Tiger and Phil Battle on Day 1

By Rich LernerJune 12, 2008, 4:00 pm
2008 U.S. OpenSAN DIEGO -- In talking to fans, one told me that he left for the course before 5am local time and it still wasn't early enough to beat the traffic jam around Qualcomm Stadium. The bleachers started to fill at 5:30.
Im just going to try to stay alive, said one man when asked about his strategy as a spectator.
A thoroughly unscientific poll of 17 gallery members had 13 rooting for Tiger and 4 for Phil.
At 7:30 I headed to the putting green and bumped into Dave Pelz. On Phils decision to pull the driver out of his bag, he told me, Its an attempt to keep it in play. It gives him a little more margin for error. If the fairways play fast, he should be fine.
Dottie Pepper said with a smile, he goes from two drivers to no drivers.
Thomas Levet called Phils decision a strange one, but he has so much in reserve.
Rich Beem stopped to chat before his round and cracked, Its a Phil decision. But he plays a different game than the rest of us and hes been damn successful.
Back at the first tee, Phil arrived first at 8am, six minutes ahead of his tee time. He walked over to the starters podium and the crowd started yelling, speech, speech!
Phil smiled, leaned into the microphone and said, Good morning. It hadnt been turned on, but the crowd erupted in laughter.
Tiger arrived last and exchanged a perfunctory handshake with Phil. He broke into a big smile when he greeted Adam Scott.
The crowds were seven deep around the first. By 8:10 the threesome had played away, with Tiger forced into U.S. Open grind mode immediately.
The double at one was stunning, like Mick Jagger returning to Madison Square Garden with no voice.
By four, hed found his sea legs, the five iron from the fairway bunker setting up his first birdie in two months.
Phil struggled with his three-wood and the strategy appeared to have backfired. After he missed a short putt for par at five, he stood at the sixth tee leafing through his yardage book and preparing to hit three-wood off a 500 yard par four. For Phil, golf's always been as much science as art, his approach at times pragmatic, and at other times dramatic.
Tiger cut loose at last on a tee ball at six and looked to be settling in. Further down the fairway, two fans had found a spot in a luxury box---high atop a eucalyptus tree with views of the Pacific. This is not the week to be inside an air conditioned corporate suite.
Meanwhile, Tiger pulled his second into a greenside bunker and took an angry swipe. Naturally, he got up and down, the sublime short game buying him time, always, to sort things out with his full swing.
Phil gave up half a football field in distance to Tiger on the sixth hole, and with three straight bogies by seven murmurs inside the procession of 100 press members snaking along inside the ropes grew. Had he made a tactical blunder by eschewing the driver?
All along, there was very little interaction between Tiger and Phil, with Phil later saying that had it been a regular TOUR event there would have been more chatter. There were a couple occasions where Tiger walked and talked with Adam Scott, but none with Phil.
At the eighth, Adam Scott chipped in from just short of the hole. It was his hey-dont-forget-about-me moment. Tiger ran in about a 15 footer for birdie and suddenly all felt right in the world of Tiger, though its never really too grim in sunny San Diego, is it?
In fact, San Diego does sunshine like Google does info, offering a plethora of Pacific postcard views. But this day was about gritty, not pretty.
Tiger was twirling the driver by the ninth. He now had a full head of steam, and he was three clear of Phil.
