Play on par 5s helps Woods make cut

By Rex HoggardMay 12, 2012, 1:08 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – When day broke at TPC Sawgrass on Friday the not-so-farfetched thought that Tiger Woods had lapsed into a Benjamin Button existence was hard to shake.

Woods hadn’t missed consecutive cuts since his amateur days, yet there he was, tied for 100th after an opening 2-over 74 on a golf course that has been anything but friendly confines to the 2001 champion in recent years. It wasn’t a question of whether he would make the cut so much as it was how he would make it to the finish line on Sunday at The Players Championship for the first time since 2009.

Following last week’s “MC” at the Wells Fargo Championship the thought occurred that Woods was devolving Benjamin Button style. Back to territory that hadn’t been touched since he was a skinny kid from southern California.

That Woods set out well past the lunch hour in his quest to keep from missing his first cut at the Tour’s flagship event only complicated things. The winds were swirling, the ground was baking to bouncy perfection and when he played his first seven holes in a relatively uneventful even par one could almost hear “Air Tiger” warming up for another premature trip to south Florida.

But amid the day’s worst winds he began his climb back to relevancy, back to this decade.

He banked his tee shot at the par-3 eighth to 11th feet for birdie, using the kind of local knowledge one wouldn’t expect from a player who has withdrawn from The Players with injury the last two years.

At the ninth he pounded driver, roped a long iron into a greenside bunker and made birdie from 6 feet to improve his inexplicably pedestrian play on the par 5s to 2 under. He added birdies at No. 6 (6 feet) and 11 just as things were becoming touch and go for many at TPC Sawgrass.

“(The wind) was all over the place,” Woods said. “It was strong enough where we could get a bead on where it was above the trees. It stayed constant, but down in them, it was swirling a little bit.”

He played the rest of the way in even par, an inward card highlighted by a roping hook off the pine straw left of the 16th fairway to the front fringe for an easy birdie to improve to 3 under on the par 5s.

Whatever happens the rest of the way, know this: Woods has lived and died during his career on the par 5s. It’s the byproduct of a power advantage he still holds over most of his Tour frat brothers and a short game, at least until 2010, that almost never gave away the easy birdie.

“I had to play them better than I have been playing par 5s, period,” said Woods, who hit 9 of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens in regulation and needed 29 putts on Friday.

“Good drives here, you're hitting irons to just about every par 5, Those four par 5s you've got to have iron to the green. We as players just have to take care of the par 5s.”

It was a mandate more so than wishful thinking. And it’s why he bolted to the practice tee late Thursday with swing coach Sean Foley to “tighten things up.” And why, after all the Day 1 hand-wringing, he will be around for the weekend and is a touchdown out of the lead.

When it comes to Woods there is dangerously little middle ground, he’s either washed up or back, his swing is either jacked up or heading to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. Lost in that dogmatic certainty, however, is the nuanced geometry of a dramatically new and different swing.

Just ask a player who has endured a similar change when he first set out with Foley and fought the same demons. Hunter Mahan went through it five years ago, and has watched as Woods has adapted to something as foreign as, well, missed cuts.

“Your instincts are a tough thing. I know Tiger's instincts are telling him to do one thing, but he knows he has to do something different, and that's always hard,” Mahan said Tuesday.

“It takes time. It peaks, comes out in pressure situations, comes out on Thursday. It doesn't come out on Wednesday or Tuesday or at home in Jupiter (Fla.). He can do it all day long; and then he comes out on Thursday, and then it's like, wait a minute, this is weird, I've got to go back to this.”

But a vocal portion of the golf world isn’t interested in the process, only the end product, and Friday’s 68 will likely do little to sway public opinion.

But know this: Woods believes he is on the correct path and no amount of exit polling to the contrary will change his mind. Woods’ plight may be a curious case, but he’s no Benjamin Button.

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Giving back: Chun creates education fund at site of Open win

By Randall MellMay 23, 2018, 8:04 pm

South Korea’s In Gee Chun is investing in American youth.

