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One question remains: Who will be the hero?

By Rex HoggardDecember 2, 2017, 11:36 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – A tournament that began with so many lingering questions inched closer to some certainty on Saturday. We learned on Day 3 that Charley Hoffman may be the most underrated PGA Tour player.

Hoffman extended his lead at the Hero World Challenge with a 2-under 70 against a world-class field that includes Jordan Spieth, who has embraced this particular “challenge season” event like a faux major, and Justin Rose.

Hoffman is good. Like win-a-major-soon good, but then that really wasn’t the question on everyone’s mind this week.

That other unknown, the one that has dominated conversations from social media to water coolers for weeks, has been revealed.

Know this, Tiger Woods has rounded 54 holes at Albany in fine form. He’s driven the ball well, had bouts of solid putting and, most importantly, showed no signs of injury or pain in his first competitive start since having fusion surgery on his lower back in April.

All things considered, those who study such things should be encouraged by Woods’ play, if not his general state of health. But as a blustery day unfolded the old comments and concerns surfaced.

When Woods bogeyed the first hole the crowd went silent. When he added three more missteps at Nos. 3, 6 and 7 the echoes of encouragement were overtaken by fimiliar concerns.

On Friday, Woods electrified the golf world with an opening nine of 31. On Saturday, he rounded the outward loop in something closer to 41 (40 actually).

In less time than it takes for Hideki Matsuyama to complete his backswing, Woods’ title hopes were all but blown into the Caribbean sky.

Hero World Challenge: Articles, photos and video

Full-field scores from the Hero World Challenge

Woods would rally with birdies at Nos. 14 and 17, the former drawing a frustrated smile, to salvage what could have been a really bad day at the office. For his part, Woods remained upbeat.

“There were a lot of questions that I had, I'm sure you guys have had, and I feel like I've come out on a good side this week,” said Woods, who shot a 75 to drop into a tie for 10th place, 10 strokes off the pace. “I knew how I was playing at home, I knew how I was hitting shots, I knew what was going on.”

Woods has taken a half-full approach to this most recent comeback, which would at least partially explain his lack of frustration. Let the instant analysis drone away, the truth seems to be that Woods had only one real question this week – whether his surgically repaired back could withstand four days of competitive golf.

“I feel good. I feel like I've got some experience in. It's nice to be part of the fight again,” Woods said. “Get out there and fighting against the golf course, fighting against the guys, that's fun. I just haven't done it a whole lot in the last few years.”

He just won’t be fighting for a title on Sunday at Albany. That stage will be held by Hoffman, who enjoyed his most consistent season on Tour in 2017 including a pair of runner-up showings at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and RBC Canadian Open and qualified for his first Presidents Cup team.

Despite the week’s toughest conditions, Hoffman did what he’s done all season and grinded along. Not even a double bogey-6 at the 10th hole could make this a closer race heading into the final turn, with Hoffman making birdie on three of his final five holes for a 14-under total.

“I wouldn't say I didn't struggle. There was a struggle for an extended period of time,” Hoffman said. “I was able to sort of scrape it around, which means a lot to me on a day that I didn’t drive it well and still shot a couple under par.”

The veteran won’t have to worry about Woods coming after him in the final round, but he will still have plenty to keep his attention with Rose, one of the hottest players in golf the last few weeks, and Spieth, whose record at this event is a study in consistency.

Spieth, who hasn’t finished outside the top 10 at the Hero World Challenge in his last three starts and won the event in 2015, had an equally tough day with three birdies and three bogeys, but he remains poised in second place at 9 under.

Rose’s round was just as adventurous after a fast start but the Englishman is still poised to finish in the top 10 for his ninth consecutive start, a run that includes victories at the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open.

“This is how I should be playing golf, just a bit of determination, motivation,” said Rose, whose 71 left him tied with Spieth at 9 under.

Both promise to challenge Hoffman regardless of how far back they are, and the front-runner will have to conjure an answer. As for that other question involving one 14-time major champion, well, that’s already been answered.

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McCarthy wins Tour Championship by 4

By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Tour Finals.

''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for 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.

Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

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LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

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For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

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He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.