From a psychological standpoint, the thought occurred that the distance gap off the tee underscored the current state of affairs, with Phil well behind Tiger. And at three over early, had the round continued to spiral Phil would have faced an uncomfortable session with a critical media as he tried to defend the strategy. It would not have been a pleasant way to start this most important U.S. Open.
At nine, Tiger birdied again. As he walked by The Scripps Institute, I thought that not even the geniuses inside that building could figure out how this guy does it. He hasnt played in weeks, doubles one and turns in one under.
Finally at 10, Phil made birdie and a huge weight seemed to have been lifted. On the other hand, I began to search for a second wind as the Venti Macchiatto I drank at 6 began to lose its grip on me.
In any event, we pressed on, caught up in the wave and enjoying the sunshine. I stopped to study the scoreboard, shocked that the first Hicks to hit the airwaves would be Justin and not Dan of NBC.
At the 12th, we got the full Phil with the near whiff and the full Tiger with the kind of miraculous par he always seems to make.
But at 14 the golf course bit back, as if to say, You may be Tiger Woods but this is a U.S. Open. Tiger doubled. Phil birdied for a three shot swing. Frustration set in for Tiger.
The battle with the golf course fully engaged, Tiger punched right back with a super intense fist pump par putt at 15.
I bounced along, swapping observations with golf writers. My producer, Kristi Chartrand, wondered if Phil was employing some gamesmanship by always standing at a spot on the green where Tiger could see him. I paid attention and the idea had merit, though its not a concept Phil or Tiger would ever address. It should be noted that after Tigers par save at 13 Phil walked by and nodded to Tiger as if to say, nice save.
The crowds only swelled as the day went on, 20 deep in some spots. People occasionally grumbled at cameramen. Hey, down in front was a familiar cry. For the most part the galleries were well mannered. They werent Bethpage boisterous.
Maybe the scenery has a mellowing influence. At one point with Tiger and Phil silhouetted against the ocean, I thought these are the still photographs of a coffee table book well leaf through in 30 years.
If one was coaxed by sun and surf or by fatigue into a bit of a trance theyd be snapped out of it in one breathless moment at 18. Tiger unfurled a 360 yard missile but immediately winced in pain. He walked to the back of the tee box with his head down and in obvious discomfort. How bad was it? Would he finish the tournament? Those were the immediate, albeit extreme, thoughts that raced through the mind.
He gingerly walked down the fairway. The seven iron second shot went off smoothly and now wed wait to hear from Tiger after the round. His three-putt was an uncharacteristic finish. But still it was a hard fought 72 and not all bad considering the start and the rust. Phil two putted for birdie, one of four on the back side. Hed be pleased with his even par effort after being three over after seven. Hed brought the crowd back behind his cause, and would head to Friday with momentum and the three-wood strategy in tact.
Tiger acknowledged that the knee was sore, that hed ice it and sit in the whirlpool, that he hadnt, as some thought, been wearing a brace.
In all, it was a good fight, even exhilarating at points. The principals will repair to their corners with a few scrapes and bruises. Its early in a 15 round heavyweight epic.
Email your thoughts to Rich Lerner
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - U.S. Open
  • Rich Lerner's Archives
  • Getty Images

