McIlroy last man standing in Match Play

By Rex HoggardMay 4, 2015, 12:06 am

SAN FRANCISCO – During a week of title bouts – Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, Keegan Bradley vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez – Sunday’s finale at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play felt more like an undercard.

It wasn’t the names, what with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy squared off with cult favorite Gary Woodland in the 18-hole championship match, so much as it was an utter lack of buzz, both on and off the winding Harding Park track.

Maybe it was the new format, three days of round-robin group play that left fans and players equally confused. Maybe it was a gloomy Sunday that produced few cheers.

Or maybe – as is normally the case at golf’s version of March madness – building to a crescendo isn’t exactly match play’s stock in trade.

Consider that your two finalists played a combined 206 holes before reaching the title bout and provided plenty of fireworks along the way.


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McIlroy trailed going to the 16th tee in three of his four matches leading up to the final, going a combined 9 under par on those closing holes; while Woodland’s best likely came on Day 1 when he played his last four holes in 2 under par to beat Jimmy Walker in 19 holes on his way to winning what some argued was the week’s “group of death.”

By comparison, Sunday’s matinee was flat.

After trading birdies at the par-5 first, the would-be champions combined to play the next three holes in 5 over par. Things began to go McIlroy’s way when Woodland’s tee shots stopped going the proper way.

The slugger missed his drive left on No. 3 and advanced his next shot exactly 1 yard after trying to weave a Hail Mary through a forest. For all his adventures, however, Woodland halved the hole with a bogey.

At the fifth he hit not one, but two cart paths with a drive that sailed right and the downward spiral had begun. By the turn, Woodland was 2 over par and 4 down to McIlroy.

“I think sometimes finals might not have the quality of some of the previous rounds, whether that's to do with a little bit of fatigue kicking in or maybe just the occasion or whatever,” McIlroy said. “I felt like Gary and I didn't get off to the best of starts. There was a bit of an ebb and flow in the match, but thankfully I was on the better side of it at the end.”

Maintaining a winning pace for five days and seven matches, particularly when it’s the world No. 1 waiting just short of the finish line, is a statistical unicorn. The trick is avoiding an untimely swoon.

“You've got to get lucky in match play. If you have your bad round, you've got to hope the guy you're playing with has a bad round, as well,” Woodland said.

“I was fortunate to get away with a bad round on Wednesday against Jimmy [Walker]. But when you're playing the No. 1 player in the world, you can't have a bad round.”

Late Sunday, Woodland ran out of luck and ran into his bad round.

Although he cut McIlroy’s lead in half with birdies at the 10th and 12th holes, he followed that with two bogeys to put the finishing touches on a largely anti-climactic Sunday with a 4-and-2 loss.

The truth is the most exciting matches occurred well before Sunday dawned with duels like McIlroy vs. Billy Horschel in a sequel to last year’s Tour Championship finish on Friday; McIlroy vs. Paul Casey which spanned two days, 22 holes and multiple trips to the bathroom for the Englishman who came down with a particularly nasty case of food poisoning Saturday night; and Jordan Spieth vs. Lee Westwood, who chipped in for par at No. 16 and rolled in a crucial birdie putt at the 17th to stun arguably the week’s top performer.

Spieth was 16 under par for three days and at one point led the field by seven shots. “That’s a little messed up,” the Masters champion said when asked to evaluate the event’s new format.

That’s match play, for all its warts and reworked formats.

It was a measure of this Match Play’s moxie that the two hottest topics during a bone-chilling week had to do with two bouts that had no bearing on the outcome – the Mayweather/Pacquiao title bout in Las Vegas on Saturday and a heated exchange between Bradley and Jimenez on Friday as the two were wrapping up a virtually meaningless match.

The two players, who’d lost their first two matches in the round-robin format and were assured of only a trip home on Friday, disagreed over a drop Bradley was taking and the dispute spilled over into the locker room after the Spaniard closed out the match a 2-up winner.

“This is getting awkward,” observed Russell Henley on Friday, a reference to the horde of reporters that had assembled in the locker room to interview Jimenez after his run-in with Bradley.

Henley was trying to take a post-match shower when the media melee broke out, but the same could be said for this WGC-Match Play. While entertainment demands you always save the best for last, sport rarely follows a script, particularly when match play is the choice of format.

