Tiger Woods at the 2018 Valspar Championship. Getty Images

Tiger in the mix: Seems like old times

By Rex HoggardMarch 11, 2018, 12:35 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – For months, every millennial with a PGA Tour card has pined for the days when Tiger Woods’ name atop a leaderboard was akin to a national holiday.

On Sunday at the Valspar Championship, they’ll get their fill.

On Saturday, in a scene that could have been ripped from any number of mid-2000s highlight reels, Tiger did what Tiger does best, answering ever challenge and sending an unmistakable jolt across the Copperhead Course.

For players of a certain age, Day 3 had a time-capsule feel to it, with Woods' every move tracked by thousands and the 14-time major champion giving the masses plenty of reasons to shake the pine trees on his way to a third-round 67.

“You could tell some of the roars were for him, for sure,” said Steve Stricker, who joined the Tour a year before Woods. “It’s fun to see again. Everybody is excited and he brings so much attention to our game.”

Woods rolled in a 21-footer for birdie at the third hole, added another at the par-5 fifth and threatened to break the internet when he chipped in from behind the green at the ninth. That gave him a share of the lead with Brandt Snedeker and the most unlikely of opponents, Corey Conners, who has fewer rounds on Tour (64) than Tiger has Tour victories (79).

Attendance records have already been shattered this week, ratings have been through the roof and anticipation, both real and manufactured, has no boundaries.

On Friday when he moved to within two strokes of the lead, Las Vegas installed Woods as the third favorite to win this year’s Masters. At this rate officials may simply cancel the game’s most exclusive member-member at Augusta National in April and simply give Tiger his fifth green jacket.

Under the best of circumstances in recent years Woods has been little more than a curiosity who more often generated headlines for all the wrong reasons. Fans flocked to the occasional tournament to catch a glimpse, social media continued to declare him the game’s G.O.A.T. and a generation of young players familiarized themselves with his accomplishments via YouTube videos, but there were precious few reasons to cheer.


Full-field scores from the Valspar Championship

Valspar Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Before this season, the last time Woods had any chance anywhere on a Sunday was at the 2015 Wyndham Championship, but on that day he succumbed to a 50-year-old Davis Love III. He managed just a single start on Tour last season before being sidelined by fusion surgery on his lower back and the closest he’d come to greatness in recent years was as an assistant captain at the 2016 Ryder Cup and ’17 Presidents Cup.

But on Saturday at a Copperhead Course that was filled to capacity, hopeful optimism gave way to bona fide fervor. If he can maintain this pace and win on Sunday, imagine how much confidence he would take to next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he’s won eight times?

And what would this mean for the Masters, where he would have arrived amid a wave of expectations regardless of his recent form?

“He's a huge draw and he plays good this week and the excitement going into the Masters is going to be massive because I don't know if any of us were really thinking he was a true favorite there and he might be after one more round of golf,” Adam Scott said.

Predictably, Woods took a slightly more measured approach to the hyperbole that swirled through the cool air on Saturday. This comeback has been too long in the making for Tiger to jump the shark, even if the subject is Augusta National.

“There are so many guys who played their way back up into this tournament. [Scott] played well, he got it up there. [Justin Rose] has been playing well,” reasoned Woods, who was tied for second place and a shot off the lead held by Conners. “There's a lot of guys up there, myself included. I have to go out there and really play well again.”

Yes, yes. Stay in the process. Ignore the distractions. Focus on the next shot, not the next tournament or next major. Nobody maintains his distance behind a mental firewall better than Tiger. But as the crowds grew in size and spirit on Saturday it was impossible to ignore the possibility.

Imagine the pre-Masters buzz as Woods and Phil Mickelson, who won last week’s WGC-Mexico Championship for his first victory in over four years, motor down Magnolia Lane with true momentum.

For all the 20-somethings who’ve spent their careers wondering what it would be like to play against Tiger at something approaching his best, the passing answer could be heard, and felt, with every cheer.

