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Woods offers a peek into the past

By Rex HoggardNovember 27, 2017, 9:22 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – Although normally understated, add Patrick Reed to a growing list of PGA Tour types who see this most recent version of Tiger Woods in a different light. They’ve seen the 14-time major champion struggle with injury and pedestrian play. They’ve seen him look human. They’ve seen how time can rob even the most dynamic athlete of an era.

Reed got an early glimpse of what may await the world this week at the Hero World Challenge on Monday at Albany, a Tiger who is if not completely healthy, at least a full step removed from the MRI machine.

“He looked excited, excited to be playing golf. I was shocked how fluid his swing looked and how far the golf ball was going,” Reed said. “He’s always been a little longer than me, but some of those drives today he got out there.”

Length, check.

That’s been the ongoing narrative since Woods began his slow climb back to competitive relevance. First, Rickie Fowler suggested Tiger was hitting it by him during practice rounds and then accounts surfaced from Woods’ round with President Donald Trump and Dustin Johnson last Friday that he was outpacing the world No. 1 off the tee.

Reed, however, offered a slightly more nuanced, albeit golf geeky, take.

“He was hitting flight-ed, flat cuts, high cuts, low draws, high, just soft draws, moving it both ways with his driver,” Reed said. “If he starts getting command of that and feeling good, we’re going to have some fun.”

Fun can be relative, and it’s safe to say those halcyon days weren’t all that fun for anyone not named Tiger. In his prime, Woods converted 93 percent of his 54-hole leads/co-leads – by comparison Jack Nicklaus converted 60 percent of the time when leading after three rounds – and he’s spent 683 weeks as world No. 1. Everyone else has a combined 384 weeks atop the world ranking since 1997.


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But this isn’t that guy. This guy has endured four back procedures and 41 hard years in a relentless pursuit of perfection.

Even Woods acknowledged the miles he’s compiled on his frame when asked on Sunday if he views this most recent comeback any differently than he did all of the others.

“I’m going to be 42 here soon. It’s over-use syndrome,” Woods said. “I’ve been playing tournament golf for 37 years, so I’ve hit a lot of golf balls. There are certain areas of my body that are worn out.”

Given that framework, the man Reed, et al. grew up idolizing probably isn’t going to walk to the first tee on Thursday at Albany. But there is another option, as Reed sees it.

“In his prime, not only did he beat people physically with how he played, he destroyed the guys he was playing mentally,” Reed said. “Now, that has gone away. All of us, we got to know Tiger when he was going through these injuries and struggling, health-wise.”

After so many false starts in his career following injury, it’s hard to say this time will be different. From Woods’ perspective, the quality-of-life element of being pain-free is evident. The last two days he’s played relaxed and loose and, yes, even happy.

Combine that with the emerging notion that with his health has come a renewed focus and fitness, and this time legitimate hope seems to be keeping pace with the hype.

But then it was a similar story last year at the Hero World Challenge when Woods found himself poised for another comeback from injury.

Reed was paired with Woods for Round 1 in Albany last December.

“He was just demolishing me and I thought I was playing against 2000 Tiger,” Reed said. “It seemed like he had complete control and then I flipped it and beat him on the back nine and beat him overall for the day by one.”

After finishing 15th at Albany, an 18-man field, Woods would play just three more rounds, two at the Farmers Insurance Open and one at the Dubai Desert Classic, before heading back to his surgeon.

On Sunday, Woods was cautiously optimistic that this most recent return could be successful after so many failures.

“It could be the next step, I just don’t know and that’s tough to live with. It’s been a struggle for years,” Woods said. “To finally come out on the good side of it, it’s exciting. I am stiffer, I’m fused. But I don’t have the pain and if I don’t have the pain life is so much better.”

Perched behind the ninth green at Albany, Reed considered what he’d just seen following his nine-hole practice round with Woods. The man who wears red and black on Sundays to honor Tiger has always considered the timing of his career a bit unfortunate.

Like many in his generation, they just missed the best of Tiger, so any glimmer of hope – like, say, an impressive practice round on a breezy island morning – is a reason to consider what could be.

“With what I saw today, he’ll be rusty no matter who you are, he’ll figure it out at some point and when he does I’ll be waiting,” Reed smiled. “I’d love to be able to turn back time and be able to pop out in ’99 through 2001 Tiger. Growing up watching it, I’d love to be able to actually play against it and compete against it.”

Those of Woods’ generation would probably warn Reed to be careful what you wish for.

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


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"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.

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Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:27 pm

The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.

While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.

It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.

There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.

Vogel started the year with only conditional Web.com Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a Web.com tournament.


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"The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."

Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.

While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Web.com Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.

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Woods adds BMW Championship to playoff schedule

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:01 pm

Tiger Woods is adding a trip to Philadelphia to his growing playoff itinerary.

Having already committed to both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, Woods' agent confirmed to GolfChannel.com that the 14-time major champ will also make an appearance next month at the BMW Championship. It will mark Woods' first start in the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs since 2013 when he tied for 11th at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago.

This year the Sept. 6-9 event is shifting to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., which is hosting the BMW for the first time. The course previously hosted the Quicken Loans National in both 2010 and 2011. Woods won the BMW en route to FedExCup titles in both 2007 and 2009 when it was held at Cog Hill in Illinois.


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Woods was already in good position to make the 70-man BMW field, but his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him from 49th to 20th in the season-long points race and assured that he'll make it to Aronimink regardless of his performance in the first two postseason events.

Woods' commitment also means a packed schedule will only get busier leading into the Ryder Cup, where he is expected to be added as a captain's pick. Woods' appearance at the BMW will cap a run of five events in six weeks, and should he tee it up in Paris it could be his seventh start in a nine-week stretch if he also qualifies for the 30-player Tour Championship.