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Woods flips the script with opening 68 at Bay Hill

By Rex HoggardMarch 15, 2018, 7:40 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – At September’s Presidents Cup, Tiger Woods fielded 14 questions from the media.

He was asked - in no particular order - his thoughts on the young U.S. team, his health, repeatedly, his timetable for a possible return to competition and even about the earthquakes in Mexico. He covered a lot of ground that day, yet not once was he asked his thoughts on winning again on the PGA Tour. There wasn’t a single mention of claiming his 15th major championship. Not a word about how it would feel to get back in contention on a Sunday.

At that moment in time, Woods’ future was wildly uncertain. He was pain-free for the first time in years, but making the leap from fusion surgery in April to competitive relevance was simply too much of a jump, even for Tiger.

My, how times have changed.

On Thursday at Bay Hill, Woods was asked 37 questions and nearly every one of them was a variation of when, not if, he wins again, either this week or next month at the Masters, where he is now the betting favorite.

“You guys are asking different questions than you did when I first came back and that wasn't that long ago, that's two months ago,” said Woods, who played 17 flawless holes on Day 1 and was a stroke off the early lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational following a 4-under 68. “The narrative has completely flipped from how you guys ask me questions and I just wanted to remind you guys that it wasn't that long ago that you were asking a different set of questions and that you need to enjoy it.”

Play like what we saw on Thursday and last week at the Valspar Championship will do that. Woods wasn’t being petulant and he punctuated his remarks by repeating that playing golf is now fun for him, his point was only to remind anyone who would listen to not get caught up in the hyperbole.

That’s always difficult when it comes to Woods, but even more so following his runner-up finish last week at Innisbrook Resort, his best showing on Tour since 2013. That he was making his pleas at Bay Hill, where he’s won eight times, only made his comments largely fall on deaf ears.

Woods’ point is valid. The learning curve from where he was just eight months ago is extreme and there is no replica for real-world experience, even for a player as accomplished as Tiger.

But as Woods continues to turn back the clock with his inspired play, his best calls for restraint will be increasingly ignored. Fans who crowded every hole eight and nine people deep on Thursday have little interest in the long view.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

They don’t care, for example, that Woods adhered to his old playbook on Thursday, playing Bay Hill’s four par 5’s in 4 under par and rolling in 63 feet of putts . . . on the greens. That doesn’t count the 71-foot birdie putt he made from another area code at the seventh hole to temporarily take solo possession of the lead, or the 17-footer he rolled in for birdie at the 13th from off the green.

“Obviously I was trying to lag it [his putt at No. 7] down there and just make my par and get out of here and it had to crash into the hole, which I'm not complaining, and it went in,” he sheepishly shrugged.

Humility wears well on some players, Jordan Spieth immediately comes to mind, but not Woods. Two decades of ruthless perfection and unrivaled dominance are hard to ignore.

The new guy may understandably want to temper expectations, but that’s a big ask when you’re right back in the hunt after four years of competitive activity.

Even Woods’ contemporaries are having a difficult time wrapping their heads around a player who has managed to put himself back in the mix just four official starts into his comeback.

“I remember texting him a couple months ago saying how's it going and he's like, ‘Yeah, I'm starting to feel no pain,’” said Jason Day, who was paired with Woods on Thursday. “Now he's the favorite [to win this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational]?”

One would even imagine that Woods, himself, is at least mildly surprised he’s gone from the DL to a dead sprint in such a limited amount of time, but if he is, he’s not letting on.

Perhaps he always knew that if he were healthy, which was the great unknown, he could return to something close to his dominant form.

“I feel way more comfortable in the tournament setting,” Woods said. “It's taken a little bit of time in terms of tournament rounds under my belt to be able to get into this position and I've got my tournament feels now, which is nice. That was only going to come with time and with patience and just playing golf tournaments.”

There was only one way for Woods to change the narrative and that was with his play on the course, he always knew this, but no one could have known he would have been able to accomplish that so quickly.

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Watch: Guy does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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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.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“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.”