    List takes Thomas to 18 putting with a wedge

    By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 7:57 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – As he walked off the sixth tee on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Luke List “swiped” his putter into what he thought was a bush. It was a wall.

    List’s putter bent slightly, which meant he wasn’t allowed to employ it the rest of the round. Using a wedge to putt, he lost his opening-day match to Justin Thomas, 2 down.

    “Stupid on my part,” List said. “I'll get the club fixed and go on to my next two matches.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    Despite his putting disadvantage, List pushed Thomas to the 18th hole thanks to birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16, which included a chip-in from 18 feet at 15. Thomas was 3 up with four holes to play and managed to birdie the last, but it was far from stress-free.

    “I was thinking about it, how bad that would hurt if I couldn't get it done,” Thomas said. “He hit some great putts and he made some good ones when he needed to.”

    The situation also prompted Thomas to change his strategy on the greens, with not nearly as many conceded putts as normal.

    “He putted probably two or three putts I wouldn't have made him putt with a putter,” Thomas said. “[No. 13] was a short putt he's probably going to make. It had a lot of break. But 12, that putt was 2 feet straight uphill. But I was like he's got a wedge, so I'm going to make him putt it.”

    Getty Images

    Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 7:45 pm

    Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

    Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
    (1) D. Johnson (2) J. Thomas: 1-0-0 (3) J. Rahm (4) J. Spieth
    (32) K. Kisner (21) F. Molinari: 1-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed
    (38) A. Hadwin
    (48) P. Kizzire: 0-1-0 (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li
    (52) B. Wiesberger
    (60) L. List: 0-1-0 (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel
    Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
    (5) H. Matsuyama: 1-0-0 (6) R. McIlroy (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day
    (30) P. Cantlay: 0-1-0
    (18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen
    (46) C. Smith: 1-0-0 (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner
    (53) Y. Miyazato: 0-1-0 (51) P. Uihlein (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn
    Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
    (9) T. Fleetwood (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman (12) T. Hatton: 1-0-0
    (26) D. Berger (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
    (33) K. Chappell (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson (36) B. Steele: 1-0-0
    (58) I. Poulter (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
    Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
    (13) A. Noren: 1-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson (15) P. Perez: 0-1-0 (16) M. Kuchar
    (29) T. Finau (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-0 (27) R. Fisher
    (39) T. Pieters (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson: 0-1-0 (47) Y. Ikeda
    (61) K. Na: 0-1-0 (59) C. Howell III (50) S.W. Kim: 0-1-0 (54) Z. Johnson
    Getty Images

    Hot Seat: The driver is burning Tiger

    By Randall MellMarch 21, 2018, 6:51 pm

    The men’s first major championship of the year is two weeks away, the women’s just a week away.

    Here’s our Hot Seat lineup with the approach of the Masters and the ANA Inspiration in mind:

    Smoking carbon composites – Tiger Woods

    Woods is the betting favorite to win the Masters in most sportsbooks, and while his game is coming together quickly, he won’t be the experts’ pick without getting his driver under control.

    The driver looks like the last piece Woods needs to once more become the favorite wherever he goes.

    Right now, though, there’s an open wound that needs to be cauterized before he heads to Augusta National.

    That double-cross Woods blew into someone’s backyard along the 16th hole Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational came from a reservoir of uncertainty that his driver continues to create. 

    Woods has come a long way with his driver. When he pulls it out of the bag, it isn’t like he’s ripping a bandage off anymore, not the way it was three and four years ago. Still, he doesn’t pull that club with the same relish Rory McIlroy does, or Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, for that matter. Physically and psychologically, they’ve got an advantage on him until he does. 

    Woods did not qualify for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, so he’s got extra time to address his biggest shortcoming.

    “Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver,” Golf Channel’s Notah Begay said earlier this week. “Tiger has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”

    Dustin Johnson at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship.

    Smoldering Tex Mex Tango – Dustin Johnson

    The world No. 1 is playing just fine enough since his victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at year’s start. He’s just been overshadowed by the brilliance of a lot of fellow stars.

    With McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas all winning in the last month, with Woods stepping up his game, Johnson has been quietly toiling toward the Masters.

    Johnson has won 10 times since Woods' last victory, and yet Woods is the 8-to-1 favorite to win the Masters.

    Johnson, McIlroy and Thomas are listed at 10-to-1 by the Westgate Las Vegas SportsBook.

    It doesn’t rankle Johnson.

    “It’s fine with me,” he said Tuesday. “He’s playing pretty well.”

    Even as the defending champ this week at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Johnson isn’t center stage, not with McIlroy marching into town off his dominant finish at the API.

    Flying relatively under the radar might seem like a comfortable position for a world No. 1, but he won’t stay atop the world rankings for long flying under the radar.

    Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.

    Rolex Ranking Roast – Shanshan Feng

    The women’s Rolex world No. 1 enters the week at the Kia Classic trying to hold off a strong field with the ANA Inspiration looming next week.

    The top seven players in the world rankings, and 11 of the top 12, are at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

    Feng has quietly reigned atop the world rankings for 19 consecutive weeks, holding off bids to overtake her by No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 So Yeon Ryu and No. 4 Sung Hyun Park.

    They’ve all been close enough in world ranking average this year to take the top spot, but Feng isn’t backing down. She’s winless so far this this year, but she has finished fifth or better in two of her three starts.

    Getty Images

    Match-by-match: 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 1

    By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 6:32 pm

    Here is how things played out on Day 1 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play:

    Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas def. (60) Luke List, 2 up: In perhaps the most entertaining match of the morning, Thomas edged List in a rematch of last month's Honda Classic playoff despite List spending much of the round putting with a wedge after bending his putter. Thomas was 3 up with four to play before List pushed the match the distance.