“I was walking down the sixth and looked over to the fourth green. I said to my caddie, ‘Have you ever seen those crowds?’ eight deep back there,” Rose said. “It was a view that certainly wouldn't have been the same had he not been playing. He's on the leaderboard and challenging for the lead. Now that makes it really exciting.”

Now it all seems so real.

When Woods returned to the competitive fray in December at the Hero World Challenge, which could best be described as a rehab start, he spoke of his dramatically improved health and a genuine desire to be back on Tour.

Even as he made his way through the West Coast swing with mixed results, he remained optimistic; and when he moved to within a field goal of the lead on Sunday at the Honda Classic the buzz was palpable.

But this week along the Gulf Coast of Florida he’s irrevocably turned back the clock. All of the millennials who wanted to know what it was like when a red shirt on a Sunday was more than just a fashion statement are about to find out.

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Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.


Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

Anxiety.

Frustration.

Anger.

Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

“I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

“I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

“Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.


Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


“I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

Kang did.

“Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

“I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

“More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”

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Goal for new world No. 1 Koepka: Stay healthy

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 1:38 pm

Last season Brooks Koepka bagged a pair of majors en route to the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award. He started the new wraparound season with an emphatic win at the CJ Cup to reach world No. 1 for the first time.

But amid the best form of his career, Koepka has a simple goal in mind as he gets ready to turn his attention to the new year.

"Stay healthy," Koepka told reporters. "That's been the big thing. I need to be healthy to be able to play all these events, play all the majors."

Koepka's breakthrough year comes despite the fact that he missed four months in the spring, including the Masters, while recovering from a wrist injury. He hit the ground running once he returned, with strong finishes at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial preceding wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Now Koepka has added a third trophy after cruising to a four-shot win in South Korea on Sunday that allowed him to move past Dustin Johnson at world No. 1.

"I'm 1-for-1 this year, which is nice," Koepka joked about his undefeated record in the new wraparound season.

Koepka will be in the field next week in China for the WGC-HSBC Champions before putting the clubs on the shelf. With Justin Thomas paving the way by making the goal-setting process more public in recent years, Koepka explained that even after summiting the world rankings he plans to wait until 2019 to adjust his expectations for himself.

"I keep the same goals through the calendar year," Koepka said. "On Jan. 1 I go to the beach in the morning and go write down my goals and figure them out for the calendar year, but I just need to finish this year off. I've got next week and I would like to, coming out the first week as No. 1, I'd like to play well."

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Birdie binge for Woodland comes up short at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 12:52 pm

Gary Woodland mounted an impressive rally at the CJ Cup, but in the end even 11 birdies weren't enough to catch Brooks Koepka.

Woodland started the final round in South Korea five shots behind the new world No. 1, but he made the biggest move of the day amid chilly conditions on Jeju Island. With six birdies over his first nine holes, including four in a row on Nos. 6-9, he briefly caught Koepka at the top of the leaderboard.

But Woodland bogeyed No. 10, and even with five more birdies coming home to finish a 9-under 63 he still finished alone in second, four shots behind Koepka who closed with a bogey-free 29 to put the trophy out of reach.

"Yesterday I didn't get any putts to go in, and today I saw a lot of putts go in," Woodland told reporters. "Brooks with the lead, not much fazes him. So you knew you had to make a lot of birdies, and I made a lot today. But I was just too far behind."

It's the second straight strong performance from Woodland to start the new wraparound season, as he tied for fifth at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia after holding a share of the 54-hole lead. A closing 63 would have gone a long way last week, but he was still pleased to be able to make Koepka sweat a little on a day when even the bad holes resulted from good shots.

"I made two bogeys on the back and I said, 'Be right' on both shots," Woodland said. "I was just maybe a little too amped up, a little excited. I hit them both perfect. All in all, I would have liked for a couple more putts to go in yesterday and been a little closer going into today."