To be fair, at a marathon all 26.2 miles can’t be must-watch, just as all 121 holes McIlroy played at Harding Park weren’t going directly to the highlight reel.

“In the positions that I found myself in, you have to dig a little bit deeper. You have to try and find things from places you don't know if they're there or not,” said McIlroy, who has won two of the last three World Golf Championships he’s played. “I was able to produce a couple of key shots when I needed to this week. As a mental test, I don't think we face anything tougher.”

Put another way, sometimes you win ugly, and as McIlroy eyed the Walter Hagen Trophy in the interview room one day shy of his 26th birthday it was the win (his 10th on the PGA Tour), not the style points, he savored.

It was the same interview room he said he wanted to avoid on Saturday with a private plane waiting and a ticket to the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight burning a hole in his pocket.

Thanks to his delayed quarterfinal match against Casey, however, that ticket went to a friend and instead McIlroy watched the title bout, which was equally anti-climactic, in the same interview room he’d hoped to avoid.

“I am a big believer in karma,” he smiled. “I think I gave myself a much better chance of winning by watching it in there than trying to make it to Vegas, that's for sure.”

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Woods now listed as Masters betting favorite

By Will GraySeptember 24, 2018, 12:03 am

Now officially a winner again on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods has become a popular bet for folks thinking about next year's Masters.

The trip down Magnolia Lane is still seven months away, but Woods' breakthrough victory at the Tour Championship has led bettors to flock to the window to lay down cash on the four-time champ to add green jacket No. 5 next spring at age 43.

Woods was listed at 12/1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook when odds opened after the PGA Championship, behind only 2015 champ Jordan Spieth. That's where he remained for the subsequent six weeks, but after a stirring performance at East Lake Golf Club he's now listed as the 9/1 betting favorite for the first major of 2019.

Here's a look at the latest odds via the Westgate, as many of the top contenders head to Paris for the Ryder Cup:

9/1: Tiger Woods

10/1: Jordan Spieth

12/1: Dustin Johnson

14/1: Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

16/1: Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler

18/1: Jon Rahm

20/1: Jason Day

25/1: Bubba Watson

30/1: Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Tony Finau

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Woods: Support from Tour friends 'meant a lot to me'

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2018, 11:54 pm

ATLANTA – As Tiger Woods approach the 18th green on Sunday at the Tour Championship, with thousands of fans – literally – breathing down his neck, Davis Love III crouched down inside the ropes, on top of a mound to take it all in. He was joined by Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson.

Rickie Fowler was waiting. Tommy Fleetwood was watching from the clubhouse balcony. Paul Casey was there. So, too, were Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas.

They all wanted to witness Woods win for the first time in five physically debilitating, at times personally destructive, years. They wanted to congratulate, not just a peer, but a friend.

What that meant to Woods, well, he tried to describe. But words don’t do justice what the support of others means to someone who has been through so much.

“The people who are close to me saw the struggles and what I was going through, and some of the players that I'm pretty close to, they've really helped throughout this process and the last few years,” Woods said. “Their support and some of those things that they said coming off that last green meant a lot to me.”


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Of course, all of these players have one thing in common: They are all headed to Paris for this Ryder Cup, either as players or vice captains.

There were 17 Ryder Cup players in the 30-man Tour Championship field – 11, including Woods, on the U.S. side.

The Americans were set to take a charter flight to France on Sunday night. That means everyone aboard will get to partake in the celebrations. And Tiger will get to enjoy the camaraderie, something lacking from the years when he won 79 PGA Tour events.

“Flying tonight with the guys, it’s going to be fun,” Woods said.

“I think we’re all going to sleep well.”

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TT Postscript: Finally, officially, Tiger Woods is back

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 23, 2018, 11:47 pm

ATLANTA, Ga. – He’s baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack. Here are some things I think I think after watching Tiger Woods end a five-year winless drought and capture his 80th career PGA Tour victory Sunday at the Tour Championship.

• There’s only one place to start. That walk down 18. Tiger Woods leading throngs of maniacs (and me) into an arena only he can create, only he can star in, only he can thrive in. That was a security nightmare, and I’m sure whatever entities hold the insurance policies on Tiger and Rory were pulling their corporate hair out, but that was a scene you can’t really stage. A scene you can’t recreate. Not like that. Not with that level of exaltation. Every single person who has followed Tiger Woods’ career – every single person who loves the game of golf – felt like they were following Tiger in that crowd up 18. Regardless of whether you root for him or against him, you know no one else in the game can create a spectacle like that. After the surgeries, and the scandals, and the personal demons, Tiger Woods teared up, tapped in, put his arms in the air, and soaked in a kind of redemption none of us will ever fully understand.

