Tiger Woods and Kelli Kuehne at the 1996 JCPenney Classic. Getty Images

Another team event? Sure, and do it with the LPGA

By Ryan LavnerApril 25, 2018, 4:07 pm

AVONDALE, La. – The revamped Zurich Classic is already such a smashing success that it naturally leads to another question: Is there room for one more team event on the PGA Tour schedule?

“It’d have to be something unique and not really out there already,” Billy Horschel said.

Agreed, so it’s time for the PGA and LPGA tours to bring back a mixed-team event.

The two tours previously sponsored a team event for nearly 30 years, the JCPenney Classic, but it hasn’t been played since 1999. When the PGA Tour announced a “strategic alliance” with the LPGA two years ago, one of its core missions was to showcase the deep talent pool and lift both tours to new heights. There’s no better way to do that than to combine forces for an event – especially with the PGA Tour about to unveil a major schedule shakeup and reduce a portion of the fall season.

The field here at the Zurich is proof that there’s a willingness among the players to try something new.

The New Orleans-area stop has never been a must-play for Tour types; the tournament is hosted on a nondescript TPC course and sandwiched between the Masters and The Players during a slow part of the schedule. And yet this is the first time in seven months that all four reigning major champions are in the same event. It’s the strongest field the Zurich has ever had, and if the tournament offered world-ranking points – more on that later – the strength of field would be identical to the Genesis Open, which anchors the West Coast swing.

There’d be a few issues to iron out, of course, including the timing and how the field is assembled.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said last year that there’s a “realistic” chance that the men and women could compete at the same time at Kapalua, for the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but that option won’t be quite as appealing when the season is condensed. Players who tee it up in paradise are not only looking forward to a working vacation but also trying to get a head start in the FedExCup race.


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If the Tour targets Kapalua for its mixed event, the idea of a “tournament of champions” might also need adjusting. The LPGA (34) has 10 fewer events than the PGA Tour (44), which means fewer opportunities for the players to earn their way into a winners-only event. The simplest solution is to create more of an all-star showcase, filling out the rest of the women’s field with the leading LPGA money earners who didn’t win.

The format is another question. Fourballs and foursomes are familiar to most players, but at the Zurich there’s a growing interest in a third format.

“I’m waiting on a scramble,” said William McGirt, echoing the sentiments of a few other players interviewed. “I don’t care who I’m playing with – I want to play a scramble, just one time.”

And the final piece is the stakes. The Zurich offers Ryder Cup points, (reduced) FedExCup points and a two-year exemption to the winners, but there are no world-ranking points available. For some, that’s a lost week, especially with the top-60 cutoff for the U.S. Open looming. But for others, like Jordan Spieth, who likely won’t have to worry about his world ranking for the next two decades, it’s a chance to “be in a different space than normal,” with more emphasis on fun than the result.

Men and women already compete together at the Oates Vic Open in Australia. Co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia, the Australian Ladies Professional Golf and Ladies European Tour, the two events are held concurrently, on the same course, with the men’s and women’s tee times staggered throughout the day. The prize money is split evenly.

More impactful, however, would be mixed teams, competing for a title together.

Steve Stricker still has fond memories of playing in the old JCPenny Classic, alongside Vicki Goetze. Last week, he talked to Davis Love III about how today’s players would gravitate toward another tournament like that.

“We’re in the position to do it again for sure,” he said. “I know I personally respect and look up to those female golfers, and to interact with them would be a lot of fun.”

Horschel, who has played alongside big-hitting Lexi Thompson during the CVS Charity Classic, said he would sign up for a mixed team event on Tour “in a heartbeat.”

“I’d take Lexi or Brooke Henderson or another top girl right now,” he said. “I’ll make a call right now. I don’t care if it’s two years in advance. I’ll reserve them, put down a down payment for their partnership. It’d be really cool. It’s time for someone else to step up and do it.”

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.


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McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.

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Woods now listed as Masters betting favorite

By Will GraySeptember 24, 2018, 12:03 am

Now officially a winner again on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods has become a popular bet for folks thinking about next year's Masters.

The trip down Magnolia Lane is still seven months away, but Woods' breakthrough victory at the Tour Championship has led bettors to flock to the window to lay down cash on the four-time champ to add green jacket No. 5 next spring at age 43.

