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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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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”