Chun broke through on the largest stage in women’s golf, winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago, and she’s making sure Lancaster, Pa., continues to share in what that brought her.

Chun is preparing for next week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek outside Birmingham, Ala., but she made a special stop this week. She returned to the site of her breakthrough in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Wednesday, launching the In Gee Chun Lancaster Country Club Education Fund. She announced Tuesday that she’s donating $10,000 to seed the fund. She’s expected to raise more than $20,000 for the cause in a fundraising dinner at the club Wednesday evening. The fund will annually award scholarships to Lancaster youth applicants, including Lancaster Country Club caddies and children of club employees.

“I’m excited to be back here,” said Chun, who put on a junior clinic during her stay and also played an outing with club members. “Winning the U.S. Women’s Open here in Lancaster gave me the opportunity to play on the LPGA and make one of my dreams come true.”

Chun also supports a fund in her name at Korea University, where she graduated, a fund for various “social responsibility” projects and for the educational needs of the youth who create them.

“Education is very important to me,” Chun said. “I would like to help others reach their goals.”

Chun made donations to the Lancaster General Health Foundation in 2015 and ’16 and to Pennsylvania’s J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Trust last year. Lancaster Country Club officials estimate she has now made donations in excess of $40,000 to the community.

“We are grateful In Gee’s made such a wonderful connection to our community and club,” said Rory Connaughton, a member of Lancaster Country Club’s board of governors. “She’s a special person.”

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Spieth admits '16 Masters 'kind of haunted me'

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:38 pm

Two years ago, Jordan Spieth arrived at Colonial Country Club and promptly exorcised some demons.

He was only a month removed from blowing the 2016 Masters, turning a five-shot lead with nine holes to play into a shocking runner-up finish behind Danny Willett. Still with lingering questions buzzing about his ability to close, he finished with a back-nine 30 on Sunday, including birdies on Nos. 16-18, to seal his first win since his Augusta National debacle.

Returning this week to the Fort Worth Invitational, Spieth was asked about the highs and lows he's already experienced in his five-year pro career and candidly pointed to the 2016 Masters as a "low point" that had a lingering effect.

"Even though it was still a tremendous week and still was a really good year in 2016, that kind of haunted me and all the questioning and everything," Spieth told reporters. "I let it tear me down a little bit. I kind of lost a little bit of my own freedom, thoughts on who I am as a person and as a golfer."

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Spieth went on to win the Australian Open in the fall of 2016, and last year he added three more victories including a third major title at Royal Birkdale. Given more than two years to reflect - and after nearly nabbing a second green jacket last month - he admitted that the trials and tribulations of 2016 had a lasting impact on how he perceives the daily grind on Tour.

"I guess to sum it up, I've just tried to really be selfish in the way that I think and focus on being as happy as I possibly can playing the game I love. Not getting caught up in the noise, good or bad," Spieth said. "Because what I hear from the outside, the highs are too high from the outside and the lows are too low from the outside from my real experience of them. So trying to stay pretty neutral and just look at the big picture things, and try and wake up every single day loving what I do."

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Spieth offers Owen advice ahead of debut

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:22 pm

As country music sensation Jake Owen gets set to make his Tour debut, Jordan Spieth had a few pieces of advice for his former pro-am partner.

Owen played as a 1-handicap alongside Spieth at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and this week he is playing his own ball on a sponsor invite at the Nashville Open. Owen joked with a Tour reporter that Spieth "shined" him by not answering his text earlier in the week, but Spieth explained to reporters at the Fort Worth Invitational that the two have since connected.

"We texted a bit yesterday. I was just asking how things were going," Spieth said. "I kind of asked him the state of his game. He said he's been practicing a lot. He said the course is really hard. I mean, going into it with that mindset, maybe he'll kind of play more conservative."

Owen is in the field this week on the same type of unrestricted sponsor exemption that NBA superstar Steph Curry used at the's Ellie Mae Classic in August. As Owen gets set to make his debut against a field full of professionals, Spieth noted that it might be for the best that he's focused on a tournament a few hundred miles away instead of walking alongside the singer as he does each year on the Monterey Peninsula.

