Woods' dominance is quickly rebuilding

By Rex HoggardJuly 2, 2012, 1:28 am

BETHESDA, Md. – In meteorological terms a derecho storm is a tempest that travels at least 250 miles with winds in excess of 58 mph, building on itself as it travels as if blowing downhill.

It’s a storm like the one that started brewing near Chicago last Friday as a simple squall but began expanding as it raced toward the Eastern Seaboard. By the time the derecho storm slammed into the Washington D.C. area just before midnight its winds were gusting to 70 mph.

As crews continued the cleanup effort at Congressional on Sunday the thought occurred that a derecho is the competitive equivalent of a player who after a prolonged dormant spell awakens with a run that includes three victories in his last seven starts.  

But where the derecho storm left at least 13 people dead, a million homes without power and more than 40 felled trees littered across Congressional, Tiger Woods left only bruised egos and a familiar reality in his wake at the AT&T National.

For Woods his two-stroke victory over Bo Van Pelt on a sweltering Sunday was more than the sum of its parts.

When Woods lurched into the most prolonged slump of his career in late 2009 the notion grew that he’d lost his intimidating edge. No longer, the theory went, would players peek at Sunday leaderboards half hoping not to see the letters “W-O-O-D-S.”

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On Sunday at Congressional Woods put that theory to the test, dueling with a half-dozen hopefuls throughout the day on his way to a closing 69 and an 8-under 276 total.

If the result looked familiar, the process was downright nostalgic.

After closing the gap on 54-hole leader Brendon de Jonge with a Saturday 67, Woods began the final round a stroke out of the lead, joined a group of five players tied for the lead at 6 under by the fourth hole and waited patiently for the field to narrow.

By the time he reached the back nine all but one of the challengers had drifted away; first de Jonge with a 3-over outward loop, followed in order by Adam Scott with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15, Hunter Mahan who drenched his second shot at the par-5 sixth and finally Van Pelt.

When Woods and Van Pelt reached the 14th tee no one was within a field goal and the two traded birdies and bogeys through the finish line.

On “silent Saturday,” when fans were kept from the golf course because of the debris left behind by Friday’s storm, Van Pelt mused that he felt a little cheated without the normal masses trailing Woods’ every move. On Sunday he was treated to the complete circus.

At the 15th hole the two traded birdies, on No. 16 they both signed for bogeys – Woods’ first miscue in 41 holes – and it was ultimately a flyer from the left rough that cost Van Pelt the title on the penultimate hole.

Woods was flawless on the 72nd hole, a cut driver that sailed 40 yards past Van Pelt’s effort and a drawn 9-iron held against the wind to 12 feet for a two-putt coronation.

“It's a lot of fun. He's an amazing player,” said Van Pelt, who closed with a 71 to finish alone in second place. “That's why you travel 30 weeks a year, why you get up in the morning and you make the sacrifices that you do to have the opportunity to play the best player in the world in the final round with a chance to win a tournament.”

Of the litany of statistics that bear mentioning for Woods – he tied for ninth in putting, tied for 17th in greens in regulation and ninth in strokes-gained putting – it was Woods’ average approach shot distance that stands out. He ranked sixth in that category at Congressional, an improvement of 10 spots over his season average.

“Proximity to the hole means two things,” Woods’ swing coach Sean Foley said. “First a player’s swing is becoming more grooved and second the player is confident in their putting from 12 feet and in.”

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Photos: AT&T National

In practical terms, however, the impact of Woods’ victory – the 74th Tour tilt of his career that moved him past Jack Nicklaus and into solo second place on the all-time list behind Sam Snead – goes well beyond ShotLink statistics and world rankings math.

There were those who contended that the cachet Woods enjoyed on Sundays had faded over his two lean years, that his name alone was no longer worth a half-stroke coming down the stretch.

Moments after Scott signed for his closing 67 to finish alone in third place he was asked if there was a time when the weight of Woods on a marquee was not as overwhelming as it once was.

“Yes, a little bit at a time there. But it’s all relative,” Scott said. “I don’t think he lost it completely. He’s potentially the greatest player that’s ever played and he’s a dangerous player in that position; his record speaks for itself. (But) there’s no doubt today that you look up there (on the leaderboard) and it’s a little bit more difficult.”

There were questions, however legitimate, that Woods had heard and harbored. One man’s criticism is another’s critical analysis, but throughout it all he never doubted his path or his ability to reclaim that aura of invincibility that defined the first decade of his career.

“I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again.  That was, I think, what, six months ago?” Woods said. “A lot of media people didn't think I could win again, and I had to deal with those questions for quite a bit. It was just a matter of time. I could see the pieces coming together. Sean (Foley) and I were working, and we see what's coming, and we can see the consistency, and it's just a matter of time.”

Where the metaphor unravels slightly is how quickly a derecho storm speeds across the landscape. Friday’s gale lasted just 45 mintues, while Woods’ current tempest seems building toward something much more prolonged, something much more profound.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

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“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”