Woods was listed at 12/1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook when odds opened after the PGA Championship, behind only 2015 champ Jordan Spieth. That's where he remained for the subsequent six weeks, but after a stirring performance at East Lake Golf Club he's now listed as the 9/1 betting favorite for the first major of 2019.

Here's a look at the latest odds via the Westgate, as many of the top contenders head to Paris for the Ryder Cup:

9/1: Tiger Woods

10/1: Jordan Spieth

12/1: Dustin Johnson

14/1: Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

16/1: Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler

18/1: Jon Rahm

20/1: Jason Day

25/1: Bubba Watson

30/1: Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Tony Finau

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Woods caps comeback season with win No. 80

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 12:01 am

ATLANTA – When the last chapter is penned in the groundbreaking and infinitely complicated life of Tiger Woods, Sept. 23, 2018, may get lost in the details.

His two-stroke victory at the Tour Championship on Sunday was impressive by any measure, but it wouldn’t qualify as his most dominant or his most clinical performance. If we’re being honest, his 80th PGA Tour bottle cap was like so many others, a battle of attrition that never allowed for a modicum of doubt.

There was a three-stroke lead to start the day, a birdie at the first to pad his advantage and a parade of nondescript pars that gave the season’s final round a marching band to nowhere feel. Given the gravity of what was a seminal moment in his career it felt so mundane, but then that’s always been the hallmark of his greatness.

After four back surgeries, four knee surgeries, an arrest for driving under the influence and more cringe moments than an episode of "America’s Got Talent," this victory was so much more than the sum of its parts.

Social media was abuzz in the aftermath of Woods’ walk-off. From the depths of pain, pedestrian performances and poor choices Tiger put an exclamation point on what was already a successful return.

It had some calling this the greatest comeback in the history of sports, but then the car Woods was driving last Memorial Day only bounced off a few curbs, not a bus.

To be historically aware, Ben Hogan’s comeback after nearly dying in a car crash in 1949, a horrific event that was followed by a run that included eight major victories, should be considered the category leader on this front.

But as Tiger whipped a day’s worth of sweat from his face and considered his answer the more relevant question is where the 2018 Tour Championship ranks on his own lifetime resume.


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“It's certainly up there with obviously all the major championships I've won, Players, World Golf Championships. But this is under different circumstances,” said Woods, who closed with a 71 at East Lake for his first Tour victory since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “I just didn't know whether this would ever happen again.”

Woods is normally averse to this type of nostalgia, but even if he wanted to take a deeper dive it’s not a debate that lends itself to instant analysis. When your career has been a nonstop highlight reel of fist pumps and unforgettable moments there’s no easy way to rank greatness.

For some, the 1997 Masters, his first major championship, stands alone as a career high-water mark; while others may lean toward the 2000 U.S. Open where he lapped the field by 15 strokes.

“Those were special because of the way he did it,” said Butch Harmon, Tiger’s swing coach from August 1993 to August 2002. But for Harmon the Tour Championship was different. “He had a chance to win the last two majors. It’s impressive that just two years ago he couldn’t pitch the ball on the green. It’s not exactly Ben Hogan, but it’s along those lines.”

As far as clinical brilliance, most would say the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool is the benchmark. It was Tiger’s first victory after his father, Earl, died following a brutal bout with cancer and was nothing short of a ball-striking show.

“That was his best ball-striking tournament he’s ever had. That’s a different deal,” said Hank Haney, who served as Tiger’s second set of eyes from March 2004 to May 2010.

But it’s the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines that may stand as the competitive and physical pinnacle of Tiger’s career. On a broken leg with a torn ACL he endured 72 grueling holes to finish tied with Rocco Mediate and eventually prevailed on the first hole of a sudden death playoff after 18 holes on Monday.

“That’s No. 1, it’s not even close,” Haney said. “He didn’t win [at East Lake] with a broken leg. At the U.S. Open he won on one leg. It is unbelievable that he came back from four back operations, but once you’ve established that you’re back and you’re healthy you knew he’s going to win. A lot of things had to happen, he got off the prescription drugs and got his back healthy. But I felt like this was going to happen and he’s not done.”