"Fortunately I'm not there with him, because whenever I'm his partner I'm telling him to hit driver everywhere, even though he's talented enough to play the golf course the way it needs to be played," Spieth said. "So I think he'll get some knowledge on the golf course and play it a little better than he plays Pebble Beach. He's certainly got the talent to be able to shoot a good round."

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Presidents Cup changes aim to help Int'l. side

By Rex HoggardMay 23, 2018, 6:20 pm

In March when the PGA Tour announced the captains for next year’s Presidents Cup there was an understandable monsoon of attention for one element of that press conference.

Tiger Woods being named the captain for the U.S. team that will travel to Australia late next year was just not news, it was a monumental shift in how many view the 14-time major champion.

Although he’s slowly played his way back to competitive relevance, his decision to lead the red, white and blue side was the most glaring example to date that Woods is beginning to embrace a new role as a leader and a veteran.

Newsy stuff.

In that blur of possibility, however, were a few other nuggets that largely went overlooked but may end up impacting the biennial team event much more than the two high-profile captains (Ernie Els was named the International side’s front man for 2019).

Among these subtle changes is a new rule that requires every team member to play at least one match prior to Sunday’s singles session, instead of the two-match minimum in previous years. In theory, this would allow a captain to “hide” a player who might not be at the top of his form.

The Tour also announced each captain will have four, up from two, captain’s picks and they will make those selections much later than in previous years.

Officials would understandably be reluctant to admit it, but these changes are designed to give Els and Co. a chance, any chance, to make the ’19 matches competitive.

Following last year’s boat race of the International team at Liberty National in New Jersey – a lopsided rout that nearly ended late Saturday when the U.S. team came up just a single point short of clinching the cup before the 12 singles matches – most observers agreed that something had to change.

The International team has won just one of the dozen Presidents Cups that have been played, and that was way back in 1998, and has lost the last five matches by a combined 20 points.

Giving Els and Woods more time to make their captain’s picks is a byproduct of the timing of next year’s event, which will be played in Australia in December; but giving both captains a little more flexibility with the addition of two picks should, in theory, help the International side.

The Tour also altered how the points list is compiled for the International team, with a move to a 12-month cycle that’s based on the amount of World Ranking points that are earned. The previous selection criteria used a two-year cycle.

“That was a change that was important to Ernie Els to make sure that he feels like he has his most competitive team possible,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations. “That in conjunction with having four captain’s picks instead of two, which had been the case prior to 2019, he feels that’s going to give him his best chance to bring his strongest, most competitive team to Australia.”

The 12-month cycle will start this August at the Dell Technologies Championship and end at the 2019 Tour Championship, and puts more importance on recent form although had the new selection criteria been used for the 2017 team, there would have been just one player who wouldn’t have automatically qualified for the team. That’s not exactly a wholesale makeover.

“It didn’t seem to be a dramatic change in the makeup of the team,” Pazder conceded.

Still, a change, any change, is refreshing considering the one-sided nature of the Presidents Cup the last two decades. Of course, if the circuit really wanted to shake things up they would have reduced the total number of points available from 30 to 28, which is the format used at the Ryder Cup and as a general rule that event seems to avoid prolonged bouts of competitive irrelevance.

Perhaps these most recent nip/tucks will be enough to break the International team out of a losing cycle that doesn’t help bring attention to the event or motivate players.

There’s no mystery to what makes for a compelling competition, look no further than the Ryder Cup for the secret sauce. History makes fans, and players, care about the outcome and parity makes it compelling. What history the Presidents Cup has is largely one-sided and if last year’s loss is any indication the event is no closer to parity now than it was when it was started in 1994.

Els has been a part of every International team since 1996 and if anyone can pull the side from its current funk it would be the South African, but history suggests he might need a little more help from the Tour to shift the competitive winds.