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Mid-season grades: Tiger, Reed, Spieth and more

By Rex HoggardApril 11, 2018, 7:25 pm

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – For the casual golf fan, last week’s Masters marks the unofficial start to the golf season, with marquee events defining the next five months; but according to the actual math of the circuit’s wraparound schedule, this week’s RBC Heritage is the mid-point of the calendar (the 25th of 49 events), which means it’s time for’s annual mid-terms.

A complicated Reed. Late Monday afternoon, one sports network ran a headline that read: “Why is [Patrick] Reed an unpopular champion?” It was all part of a larger narrative that has now defined the Masters champion as anti-social at best and difficult at worst.

Reed is a complicated player with, let’s say, an eventful past, but that doesn’t change what he accomplished on Sunday. He might not be the most popular champion in Masters history, but he’s still a champion. GRADE: A.

On schedule. At last month’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said the circuit would likely be ready to unveil the 2019 schedule at The Players in May.

Monahan conceded that the overhauled line-up has been challenging with more moving parts than a 15-handicap’s swing, but he remained confident the Tour would get to where it needed to be.

More pieces of that puzzle fell into place this week, with reports surfacing that the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a staple on Tour since 1976, would be replaced on the schedule by a new World Golf Championship that will be played in Memphis and sponsored by FedEx.

There was also talk this week from various sources that the annual stop in Fort Worth, Texas, is poised to announce a new, long-term sponsor in the next few weeks, which shores up at least a part of the title sponsor concerns.

It’s best to withhold judgment until the Tour announces the entire schedule, but so far Monahan and Co. appear to have all the pieces falling into place. GRADE. Incomplete.

This is a warning. The normally relaxed Sony Open endured a jolt this year when players, caddies and officials were awoken before Saturday’s third round by a text message that was sent across Oahu.


It wasn’t a drill, but it was a mistake. That didn’t make the tense moments until the all clear was given any less stressful. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of life on Tour until an accidental text message snaps you back to reality. GRADE. F.

The Process. It’s worked for the Philadelphia 76rers, and for Tiger Woods.

First the hard news: Tiger hasn’t won this season and, whether it’s fair or not, that’s always the ultimate litmus test for a 14-time major champion. Now for the perspective: six months ago Woods didn’t know if he’d ever play golf again, even recreationally, following fusion surgery on his lower back last year.

Competitively he’s found himself in the hunt at the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, and even though he struggled with his game (irons) last week at Augusta National, there’s now a resilience to his play that can’t be ignored.

“I had missed it for the last couple of years, I hadn't been able to play in it,” he said last week at the Masters. “I missed it, I really did. I missed playing out here. I missed competing against these guys.” GRADE. B+.

Leading by example. During their primes, neither Woods nor Phil Mickelson served on the Player Advisory Committee or the policy board. It’s hard to criticize either player considering their resumes, but it is worth noting that Jordan Spieth was elected PAC chair this year and will ascend to the policy board next year.

There’s no doubt Woods and Mickelson were influential when it came to Tour policy, but Spieth’s decision to embrace a leadership role is both encouraging and telling.

He might not have had the season he would have liked to this point - before Houston and last week’s spirited Sunday charge at Augusta National Spieth had largely struggled on the course - but he deserves credit for stepping up to help guide the Tour through what promises to be an eventful few years. GRADE: A-.

Still pacing. Last Friday, the day’s final threesome made it around Augusta National in a little under six hours. The next day Paul Casey played with a marker, club member Jeff Knox, in about 3 1/2 hours.

Although some of that improved pace of play can be attributed to playing twosomes and with a marker, the dramatic difference between rounds was glaring.

“Obviously I prefer how we played it today in pace of play. On pace of play, honestly, it frustrates me,” Casey said. “I would love to do that every single weekend if I could.”

The majority of Tour players agree with Casey and prefer a better pace of play, and yet the circuit continues to ignore what most involved see as a glaring problem. GRADE: F.

Mixed bag. Dustin Johnson began his season with a runner-up finish in China last October, rolled the field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions by eight strokes and seemed to be on pace for another dominant year.

Although he’s remained atop the Official World Golf Ranking, his only real chance for a second title this season was a runner-up finish at Pebble Beach and he tied for 10th last week at the Masters, eight strokes behind Reed.

“I definitely expect better,” Johnson said on Wednesday at Harbour Town where he’s making his first start in nearly decade. “I felt like I played well enough to win last week, I just didn’t putt well.”

It’s easy to let expectations turn what has otherwise been a solid season into a reason to be concerned, but remember that DJ still has four of the year’s most important events to play and reason to think something special still awaits. GRADE: A-.

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Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

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“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

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For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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Glover trails Straka at Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The series features the top 75 players from the 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 regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:14 am

ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.

For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.

“I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.

Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.

“Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”

Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.

On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.

He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.

“The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”

Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.

He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.

There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.

Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”

Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.

It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.

Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.

“I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”

In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.

He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.

The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.