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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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U.S. Amateur playoff: 24 players for 1 spot in match play

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2018, 1:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer and Daniel Hillier were tied at the top after two rounds of the U.S. Amateur, but the more compelling action on Tuesday was further down the leaderboard.

Two dozen players were tied for 64th place after two rounds of stroke play at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. With the top 64 advancing to match play, that means all 24 will compete in a sudden-death playoff Wednesday morning for the last spot in the knockout rounds.


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They'll be divided into six foursomes and start the playoff at 7:30 a.m. on the par-3 17th at Pebble Beach, where Tom Watson chipped in during the 1982 U.S. Open and went on to win.

The survivor of the playoff will face the 19-year-old Hillier in match play. The New Zealander shot a 2-under 70 at Spyglass Hill to share medalist honors with the 18-year-old Hammer at 6 under. Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas who played in the 2015 U.S. Open at age 15, shot 68 at Spyglass Hill.

Stewart Hagestad had the low round of the day, a 5-under 66 at Pebble Beach, to move into a tie for 10th after opening with a 76 at Spyglass Hill. The 27-year-old Hagestad won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and earned low amateur honors at the 2017 Masters.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  


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On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open


Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)


Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."