Once a major rival, Federer an inspiration for Tiger

By Rex HoggardFebruary 1, 2017, 11:04 am

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Of all the subtext associated with Tiger Woods’ historic victory at the 2008 U.S. Open, a list that included a broken leg and ailing knee, it was his friendly rivalry with Roger Federer that went largely overlooked.

Woods’ overtime triumph at Torrey Pines nearly a decade ago moved him to 14 majors for his career, two Grand Slam tilts ahead of the tennis great and fellow Nike athlete.

In a grand game of one-upmanship, it was bragging rights that only a select few would ever understand. Always inclined to give others the needle, one could imagine a classic Tiger text message: “That’s 14, you’re turn.”

In those halcyon days, there was nothing Woods couldn’t do. His ’08 SoCal masterpiece was his fourth victory in his last eight major starts – Jack Nicklaus’ benchmark of 18 overall was easily within sight and Federer, who endured his own share of health issues in ’08, including a season-long bout with mononucleosis and a back injury, seemed destined to spend the rest of his career playing catch up.

So much has changed since then.

A 2009 scandal impacted Woods both on and off the golf course and since that epic shootout with Rocco Mediate in ’08 at Torrey Pines there has been an assortment of surgeries and medical setbacks that have limited him to just 24 major starts.

Federer, on the other hand, tied Woods with 14 majors at the ’09 French Open and on Sunday morning, at 35 years old, he defeated Rafael Nadal in an epic final to claim his 18th Grand Slam title. But it wasn’t the number, a number that Tiger has been married to ever since he won the 1997 Masters, that Woods took away from Sunday’s action in Melbourne.

“Serena [Williams] is a good friend of mine and we were texting back and forth, so very proud of her for what she did [winning major No. 23 in Australia]. And for her to battle through the injuries that she's gone through,” Woods said on Wednesday at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. “It's pretty remarkable that all of them got to that point [the Australian Open finals]: Roger being out for that point, Rafa dealing with injuries; Serena, same thing; and then Venus [Williams] with her autoimmune disease.”

This went well beyond being a fan. This was strangely personal, a glimpse into what the next few years for Woods could look like.

Being Tiger Woods has always been an enigma. Questions earlier in his career focused on his ability to focus in the most pressure-packed situations and execute on cue. In recent years, the dialogue has turned to his health, how his body will withstand multiple swing changes and whether he’d ever catch Nicklaus?

In Federer, Woods could easily see how a kindred spirit navigated a similar career crossroads.

“What Roger has done is he's been dominant for so long, and then to, not only that, to compete against Djoko, to compete against Rafa; and now Andy [Murray] is playing well,” Woods said. “He's had a litany of guys who have won Slams. And no one wins Slams at his age.”

Woods will face a similar litany of challengers in his comeback. Playing with Jason Day and Dustin Johnson last week at the Farmers Insurance Open, his first official start on the PGA Tour in 15 months, certainly served as a quick reintroduction to the modern game.

“I watched Dustin carry a ball last week when it was cold, wet and damp and carried it 335 [yards],” Woods said. “Jason [Day] and I just looked at each other going, ‘We don't have that.’”

But what he has is the accumulated knowledge of two decades on Tour, a rekindled passion for the game and, after Sunday’s final in Australia, a paradigm of hope.

Federer became the oldest player to win a Grand Slam title since 1972 and Venus Williams, who lost to her sister Serena in the women’s final on Saturday, was vying to become the oldest women’s Grand Slam champion at 36.

Federer now wins with a different game than he did earlier in his career, a concept Woods seems to have embraced in this second phase of his own career.

“So you do it differently,” Woods said. “If you look at the list of guys who shot below 60, you realize Jim Furyk's on there twice. He averages 270 off the tee, shoot two rounds under 60. So it can be done different ways.”

But then how Woods gets there, with an off-speed swing that finds more fairways and a short game that still ranks among the game’s best, is secondary to his health.

The only way to win a major championship is to play in a major championship, and everything Woods has done since having multiple back procedures after the 2015 season has been structured to assure longevity as much as competitive lethality, and there may not be a better example of this then Federer.

“For him to come back, after having to take that much time off, and for him to get the timing; that's the hardest part,” Woods said. “He rehabbed properly and you can tell how fast he's moving. He's shortened up points, changed his strategy around a little bit. Didn't hang around the baseline as long. I mean, as you get older, you change your game and you do things slightly differently, and he did that.”

This week’s start in the Middle East, his second of four scheduled events in a five-week window, is another chance to see if Woods can change his own game and get back in the Grand Slam race with Federer.

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Gooch chooses 'life over a good lie' with gators nearby

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:31 pm

AVONDALE, La. – A fairway bunker wasn’t Talor Gooch’s only hazard on the 18th hole at TPC Louisiana.

