Woods executed plan in Round 1 of the British

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2012, 3:57 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – In retrospect it seems worth reporting that Sean Foley, Tiger Woods’ affable swing coach, watched from afar as his man readied for his opening round Thursday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

In the past, conspiracy theorist have interpreted such happenings as some subtle sign that there is trouble brewing in Camp Tiger, but – as Foley recently told your correspondent and Woods’ quick start at the Open Championship proved – there doesn’t seem to be any reason for hand-holding at this point in the proceedings.

Woods began his day with an 11 footer at the par-3 opening hole for birdie, was 4 under through seven holes and signed for a 67 that left him three shots behind clubhouse leader Adam Scott.

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It seems Woods and Foley have reached the point in their relationship where, to some degree, there’s nothing left to say, although it also must be reported that after Woods finished his round he met Foley on the practice tee for some post-op work.

But even then there didn’t seem much of a reason for a post-round huddle, unless Foley was going to add a few layers of lead tape to his man’s putter to help counter the slow Lytham greens.

“I'm very pleased with what I did today,” said Woods, who needed just 12 putts to cover his front nine (and just eight to play his first seven frames) but 18 to close his round. “I only hit one putt that was off line. But every putt was right on my start lines. I just needed to hit the putts a little bit harder. These greens are not quick . . . I've got to make that adjustment.”

What won’t be changed is the master plan.

If not for the copious amounts of rain that have deluged the Lancashire coast, and Lytham’s distinct shade of green, viewers across the globe could be forgiven if they tuned in to Thursday’s telecast only to think the networks had lapsed into Open re-runs.

For the day, Woods hit 13 of 14 fairways, just two drivers and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. We liked this show the first time we saw it in 2006 at Royal Liverpool when Woods bunted his way to his last Open victory.

If not for a pulled tee shot at the 15th hole, which resulted in the day’s only bogey, Woods’ Day 1 card could have been a flawless Hoylake II – major championship golf by the numbers.

“I'm playing to spots,” said Woods, who held the outright lead briefly at the seventh hole for the first time in an Open since ’06 at Hoylake. “We’ve had two different winds here that I played. I played practice rounds on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and they were completely different clubs based on the winds. I was just playing to my little sections and I had my game plan to those sections.”

That his plan left him a field goal adrift of the lead seemed of littler concern to Woods, at least not after an ideal morning on the Irish Sea left the ancient links at the mercy of the world’s best.

In perfect conditions, which is to say grey and cloudy yet dry and still, and on a mushy track, which made one wonder if Nike Golf had a pair of soft-spiked “Wellies” in development, Woods meticulously picked his way around Lytham’s 205 bunkers in pursuit of his fourth claret jug and 15th major championship.

It was the kind of performance that, in the past, would have sent the afternoon groups into anxiety attacks given Woods’ record as a front-runner. Although the closer’s shadow doesn’t cast quite as far as it once did, there is still an element of intimidation when his name surfaces on leaderboards.

Just ask your leader Scott, who flirted with a major-championship-record 62 but bogeyed the last.

“He lost it a little bit for a time there, but it’s all relative,” Scott said at Congressional when asked about Woods’ perceived advantage when he is on a leaderboard. “But there’s no question that when he’s up there it’s a little bit more difficult, that’s for sure.”

That Scott continued to distance himself even after Woods birdied the first, his first lead-off birdie at the Open since 2001, is likely a sign of the times combined with a Lytham links that most players agreed was as welcoming as Open layouts come despite a foreboding forecast for Thursday’s opening frame.

Midway through the afternoon 33 players were already under par leaving some wondering if weathermen in the United Kingdom even try to get the forecast correct.

“The forecast hasn't been right all week. Nice job to have, huh?” Woods smiled.

The only man who may have had an easier job on Thursday was Foley, who – like the rest of us – enjoyed much of the action at arm’s length. But in the Canadian’s defense following Woods’ simple show in Round 1 – rip, rifle, repeat – there are only so many ways to say, “nice shot.”

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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

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It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

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Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

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Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”