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Tiger returns to U.S. Open renewed and hopeful

By Rex HoggardJune 12, 2018, 7:28 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Tiger Woods wasn’t born in this slice of American wealth and privilege. Didn’t go to college in the northeast and, if the crowd’s reaction is any measure, he's a fan favorite but not THE fan favorite of the New York masses. That honor would go to the People’s Champion – Phil Mickelson.

But as he’s smiled and joked his way around Shinnecock Hills in the buildup to this week’s championship, everything about this U.S. Open feels like a homecoming for Woods.

Maybe it’s because more so than any other major, Woods has defined his career at the U.S. Open. We’re a decade removed from his last major victory, that historic haymaker at the ’08 U.S. Open – that if we’re being honest, stands as the pinnacle of his competitive achievements.

Or maybe it’s because time and absence has made Tiger and those who hang on every shot nostalgic. He hasn’t played the weekend at his national championship in five years and last teed it up in the U.S. Open in 2015 at Chambers Bay.

Officials may have Tiger-proofed Augusta National and his four PGA Championships (he’s also won four Masters) certainly set a standard, but Tiger and the U.S. Open go together like red and black on major championship Sundays.


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Often billed as golf’s toughest test, the U.S. Open paired perfectly with the game’s toughest competitor for the better part of two decades, and it’s worth noting that Shinnecock Hills was the site of Tiger’s first start in the championship in 1995.

He boat-raced the field in 2000 at Pebble Beach, beating runner-up Ernie Els by a cool 15 strokes, and two years later he outlasted Mickelson, in what may be the duo’s most memorable duel, just down the Long Island Expressway at Bethpage Black.

But it’s 2008 and the benchmark Torrey Pines Open that makes this week’s return for Woods something greater than the sum of its parts.

When Woods left La Jolla, Calif., a decade ago his future was uncertain, but no one could have predicted his impending fall from grace, or his current rise back to competitive relevance.

There were injuries, both self-inflicted and otherwise, and setbacks and failed comebacks. Along the way he’s played in 25 majors and still he sits at 14 major championship victories, four shy of the all-time record set by Jack Nicklaus.

“I would think that I have been there on a number of occasions to win a major championship since the '08 U.S. Open, and I haven't done it. And no, I don't like that feeling,” said Woods, who did finish runner-up at the ’09 PGA Championship and third at the ’12 Open Championship. “I've certainly had a nice run where I've won a few. Unfortunately, over the last 10 years, I haven't. But for the first few years of my career, I did well.”

And he’s doing well again.

Normally, Woods’ name among the list of favorites to win a U.S. Open wouldn’t qualify as news, but his dramatically improved play this season makes his status this week as a 20-to-1 favorite notable on many fronts.

He’s not at full stride just yet, as evidenced by his putting two weeks ago at the Memorial, his driving during the West Coast swing or his iron play at the Masters. At each turn during this comeback he’s been sidetracked by a different part of his game, and yet he’s embraced each step with a zeal that had been missing.

“Golf is always frustrating. There's always something that isn't quite right, and that's where we, as players, have to make adjustments,” he said. “Tournaments I've played in this year, there's always something. Hopefully, this is one of those weeks where I put it all together and even it out, and we'll see what happens.”

If the New York crowds seem to have turned this U.S. Open into Woods’ homecoming, his demeanor at Shinnecock Hills has only reinforced the idea that Tiger is back where he belongs – playing a classic American golf course with an unrelenting confidence.

“He’s happy with his game, this is like a second lease on life, he gets to play again,” said Steve Stricker, who played a practice round with Woods on Monday at Shinnecock Hills. “He probably thought at one point he couldn’t come back out here and compete. He feels better about this time around.”

Woods returns to the championship that has defined his career this week with a renewed focus and a clean bill of health. He’s a new man now prepared to renew an old pursuit.

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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – Five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson has died, his family said Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members on Wednesday morning.

Born on Aug, 23, 1929, Thomson was two months short of his 89th birthday.

The first Australian to win The Open Championship, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by Tom Watson.

On the American senior circuit he won nine times in 1985.

Thomson also served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years, designing and building courses in Australia and around the world, helping establish the Asian Tour and working behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

He also wrote for newspapers and magazines for more than 60 years and was patron of the Australian Golf Writers Association.

In 1979 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were to be announced over the next few days.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.


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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.