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Twenty-two years later it's like, 'Hello, again'

By Rex HoggardAugust 30, 2018, 3:59 pm

NORTON, Mass. – “I guess, hello, world.”

It was a sheepishly delivered line that changed golf. Within days, Nike Golf turned the remark, be it spontaneous or otherwise, into a marketing franchise and within 24 hours Tiger Woods set out on a historic journey at the Greater Milwaukee Open.

“The last few years seemed like it took centuries. I was struggling a bit. But just looking back on it, I remember so many shots from my early start in Milwaukee. I remember all that,” Woods said on Thursday at the Dell Technologies Championship when asked to reflect on that start 22 years ago. “That it's been 22 years since then, it has gone by more fast than I would have imagined.”

The 1996 GMO wasn’t where the world learned that Tiger was special – an incomparable amateur resume had already checked those boxes – but it was where the prodigy turned pro.

The fans that descended on Brown Deer Park in late-August to catch a glimpse of the can’t-miss kid may not have known what was in store, but John “Jumbo” Elliott had a pretty good idea what to expect.

“I had played with [Woods] at Riviera when he was 16 years old,” explained Elliott, who was deep into his third full season on the PGA Tour in ’96 when the computer spit out the grouping of a lifetime. “It was funny I was playing with [Robert] Gamez in a practice round, and told him that I’d played with [Justin] Leonard in his first [round as a professional] and [Charles] Howell in his first. I said, ‘I’m probably going to get paired with Tiger.’”

Photo gallery: Tiger Woods' pro debut at the '96 GMO

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Elliott knew what to expect for his first two days with the heir apparent – huge crowds, mayhem and an impressive new brand of golf; but as his 1:36 p.m. tee time approached he was surprised by the lack of buzz.

“After he did the ‘Hello, world,’ moment the night before, we were on the range hitting balls, I was like, ‘This is odd, no one is here.’ I went to the first tee, they were five to 10 [people] deep,” Elliott said. “It was a U.S. Open crowd on a Saturday or Sunday.”

But if the crowds were predictable – and they were given the hype of Tiger’s pro debut – the quality of play was not. After all, Woods would not be the first transcendent athlete to fall short of expectations, but as the round unfolded Tiger turned out to be exactly what the experts thought he was.

Tiger birdied Nos. 3 and 4 and added an eagle at the par-5 sixth hole to move to 4 under par. What Elliott most vividly remembers was his game off the tee, with Woods hitting five of his first six fairways ... with a driver, no less.

That kind of proficiency off the tee hasn’t exactly become Tiger’s calling card now that he’s two decades removed from that groundbreaking moment. By comparison, he found just 9 of 14 fairways each of the first three days last week at The Northern Trust, where he tied for 40th.

“When I played with him he would aim that driver right center and hit a trap draw right down the middle,” said Elliott, who recalled Tiger roping his opening drive 337 yards down the middle of the first fairway. “If he would just do what he used to do. I don’t know why he still doesn’t do that?”

Woods is more of a high cut guy now, although given his stats he’s no less impressive in the power department. But Elliott’s point is valid. That first edition of Tiger, the one before injuries robbed him of countless seasons, was as good as advertised in every aspect of the game.

Tiger would go on to shoot 67, beating Elliott by a stroke, and finish the week tied for 60th. The next month he’d win his first Tour event, the Las Vegas Invitational, on his way to a two-victory season and his first start at the Tour Championship.

It was, by any measure, an impressive start even by the unrealistically high expectations the golf world had placed on the then-20 year old’s narrow shoulders.

Elliott’s path wouldn’t cross with Tiger’s again for eight years, after he’d won eight of his 14 majors

“In 2004 I’d been on the Tour and made it to the U.S. Open. I was on the range and I went up to Tiger and said, ‘If I would have fallen asleep in 2000 and woke up in 2004 and you’d have won all these majors I wouldn’t have believed it,’” Elliott recalled. “He said, ‘me, too.’”

In a unique way Tiger is now in a similar position. For the first time since 2013 he’s been able to play a full season on Tour and he continues to inch closer to another seminal moment in his career following near-miss victories at The Open and PGA Championship.

“I told my buddies at the Dye Preserve [Golf Club] in the winter, I’ve always said he will win if he’s healthy. It may take some time but if he stays healthy he could win three or four more majors,” said Elliott, who caddies at the Dye Preserve when he’s not chasing his dream of playing the PGA Tour Champions.

As Tiger continues to check off competitive boxes, the blueprint looks vaguely familiar to Elliott. He recognizes this most recent comeback and a path that’s starting to feel like a “Hello, again” moment.

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Ciganda is attempting to win her third LPGA title and first since the 2016 season, when she won two tournaments in a one-month span. Kim is chasing her eighth career LPGA win and second title of the 2018 season.

''I want to win because I didn't win last year,'' Ciganda said. ''I love playing in Asia. It's good for long hitters, playing quite long, so I'm quite comfortable.''

Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

Yin and Altomare have yet to break through for their first LPGA win. A win in Shanghai would make either player the ninth first-time winner of the 2018 season, which would tie 2016 for the third highest number of first-time winners in a season in LPGA history.

''I love competing,'' Yin said. ''That's why I'm playing, right? I'm excited to be in contention again going into Sunday.''

Local favorite Yu Liu was seventh after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

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"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.