But if the ’08 U.S. Open is the standard by which Tiger’s career will always be measured, his performance at East Lake deserves to be considered with a wider lens. This wasn’t about fairways hit or birdies made, this was about rounding a corner many never imagined he could.

At his darkest moments last year there was doubt he’d ever be able to swing a golf club again, never mind throw an 11-under total at the world’s best. The game had passed him by the critics claimed and even if he did find his way off the surgeon’s table the current cast and crew were a different breed who would be immune to his dominant ways and the aura he once held over the game.

This wasn’t Hoylake in ’06 or Pebble Beach in ’00, but in many ways it was better. There’s nothing better in sports than a comeback story and Tiger’s journey from a broken and burdened man to beaming on a final green is nothing short of a reinvention.

“The world is full of people who want to see a comeback story. We’re all coming back from something, so when you see someone do it inspires people to fight through it,” said Sean Foley, who stepped in for Haney in August 2010 and served as Woods’ swing coach until August 2014.

It was only last summer that the most common image of Tiger was a mug shot taken after his DUI arrest. The grainy image looking back at the world was a testament to how far he’d fallen, an unshaven and blurry-eyed shadow of the player who once seemed so untouchable. He couldn’t play golf, he couldn’t even ride in a golf cart his back hurt so bad, and his inability to do the one thing he was truly great at left Tiger to his own devices.

As he recovered from fusion surgery on his lower back he began to miss the game and the things that he’d done to transform it. As he returned, slowly at first before picking up the pace this summer, he allowed the world to see a different side, a player who was appreciative of what amounted to a final chance to be great.

There was emotion on Sunday and unbridled joy. His first victory in five years may defy assessment, but for Tiger there was so much more to his week in Atlanta than the history books could ever reveal.

“It's totally different because of what he’s been through, but I’d have to put [his victory at East Lake] up there with one of his greatest victories ever because of what he’s been through, the mental and physical, the disgrace,” Harmon said.

Maybe the 2018 Tour Championship won’t go down as Tiger’s masterpiece when he hangs up his Nikes. Maybe what awaits will be the true measure of his genius.

“The greatest accomplishment in sports is going to be when he’s No. 1 again and that’s going to be pretty soon,” Haney said. “When he returns to No. 1 it won’t be a debate.”

With fans stacked five and six rows deep along every fairway, probably the biggest crowd East Lake has seen since Bobby Jones was stalking the rolling hills, Tiger played the script he invented, a bullish version of what Stewart Cink once called a prevent defense.

The only change to this all-too-familiar routine was the pregnant pause he allowed himself after putting out on the 18th hole, slamming his putter into the ground and raising his arms in triumph.

In a historic twist it was the same green where Jones, who pulled off an impressive comeback of his own once, ended his golf career. It was only apropos that Tiger would complete his comeback and restart his career on the same spot.

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Woods: Support from Tour friends 'meant a lot to me'

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2018, 11:54 pm

ATLANTA – As Tiger Woods approach the 18th green on Sunday at the Tour Championship, with thousands of fans – literally – breathing down his neck, Davis Love III crouched down inside the ropes, on top of a mound to take it all in. He was joined by Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson.

Rickie Fowler was waiting. Tommy Fleetwood was watching from the clubhouse balcony. Paul Casey was there. So, too, were Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas.

They all wanted to witness Woods win for the first time in five physically debilitating, at times personally destructive, years. They wanted to congratulate, not just a peer, but a friend.

What that meant to Woods, well, he tried to describe. But words don’t do justice what the support of others means to someone who has been through so much.

“The people who are close to me saw the struggles and what I was going through, and some of the players that I'm pretty close to, they've really helped throughout this process and the last few years,” Woods said. “Their support and some of those things that they said coming off that last green meant a lot to me.”


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Of course, all of these players have one thing in common: They are all headed to Paris for this Ryder Cup, either as players or vice captains.

There were 17 Ryder Cup players in the 30-man Tour Championship field – 11, including Woods, on the U.S. side.

The Americans were set to take a charter flight to France on Sunday night. That means everyone aboard will get to partake in the celebrations. And Tiger will get to enjoy the camaraderie, something lacking from the years when he won 79 PGA Tour events.

“Flying tonight with the guys, it’s going to be fun,” Woods said.

“I think we’re all going to sleep well.”