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If Tiger couldn't win, Casey glad he did

By Rex HoggardMarch 12, 2018, 12:02 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – On Friday as Tiger Woods was turning back the clock at the Valspar Championship, Paul Casey skillfully straddled the line between fan and competitor the way a player who has been a witness to greatness could.

“If I don't win this week I want Tiger to win. I'm afraid to say that,” he shrugged.

It was a common theme among Woods’ PGA Tour frat brothers. As competitive as the game can be at the highest level, there’s no better story in sports than a reclamation project, even among contemporaries.

For the better part of four days at Innisbrook Resort, Woods awoke the ghosts of past greatness with impressive flair. He opened with rounds of 70-68 to head into the weekend just two strokes off the lead, and on Day 3 he was nearly flawless on his way to a 67 to trim a shot off that advantage.

The anticipation was palpable and wide reaching. Historic crowds swarmed to the Copperhead Course to get a glimpse of the moment Woods completed the comeback and won his first Tour event in 1,680 days.

Unlike the 2015 Wyndham Championship, the last time Tiger began a Sunday with a legitimate chance, this promised no false hope. There were no qualifiers, no excuses and seemingly no doubts.

Healthy, happy and hungry, this was Woods’ event to win.

Maybe it was a sign of the changing times or the byproduct of an exceedingly small sample window, the Valspar Championship was Woods’ fourth official event since undergoing fusion surgery on his lower back in April, but the Sunday everyone anticipated was late to transpire and when it did it was too little, too late.

Woods played his first 16 holes in even par, taking the lead briefly with a birdie at the first only to drift back into the pack with a bogey at No. 4. That was followed by a parade of routine pars and iron shots that simply weren’t close enough to gain any kind of momentum and left a massive gallery that had little to cheer for for the first time all week.

Full-field scores from the Valspar Championship

Valspar Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Through three rounds, it seemed for the first time on a course not named Augusta National you could track the action by the direction and intensity of the cheers.

When his tee shot sailed to 44 feet at the 17th hole, Woods was two strokes behind Casey and the outcome seemed just as preordained.

Casey, who’d teed off an hour and 20 minutes before the leaders, was awaiting his fate in the locker room, a few par 4s away from the action on the 17th hole, but when Woods’ birdie putt dropped into the hole the Englishman didn’t need an update.

Moments later, Casey was able to again read the room. This time it was a chorus of anguish as Tiger’s birdie attempt from 37 feet at the 72nd hole came up short. Like that the air was pulled from Innisbrook.

“I had a chance today,” lamented Woods, who clearly had no interest in moral victories.

Throughout this comeback, Woods has taken a long-view approach. Baby steps, not breakthroughs, have been the focus, but with the stars aligned perfectly and his game as complete as it’s been since 2013 it was difficult to keep things in perspective in the hurried moments following his round.

“I was close. I had a chance today,” said Woods, who closed with a 70 to tie for second place with Patrick Reed at 9 under par. “Unfortunately I just didn't quite feel as sharp as I needed to with my irons, played a little conservative because of it. I just needed to handle the par 5s a little better.”

Even Casey, who is nearly nine years removed from his last PGA Tour victory, was surprised by the outcome. He has, after all, spent his entire career watching Woods defy the odds and make the extraordinary seem standard.

Before Casey teed off on Sunday five strokes off the lead, he shared the view of the vast majority of fans that this would be Woods’ comeback exclamation point.

“I actually thought he was going to win today before the round started. I thought it was just teed up beautifully for him,” said Casey, who birdied three consecutive holes starting at the 11th and scrambled for pars at the three closing holes on his way to a 6-under 65 and a 10-under total.

Like most who have watched Woods make the impossible look easy for the better part of two decades, Casey figured that settling back into his winning ways was as easy as slipping into a red shirt and black pants. Maybe even Woods allowed himself such an indulgence.

Lost in the disappointment of Woods’ defeat, however, is the degree of difficulty involved with winning at the highest level after two years of competitive inactivity and four back surgeries.

Woods has repeatedly stressed that his climb back to relevance would take time, time to understand his rebuilt body and refine a swing that until a few months ago was completely foreign. But his 12th-place finish two weeks ago at the Honda Classic and now Sunday’s near miss at Innisbrook will make that difficult to digest.

In an odd way, Casey’s victory may ease those wild expectations, at least for Woods. Although comparisons between the two players are few, they do share an unmistakable desire to persevere. For Casey, it was the steady drumbeat of missed opportunities as his last Tour victory at the 2009 Houston Open became a distant memory.

“I’d be lying to you if I didn't say there weren’t [doubts he could win again],” he admitted. “The last couple of years I've been very much at peace with it, having great times on the golf course and bad times on the golf course. But I'm content with the life that I built.”

Woods was far from content with his finish at the Valspar Championship - his body language made that abundantly clear - but like Casey he seems truly at peace with his plight and quietly convinced he’s finally on the right path.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1