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Plenty of good – and bad – in Tiger's missed cut

By Rex HoggardFebruary 17, 2018, 3:10 am

LOS ANGELES – Do you want the good news or the bad?

Actually, having any good news to report when it comes to Tiger Woods is something of a sea change after a tumultuous few years for the 14-time major champion both on and off the golf course, so let’s start there.

Right about the time Woods began his round of birdie-bogey bingo on Day 2 at the Genesis Open, news broke that he’d signed to play next week’s Honda Classic.

The annual South Florida PGA Tour stop may be just a short drive from the Woods compound, but his commitment to play PGA National is very much a reason for optimism.

It marks, after all, the first time Woods has played consecutive weeks on Tour since 2015 when he went from the PGA Championship  where he missed the cut  to the Wyndham Championship, site of his last top-10 (T-10) on Tour. Last year, when he attempted to go back-to-back from the Farmers Insurance Open to the Dubai Desert Classic, came to a woeful end when he withdrew after just a single round with an ailing back.

“I'm very pleased. I'm very excited about it,” Woods said as darkness settled Friday over Riviera Country Club. “I wish I would have two more competitive rounds to head into next week, but that's not the case. But I get a chance to do some work and I'll go do some work.”

Throughout this entire process, which began last April when he had fusion surgery on his lower back, Woods has talked of benchmarks and protocols. He has, by all accounts, been a model patient, following doctor’s orders and easing his way back into the competitive fray.

As late as Tuesday, Woods was coy when asked about whether he would play the Honda Classic, figuring it would be a “great” sign if he did play, but adding it would be a “smart” sign if he didn’t.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

Although the late Yogi Berra would probably applaud Woods’ misdirection, his point was valid. He’s never been real keen on announcing his schedule in advance, and that’s particularly evident and prudent now that his competitive fortunes are dictated by the whims of his surgically repaired back.

But on Friday as Woods was setting out for his round, he offered the most telling assessment yet that his health, which for so long has left him perched on the edge between continued greatness and competitive irrelevance, is no longer an issue.

“I'm both pleased and also not very happy with some parts of it,” he said. “It's nice to be back competing again and to be able to go out there and play, practice after each round. That's been nice, something I haven't done in years.”

And now the bad.

Woods began the day at Riviera teetering on the cut line at 1 over, played his opening loop in 2 over par to drift further back and closed his day, and week, with a 5-over 76 and a 6-over total to miss the cut by five strokes.

There is no shortage of culprits on this front.

He struggled off the tee. He struggled with his irons. And on Friday he struggled with his short game, which had been the rock his comeback had rested on until now.

He was once again plagued by the wild miss off the tee, hitting just 13 of 28 fairways for two days with a tee ball that offended equally, sailing right four times and left seven. So much for that “stout” new shaft.

But if his tee ball became public enemy No. 1, his iron play may have been worse with Woods finding a pedestrian 16 of 36 greens in regulation. That’s the fewest greens for Tiger through two rounds in a Tour event as a professional.

“I would say he's a pretty good ways away,” figured Justin Thomas, who may need to find another ride home after flying out to Los Angeles on Air Tiger. “He's obviously not driving it well, he's not hitting the shots that he wants to. Probably the distance control isn't quite there.”

Thomas was quick to point out that despite Woods’ struggles he continued to fight like few can, at least on Thursday when he turned what probably should have been a 75 into a 72. On Friday, the magic ran out.

Woods’ abbreviated week in Los Angeles began with a lost ball in a eucalyptus tree and ended with his surprising loss of touch on the greens.

He missed par attempts from 13 (No. 9), 4 1/2 (No. 11), 5 1/2 (No. 12) and 6 1/2 (No. 16) feet on Day 2, the final three miscues marking his first three three-putts of the week. That deft touch that had secured him weekend tee times last month at Torrey Pines and kept his round on Day 1 at the Genesis Open from becoming ugly, had vanished.

“The feeling of not feeling very good over my putts finally caught up with me,” Woods said.

Woods has a few days to think about those feelings, and he’ll spend the weekend fulfilling his host duties at Riviera before heading home for next week’s Honda Classic.

He understood as well as anyone that it was always going to be this way following so many years of false starts and relapses, but the difference now is that there’s some good news to go along with the bad.

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Tee times

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Tee times

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Tee times

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.