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Woodland: 'Toughest year of my life by far'

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2017, 11:33 pm

ATLANTA – Making it to East Lake for the season send-off is a singular accomplishment for any PGA Tour player.

It validates months, years of hard work and commitment. It’s a reward for a season that ranks among the top 30 on the world’s biggest stage and brings a mountain of rewards that allow players to ease into next season with the closest thing the Tour has to job security.

But for Gary Woodland, the 6-foot-1 former college point guard whose intensity on the course is matched only by his approachability when the scorecard is signed, his fifth trip to Atlanta goes much deeper than a particular professional accomplishment.

“This year means more to me than any other, it really does,” Woodland said on Thursday at the Tour Championship. “This was the toughest year of my life by far. The little man has been dealing with a little bit of stuff, but it’s just never been easy.”

Woodland’s “little man” is his son, Jaxson, who was born 10 weeks premature in June. When the 33-year-old put himself into contention at the PGA Championship in August, Jaxson was still on a monitor that helped him breathe and had just gotten home from an extended stay at the hospital.

As hard as that would be on any parent, for Woodland and his wife, Gabby, at least Jaxson was fighting, at least he was part of their lives.

In March, Woodland abruptly withdrew from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play citing personal reasons and explained via Twitter that Gabby, who was pregnant with twins, had suffered from complications that resulted in the loss of one child.

Woodland, who had gotten off to his best season on Tour, returned for the Masters but understandably struggled on his way to a missed cut.


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Everything became harder - golf, being away from home, not knowing what would happen with Jaxson.

“Every off week since the Match Play my wife or my kid has been in the hospital,” he said at East Lake following a 67 that left him tied for sixth place. “The only week he wasn’t in the hospital we had to evacuate Florida, so it’s just been no off weeks and that’s been tough.”

Gabby and Jaxson bolted south Florida the week before Hurricane Irma cut a swath through the state and Woodland joined them in Kansas after the Dell Technologies Championship. When they returned home, they were without power and water for three days.

It’s been that kind of year for Woodland and family.

Everyone deals with life’s ebbs and flows, be they a Tour player or mechanic, and Woodland’s not big on excuses. That’s not the way when you grow up in Topeka, Kan., but he concedes that balancing life and work has been a challenge this season.

“The first couple of months after everything happened it was tough for me, mentally,” he said. “It was tough because I was playing so well leading up to that. I gave myself so many chances early in the year to win and just dealing mentally off the course, I couldn’t focus enough.”

It’s not surprising that while Gabby and Jaxson’s medical fortunes have improved - the “little guy” is home again and doing much better - so has Woodland’s competitive outlook.

He finished fourth at the RBC Canadian Open and played solidly at the PGA, where he tied for 22nd. But he began the playoffs squarely on the East Lake bubble at 34th on the points list.

Woodland rallied with weekend rounds of 67-67 at the Dell Technologies Championship and closed with a 69 last week at the BMW Championship to narrowly secure his trip to the East Lake promised land at 28th on the playoff points list.

For each of the 30 assembled this week at the Tour Championship it’s an accomplishment worth savoring, but for Woodland it’s something much more than simply a cushy reward for a season well played and a ticket into next year’s biggest events.

“I played well enough earlier in the year to give myself a little bit of a break,” he said. “To finish Boston and last week, which was a long week being right on the number, it’s definitely rewarding to be here this week.”

Not all seasons are created equal, which is why Woodland allows himself a moment to enjoy his accomplishment, and particularly his opening round.

“I probably should have took some time off and didn’t do it,” he admitted. “Coming back I just wasn’t putting up the scores and it became a mental grind all year.”

In three days, that grind ends and he can go back to Florida to a house that’s actually a home for the first time since March to be with his wife and “little guy.”

Woodland plans to cut back on his normal fall schedule, skipping the Tour’s stop in China, and may add a trip to Las Vegas to play the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open so he can get some practice time with swing coach Butch Harmon, who he hasn’t been able to work with since his world unraveled.

But for now he’s content to enjoy one of the game’s most significant accomplishments after what by any measure was the most trying of years.

 

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Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''


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Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

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Glover (64) leads Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Web.com Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Web.com Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Web.com Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Web.com Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

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Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.


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“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

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McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”


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McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”