspire unmitigated confidence, it does put him 36 holes closer to that goal.

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Next up for Koepka: Buddies and a bachelor party

By Will GrayJune 24, 2018, 7:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Coming off a successful title defense at the U.S. Open, Brooks Koepka arrived at the Travelers Championship in need of a nap. It appears he won’t be getting one anytime soon.

Koepka normally wakes up by 6 a.m. without using an alarm, but without much down time since his victory at Shinnecock Hills he slept in until 8:20 a.m. Sunday morning, prior to his 10:40 a.m. tee time. Any impact to his pre-round routine appeared negligible, as Koepka fired a 5-under 65 that included seven birdies over his first 13 holes.

“I felt like today was kind of the first day I got everything back,” Koepka said. “I was definitely running behind, but it was nice to catch up on some sleep.”

Koepka became the first U.S. Open winner to play the week after since Justin Rose in 2013, and he finished the Travelers at 9 under with four straight sub-par rounds. While he’s got some free time in the coming days, it won’t exactly be restful.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“We’ve got 11 guys that I’m pretty close with, so I’m looking forward to hanging out with them in Boston for a few days and then [getting] back down to West Palm for a night, and then we’re off to my best friend’s bachelor party,” Koepka said. “I was really hoping to get some rest, but I don’t know how much that will happen.”

Last year, Koepka took a month off following his U.S. Open win at Erin Hills, only touched a club once, and still finished T-6 at The Open at Royal Birkdale. While this will be his final competitive start before Carnoustie, he expects to make a strong run toward a third major title next month in Scotland.

“I’m shutting it down for a while. I don’t feel like I need to play,” Koepka said. “I feel like my game’s in a good spot, played really well this week. Just some stupid mistakes and mental errors. That’s all it was, lack of focus and low energy. To be honest with you, I’m not surprised. I did play well though, I putted well, and I’m somewhat pleased.”

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Spieth ends busy stretch without top-10 finish

By Will GrayJune 24, 2018, 7:39 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – There were no final-round heroics this time around for Jordan Spieth at the Travelers Championship.

After taking the title last year with perhaps the most memorable shot of the year, Spieth appeared poised to make a robust defense of his title after an opening-round 63 gave him a share of the lead. But that proved to be as good as it would get, as he played the next three rounds in a combined 3 over to drop outside the top 40 on the final leaderboard.

It marked the end of a pedestrian run of six events in seven weeks for Spieth, during which his best finish was a tie for 21st at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

“A lot of cut-line golf, which is somewhat unusual historically for me, fortunately,” Spieth said after closing with a 1-under 69. “Kind of a grind, but I made actually a lot of progress where I needed to within the last few weeks.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth has struggled to get on track on the greens this year, but he has started to turn a corner in recent weeks, specifically during a missed cut at the Memorial Tournament, and he picked up more than three shots on the field this week in strokes gained: putting.

“My putting’s right on point where it needs to be. It’s getting better every single week,” Spieth said. “It’s the best it’s been in a couple years.”

Unfortunately for Spieth, a slight uptick in putting has coincided with some regression from his normally reliable ball-striking. Of the 74 players who made the cut at TPC River Highlands, he ranked 61st in strokes gained: tee-to-green.

“I’ve just got to kind of get my alignment back in order on the full swing. It’s tough when you swing and you think you hit a good shot, and you look up and the ball’s, it could be 15 yards right or 15 yards left, and it’s all because of alignment,” Spieth said. “It’s literally the same thing I went through with the putting. I’ve just got to find a way to get it back on track with the full swing.”

Having concluded a busy stretch, Spieth noted that he now has “a few weeks off.” But still in search of his first quality chance to contend heading into a final round this year, he didn’t rule out the notion of adding a start before defending his title at Carnoustie next month.

Spieth is not in the field for next week’s Quicken Loans National, but he won the John Deere Classic in both 2013 and 2015, which will be played the week before The Open.

“As far as leading into The Open, we’ll see,” Spieth said. “Last year I went in after three weeks off and it didn’t hurt me. So I believe I can get the work in whether I’m playing or not, to get the repetitions.”

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Chamblee comments on Choi's unique step-through swing

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 24, 2018, 3:55 pm

The golf world found itself enamored with a largely unknown journeyman this weekend.

Ho-sung Choi went from 554th in the world to No. 1 in the hearts of all those who swing the golf club just a little bit differently thanks to his run at the Korean Open.

The 44-year-old with the exaggerated step through impact found himself two off the pace through 54 holes and in contention for one of two available invitations to this year's Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Choi fell out of the hunt for tournament title and the Open exemption with a final-round 74, but nonetheless left an impression with his tie for fifth.

Asked about Choi's swing Saturday night, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee offered the following:

"If Chi Chi Rodriguez and Gary Player had a golf school, what would their first professional golfer swing like? Voila," Chamblee said.

"Both those legends had walk through finishes, but Ho Sung has taken this move to a new level with a borderline pirouette to keep from hanging back.

"In an era when professional golfers get accused of having golf swings that all look alike, I’ve never seen anyone swing quite like Ho Sung Choi.

"I can’t wait to try this on the range tomorrow."

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Wallace holds off charges to win BMW International

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 3:43 pm

PULHEIM, Germany - England's Matt Wallace shot a 7-under 65 to hold off a record-breaking charge from Thorbjorn Olesen and win the BMW International Open on Sunday.

Wallace finished on 10-under 278 - just ahead of Olesen, Mikko Korhonen and 2008 winner Martin Kaymer, whose chances took a blow with a bogey on the 17th hole.

''I want to keep building on this,'' Wallace said after his third European Tour win. ''Obviously this gives me a lot of confidence to go on and play well and I want to kick on and hopefully do this in the bigger events from now on.''

Full-field scores from the BMW International Open

Olesen had played himself into contention with the lowest round in tournament history, with nine birdies and an eagle for an 11-under 61. It was the lowest round of his European Tour career and it gave the Dane a three-shot lead before the final group had even teed off.

''I was just trying today to go out there and build on my game, see if I could shoot a low score,'' Olesen said. ''Obviously as the round progressed I kept on thinking birdies and trying to make the round better. Finishing with four birdies was pretty nice.''

Wallace turned in 34 but then made five birdies in seven holes from the turn to edge a shot past Olesen. He waited as Kaymer and Korhonen went close with rounds of 68 and 67, respectively.

England's Aaron Rai and Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard finished joint-fifth with rounds of 69.