Gooch’s ball came to rest Thursday within a few feet of three gators, leading to a lengthy delay as he sorted out his options.

Chesson Hadley used a rake to nudge two of the gators on the tail, sending them back into the pond surrounding the green. But the third gator wouldn’t budge.

“It woke him up from a nap,” Gooch said, “and he was hissing away and wasn’t happy.”

The other two gators remained in the water, their eyes fixed on the group.

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“I’m sure we would have been fine, but any little movement by them and no chance I would have made solid contact,” he said.

A rules official granted Gooch free relief, away from the gator, but he still had to drop in the bunker. The ball plugged.

“I chose life over a good lie in that situation,” he said.

He splashed out short of the green, nearly holed out his pitch shot and made par to cap off an eventful 6-under 66 with partner Andrew Landry.

“It was my first gator par,” he said. “I’ll take it.”

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Koepka's game 'where it should be' even after injury

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:18 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Brooks Koepka didn’t look rusty Thursday while making six birdies in the first round of the Zurich Classic.

Making his first start in four months because of a torn ligament in his left wrist, Koepka and partner Marc Turnesa shot a 5-under 67 in fourballs at TPC Louisiana.

“It felt good,” Koepka said afterward. “It was just nice to be out here. I played pretty solid.”

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The reigning U.S. Open champion felt soreness in his wrist the week after he won the Dunlop Phoenix in the fall. He finished last at the Hero World Challenge in December and then the following month at the Tournament of Champions before shutting it down.

He only began practicing last week and decided to commit to the Zurich Classic after three solid days at Medalist. He decided to partner with one of his friends in South Florida, Marc Turnesa, a former PGA Tour winner who now works in real estate.

Koepka hasn’t lost any distance because of the injury – he nearly drove the green on the 355-yard 16th hole. He’s planning to play the next two weeks, at the Wells Fargo Championship and The Players.

“I feel like I’m playing good enough to be right where I should be in April,” he said. “I feel good, man. There’s nothing really wrong with my game right now.”

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Like a tattoo: Ko shares early Mediheal lead

By Randall MellApril 26, 2018, 10:45 pm

Lydia Ko put herself in early position Thursday to try to extend her birthday celebration through Sunday at the LPGA Mediheal Championship.

Ko, who turned 21 on Tuesday, is off to a strong start at Lake Merced Golf Club, where she has a lot of good memories to draw upon as she seeks to regain the winning form that made her the greatest teen phenom in the history of the women’s game.

With a 4-under-par 68, Ko moved into a four-way tie for the lead among the morning wave in the first round. I.K. Kim, Jessica Korda and Caroline Hedwall also opened with 68s.

All Ko has to do is look at her right wrist to feel good about returning to San Francisco. That’s where she tattooed the date April 27, 2014, in Roman numerals. That’s how she commemorated her Swinging Skirts victory at Lake Merced, her first title as an LPGA member. She won there again the following year.

“This is a golf course where I've played well,” Ko said. “The fans have been amazing. They’ve been super supportive every single time I've come here, even since I played the U.S. Juniors here.”

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Ko made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced in 2012.

“It just brings back a lot of great memories,” she said.

Ko got this week off to a good start with friends from South Korea and New Zealand flying to California to surprise her on her birthday. She was born in South Korea and grew up in New Zealand.

“Turning 21 is a huge thing in the United States,” Ko cracked. “I’m legal now, and I can do some fun things.”

Ko is looking to claim her 15th LPGA title and end a 21-month winless spell. Her ball striking was sharp Thursday, as she continues to work on improvements under her swing coach, Ted Oh. She hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation.

“My ball striking's been getting better these last few weeks, which has been really nice,” Ko said at week’s start. “But then I've been struggling with putting, which was the aspect of the game that was going really well. I feel like the pieces are there, and just, sometimes, the hardest thing is to kind of put all those pieces together. Just have to stay patient, I know there are a lot of good things happening.”

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Watch: Rose drops trou despite gator danger

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 26, 2018, 10:12 pm

We all know how fashion-conscious pro golfers are, and sometimes that even trumps modesty.

Take Justin Rose, whose tee shot on the par-3 third hole in Thursday's opening round of the Zurich Classic found the water. But the ball was close enough to shore for Rose to try to play it. Not wanting to get his light-colored pants dirty - what is up with all the white pants on Tour these days, anyway? - he took them off to play the shot.

If there were any gators in the water hazard - and this being Louisiana, there almost certainly were - they showed no interest in the Englishman.

It was only appropriate that Rose should strip down for a shot, as his partner, Henrik Stenson, famously did the same thing (to an even greater degree) at Doral in 2009.

Finally, just to provide some closure, Rose failed to get up and down.