    Group 2: (21) Francesco Molinari def. (48) Patton Kizzire, 3 and 1: Molinari turned a tight match into a victory thanks to a few timely errors from Kizzire. Pars on Nos. 14 and 17 were good enough to win the hole for Molinari, with the latter sealing his victory and moving him a step closer to a potential winner-take-all battle with Thomas on Friday.

    Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth def. (49) Charl Schwartzel, 2 and 1: The top seed in the group scored an early point in a battle between former Masters champs. Spieth never trailed and took control of the match with three straight wins on Nos. 12-14.

    Group 4: (19) Patrick Reed def. (34) Haotong Li, 3 and 2: Reed's much-anticipated match with Spieth is still two days away, but he dispatched of Li in his opener by winning the opening hole and never trailing the rest of the way. Li got to within one of Reed after 10 holes but the American won three of the next five to separate.

    Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama def. (53) Yusaku Miyazato, 2 and 1: This all-Japanese battle went to the group's top seed, as Matsuyama poured in a birdie on the par-3 17th to close out the match. Miyazato got off to a strong start, holding a 2-up lead through six holes, before Matsuyama turned the tables with two birdies over the next three holes.

    Group 5: (46) Cameron Smith def. (30) Patrick Cantlay, 2 up: Smith never trailed in the match, but it turned into a closer contest than it appeared when the Aussie held a 3-up lead with four holes to play. Uihlein won the next two holes, but he couldn't get any closer as Smith earned a critical victory as he looks to earn a Masters spot by staying in the top 50 in the world rankings after this week.

    Group 8: (8) Jason Day def. (56) James Hahn, 4 and 2: Day is a former winner of this event, and he separated from Hahn on the back nine to score an early point. Hahn offered a concession on No. 13 to fall 3 down, then conceded again on No. 16 to close the match.

    Group 9: (58) Ian Poulter def. (9) Tommy Fleetwood, 3 and 2: The match between Englishman went to the veteran, as Poulter took his putter from the 2012 Ryder Cup out of the closet and put it to quick use. Fleetwood won only two holes during the match, none after the eighth hole, and he now faces the prospect of early elimination as the group's top seed.

    Group 9: (33) Kevin Chappell def. (26) Daniel Berger, 3 and 2: Chappell and Berger were Presidents Cup teammates in the fall, but the opener went to Chappell. Berger won the 13th hole to draw all square, but Chappell reeled off three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16 in response to close out the match.

    Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton def. (55) Alexander Levy, 3 and 2: Hatton won the opening hole with a par and never trailed the rest of the way. Levy's win on the eighth hole proved to be his only victory of the day, as Hatton barely had to break a sweat after building a 3-up lead through five holes.

    Group 12: (36) Brendan Steele def. (22) Charley Hoffman, 1 up: Steele never trailed in the match and at one point held a 4-up lead, but coming down the stretch it took everything he had to keep Hoffman at bay. Hoffman won four in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 13-17, but a par on the final hole was enough to give Steele the full point.

    Group 13: (61) Kevin Na def. (13) Alex Noren, 4 and 2: The biggest upset from the early matches came here, as Na turned a close contest into a blowout. The two men were all square after 11 holes, but Na won three of the next four and then closed out the match when Noren conceded on the par-5 16th.

    Group 13: (29) Tony Finau def. (39) Thomas Pieters, 2 and 1: Two of the longest hitters in the field squared off in this tilt, with Finau notching a full point despite losing two of the first three holes. The American birdied the 15th to take a 2-up lead, then closed out Pieters with a par on the 17th hole.

    Group 15: (15) Pat Perez vs. (50) Si Woo Kim, halved: The first match of the day ended up in a draw, as the top seed rallied from a deficit to salvage half a point. Kim won three of the first six holes and held a 3-up lead with seven holes to go, but Perez fought back with four birdies over the next six holes to draw even.

    Group 15: (24) Gary Woodland vs. (37) Webb Simpson, halved: This group remains entirely up for grabs since nothing was decided on the opening day. Woodland took a 3-up lead at the turn, but Simpson rallied by winning four of the next seven holes, including a birdie on No. 17 that brought him back to all square for the first time since the third hole.