• He admitted he almost cried twice on the way in. He almost cried in the crowd en route to the front bunker, and he almost cried after Rory McIlroy ceded the stage on the 72nd green. For years, he was invulnerable. Impenetrable. That was his aura. That aura was later shattered at too many different points along the way. There was a popular thought that Tiger Woods couldn’t be Tiger Woods without that same air of invincibility – that edge. But on Sunday, the golf world and Tiger himself saw that he could be vulnerable and a champion. Notah Begay perhaps put it best when he suggested on Golf Central that Tiger could, moving forward, strike a balance between playing with an edge and playing with a sense of gratitude.



• That gratitude seems genuine, too. He thought he was done. More than that, at his lowest point, he didn’t know what was going to be left of his life.

“Am I going to be able to sit, stand, walk, lay down without feeling the pain that I was in? I just didn't want to live that way,” he said in the interview room. “This is how the rest of my life is going to be? It's going to be a tough rest of my life. And so – I was beyond playing. I couldn't sit. I couldn't walk. I couldn't lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg.”

Now the roars, the support, the embrace, the victory – it all means a little more. Tiger Woods seems like a guy who took everything he had for granted, faced down the possibility of losing it all, and came out on the other end.


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• As for what exactly he really went through, maybe we’ll never know. Maybe we’ll never know how deep and dark that hole went. But clearly there’s an inner circle that knows. And that includes some of Tiger’s colleagues on Tour.

“You know, the people who are close to me saw the struggles and what I was going through, and some of the players that I'm pretty close to, they've really helped throughout this process and the last few years,” he said. “Their support and some of those things that they said coming off that last green meant a lot to me.”

• Tiger has been the face of golf for the last two decades. And that’s why it’s so weird to think that anyone can conceive of him as anything other than the most dominant player in the history of the game. But his kids are young enough that they really don’t know. Hearing him discuss his family Sunday night was both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

“I think they understand a little bit of what Dad does now. I hadn't won any tournaments in which they can remember, so I think this will be a little bit different for them. … A lot of times they equated golf to pain because every time I did it, I would hurt, and it would cause me more pain. And so now they're seeing a little bit of joy and seeing how much fun it is for me to be able to do this again.”

• So where do we go from here? To Paris, where Tiger through a wry smile suggested that everyone is going to sleep well on the U.S. plane tonight. Uh huh.

• But what’s next in that big-picture sense? Does he pass Sam? Does he catch Jack? Hell, I don’t know. I never thought we’d get to this point again. And neither did he. Maybe it’ll never get any better than this. But you know, it just might.

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With 80 wins, Woods eyes 'chipping away' at Snead

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2018, 11:38 pm

ATLANTA – Round numbers just feel better than the crooked ones.

80.

It’s only one more than 79, but it’s prettier and more historically significant.

“Eighty is a big number,” Tiger Woods said after winning the Tour Championship to reach that amazing tally in Tour wins. “I’ve been sitting on 79 for about five years now, and to get 80 is a pretty damned good feeling.”

Not since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational had Woods hoisted a trophy. And in those five winless years, he endured multiple surgeries; more personal turmoil; and doubt that he’d ever live a comfortable life, let alone play professionally.

80.

That puts him two wins from tying Sam Snead on the all-time PGA Tour wins list. What once seemed like a lock, then appeared unlikely, is attainable once again.


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This is more than just a nice, round number, however. More than an opportunity to be called the winningest Tour player ever.

For Woods, this is a recognized and appreciative product of grace and good fortune.

“To kind of get to the 80 mark is a big number," Woods said. 'Sam is still ahead of me. I've still got, I feel like, a chance to play some more golf and maybe I'll keep chipping away at that number and maybe surpass it. 

“But I just think that what I've gone through and what I've dealt with, I've gotten lucky, to be honest with you. I've gotten very lucky. I'm not playing a full-contact sport or I've got to move people around in that regard. At 42 years old with a fused lower spine; that's not going to happen.

“But in this sport, it can. I'm lucky to have the opportunity to have the people around me to have supported me and worked through this process with me, and I've ground out a chance to win golf tournaments again.”