Getty Images

Woods caps comeback season with win No. 80

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 12:01 am

ATLANTA – When the last chapter is penned in the groundbreaking and infinitely complicated life of Tiger Woods, Sept. 23, 2018, may get lost in the details.

His two-stroke victory at the Tour Championship on Sunday was impressive by any measure, but it wouldn’t qualify as his most dominant or his most clinical performance. If we’re being honest, his 80th PGA Tour bottle cap was like so many others, a battle of attrition that never allowed for a modicum of doubt.

There was a three-stroke lead to start the day, a birdie at the first to pad his advantage and a parade of nondescript pars that gave the season’s final round a marching band to nowhere feel. Given the gravity of what was a seminal moment in his career it felt so mundane, but then that’s always been the hallmark of his greatness.

After four back surgeries, four knee surgeries, an arrest for driving under the influence and more cringe moments than an episode of "America’s Got Talent," this victory was so much more than the sum of its parts.

Social media was abuzz in the aftermath of Woods’ walk-off. From the depths of pain, pedestrian performances and poor choices Tiger put an exclamation point on what was already a successful return.

It had some calling this the greatest comeback in the history of sports, but then the car Woods was driving last Memorial Day only bounced off a few curbs, not a bus.

To be historically aware, Ben Hogan’s comeback after nearly dying in a car crash in 1949, a horrific event that was followed by a run that included eight major victories, should be considered the category leader on this front.

But as Tiger whipped a day’s worth of sweat from his face and considered his answer the more relevant question is where the 2018 Tour Championship ranks on his own lifetime resume.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“It's certainly up there with obviously all the major championships I've won, Players, World Golf Championships. But this is under different circumstances,” said Woods, who closed with a 71 at East Lake for his first Tour victory since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “I just didn't know whether this would ever happen again.”

Woods is normally averse to this type of nostalgia, but even if he wanted to take a deeper dive it’s not a debate that lends itself to instant analysis. When your career has been a nonstop highlight reel of fist pumps and unforgettable moments there’s no easy way to rank greatness.

For some, the 1997 Masters, his first major championship, stands alone as a career high-water mark; while others may lean toward the 2000 U.S. Open where he lapped the field by 15 strokes.

“Those were special because of the way he did it,” said Butch Harmon, Tiger’s swing coach from August 1993 to August 2002. But for Harmon the Tour Championship was different. “He had a chance to win the last two majors. It’s impressive that just two years ago he couldn’t pitch the ball on the green. It’s not exactly Ben Hogan, but it’s along those lines.”

As far as clinical brilliance, most would say the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool is the benchmark. It was Tiger’s first victory after his father, Earl, died following a brutal bout with cancer and was nothing short of a ball-striking show.

“That was his best ball-striking tournament he’s ever had. That’s a different deal,” said Hank Haney, who served as Tiger’s second set of eyes from March 2004 to May 2010.

But it’s the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines that may stand as the competitive and physical pinnacle of Tiger’s career. On a broken leg with a torn ACL he endured 72 grueling holes to finish tied with Rocco Mediate and eventually prevailed on the first hole of a sudden death playoff after 18 holes on Monday.

“That’s No. 1, it’s not even close,” Haney said. “He didn’t win [at East Lake] with a broken leg. At the U.S. Open he won on one leg. It is unbelievable that he came back from four back operations, but once you’ve established that you’re back and you’re healthy you knew he’s going to win. A lot of things had to happen, he got off the prescription drugs and got his back healthy. But I felt like this was going to happen and he’s not done.”

But if the ’08 U.S. Open is the standard by which Tiger’s career will always be measured, his performance at East Lake deserves to be considered with a wider lens. This wasn’t about fairways hit or birdies made, this was about rounding a corner many never imagined he could.

At his darkest moments last year there was doubt he’d ever be able to swing a golf club again, never mind throw an 11-under total at the world’s best. The game had passed him by the critics claimed and even if he did find his way off the surgeon’s table the current cast and crew were a different breed who would be immune to his dominant ways and the aura he once held over the game.

This wasn’t Hoylake in ’06 or Pebble Beach in ’00, but in many ways it was better. There’s nothing better in sports than a comeback story and Tiger’s journey from a broken and burdened man to beaming on a final green is nothing short of a reinvention.

“The world is full of people who want to see a comeback story. We’re all coming back from something, so when you see someone do it inspires people to fight through it,” said Sean Foley, who stepped in for Haney in August 2010 and served as Woods’ swing coach until August 2014.

It was only last summer that the most common image of Tiger was a mug shot taken after his DUI arrest. The grainy image looking back at the world was a testament to how far he’d fallen, an unshaven and blurry-eyed shadow of the player who once seemed so untouchable. He couldn’t play golf, he couldn’t even ride in a golf cart his back hurt so bad, and his inability to do the one thing he was truly great at left Tiger to his own devices.

As he recovered from fusion surgery on his lower back he began to miss the game and the things that he’d done to transform it. As he returned, slowly at first before picking up the pace this summer, he allowed the world to see a different side, a player who was appreciative of what amounted to a final chance to be great.

There was emotion on Sunday and unbridled joy. His first victory in five years may defy assessment, but for Tiger there was so much more to his week in Atlanta than the history books could ever reveal.

“It's totally different because of what he’s been through, but I’d have to put [his victory at East Lake] up there with one of his greatest victories ever because of what he’s been through, the mental and physical, the disgrace,” Harmon said.

Maybe the 2018 Tour Championship won’t go down as Tiger’s masterpiece when he hangs up his Nikes. Maybe what awaits will be the true measure of his genius.

“The greatest accomplishment in sports is going to be when he’s No. 1 again and that’s going to be pretty soon,” Haney said. “When he returns to No. 1 it won’t be a debate.”

With fans stacked five and six rows deep along every fairway, probably the biggest crowd East Lake has seen since Bobby Jones was stalking the rolling hills, Tiger played the script he invented, a bullish version of what Stewart Cink once called a prevent defense.

The only change to this all-too-familiar routine was the pregnant pause he allowed himself after putting out on the 18th hole, slamming his putter into the ground and raising his arms in triumph.

In a historic twist it was the same green where Jones, who pulled off an impressive comeback of his own once, ended his golf career. It was only apropos that Tiger would complete his comeback and restart his career on the same spot.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


"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."

Getty Images

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

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


"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."

Getty Images

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.