Woods' Honda magic doesn't carry over at Doral

By Rex HoggardMarch 9, 2012, 1:03 am

DORAL, Fla. – Before professional golf became so unpredictable and Europe claimed the top of the World Golf Ranking as its own, before Tiger Woods began a two-year-and-counting victory slide it was often impossible to distinguish between where one tournament ended and another began for Red Shirt.

One sliding 60-footer at Bay Hill begot a ball-striking masterpiece at Muirfield Village. Next thing you knew we were at East Lake going through the motions. The trophies differed but the blur of Woods’ brilliance left all but the most memorable of his 71 Tour tilts virtually indistinguishable from the next.

But those days seem like ancient history in the post-November 2009 world. What is past is no longer prologue, even in the wake of Sunday’s closing 62 at the Honda Classic for his best Tour finish (T-2) since 2009.

On Wednesday Woods was asked about riding his new-found momentum into south Florida, but even the former world No. 1 knew he was starting from scratch at Doral.

“It's a whole new golf course. It doesn't count. That tournament's over with, whether you missed the cut or win the tournament, it's over,” Woods said. “Now we are on to a new week, a new golf course, and I have to learn it and be ready.”

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The only similarities between Woods’ closing act at PGA National and opening salvo at Doral were the fierce south Florida winds. He needed 10 more shots to round the Blue Monster on Thursday (72) and four more putts (30), hit four fewer fairways (seven) and three fewer greens in regulation (11) and is four strokes further off the lead.

It wasn't a different guy, just a different day. A rough, windswept day that left most competitors wanting for a standing “10 count” and sent Woods to the practice tee after his round.

It didn’t start out that way. There was a roping second shot at the par-5 first to 2 feet for eagle. At that point it could have been easy for Woods to slip into old habits when weeks ran together. Dating back to Sunday’s finale at the Honda Classic Woods had played his last three holes in 5 under and was, however briefly, tied for the lead.

At Doral, however, they like to go all 72 to decide a champion and momentum seems to go only so far these days. Woods bogeyed Nos. 4 and 5, needed a carving 3-wood through some palms and over a pond for birdie at the eighth and turned at even par after a three-putt, his second in five holes, at the ninth.

“I got off to a nice start today, hit a lot of good shots, just made a couple mistakes with iron shots and cost me two shots right in a row there at 4 and 5,” said Woods, who is tied for 25th and six shots behind front-runners Adam Scott and Jason Dufner. “After that, I played some really solid golf and just couldn't quite make enough birdies.”

He didn’t play poorly. He just didn’t play like he did on Sunday at the Honda Classic, the way we’ve come to expect him to play when things are going well.

He was fooled by shifting winds and subtle greens and precarious lies. He missed birdie putts of 25 feet (No. 10), 10 feet (No. 13), 25 feet (No. 14), 12 feet (No. 15), 16 feet (No. 16) and 15 feet (No. 17).

Complicating things, he hit a push-block-fade on the 18th hole that nestled down into the rough along the first fairway. He fared better than Sergio Garcia who was paired with Woods and hit a pull-hook-double cross into the water off the tee. El Nino signed for a triple-bogey 7 to complete a run that featured five consecutive bogeys starting at the 13th hole.

Woods avoided that kind of carnage and didn’t sound like a man in search of answers, just one who needed a few fortunate bounces.

“For some reason I kept hitting every drive in the first cut so it compounded the problem,” Woods said. “Is it going to fly, not going to fly; is it going to go through the wind or is it going to get killed by the wind? Just kept compounding the problem, and I had to consequently play very conservative on a lot of the shots.”

Conservative was probably not what the gallery that trailed Woods and braved intermittent showers expected out of their man following Sunday’s show at PGA National. But more of the same doesn’t seem to be an option anymore either.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”