Cal looks to finish record-setting season in style

By Ryan LavnerMay 27, 2013, 5:37 pm

After his team’s record-setting victory May 18, Cal coach Steve Desimone received a mind-blowing text message.

A few hours earlier, at NCAA regionals in Pullman, Wash., Cal had won for the 11th time in 13 starts, a new modern-day NCAA record for most victories in a season. Now came a text from one of Desimone’s former players, a proud supporter who had never enjoyed such fruitful times during his stint with the Golden Bears:

Coach, you’re 173-3-1 and up over 6,000 shots against the fields this year.

Desimone read the powerful message over and over again, stunned, as his team headed toward the airport.

“I can’t imagine anyone is ever going to compete with that again,” he said last week. “All we can do is shake our heads.”

And, potentially, finish off the best college season ever.

There is an unprecedented level of buildup for this week’s NCAA Championship, which begins Tuesday at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course outside Atlanta.

Cal is the prohibitive favorite, the No. 1 team in the country, an 11-win juggernaut that, as Jim Skinner’s text read, has lost to another team head to head only three times in the past nine months.

Yet, here’s the most unsettling aspect of the Golden Bears’ run to greatness: In the single-elimination match-play format used at NCAAs, the distinct possibility exists that the nation’s best team could return to Berkeley without the hardware.

Since 2009, when match play was instituted, only once has the No. 1-ranked team hoisted the trophy at the end of the season.

“Is there a risk that all of this could come crashing down after one day of match play? Of course,” Desimone said. “Does it linger? I’m not going to kid you, it does have a little seed in the back of my mind.

“But it’s the format and rules that we’re playing under. If we want to stake our claim as being one of the best teams of all time, this is what’s in front of us. Anything short of that would be a tremendous disappointment.”

Already Cal is the winningest team ever, and the squad’s 2012-13 stats jump off the page.

The Golden Bears have the nation’s top player in sophomore Michael Kim, a medium-length hitter who can putt lights out. He has the team’s best scoring average, at 70.1, but No. 5 man Brandon Hagy checks in at 71.0. In other words, all five starters were within 0.9 strokes of each other during the season. That’s unheard of in team golf.

What’s more, Cal’s average first-round low counting score was 67.5, meaning it raced out to big leads this season and didn’t relent.

At regionals, the Golden Bears won the team title by 20 shots. That week, though, they also became the first team ever to have all five starters record an individual win during the season. That the last man to break through was Michael Weaver – the 2012 U.S. Amateur runner-up and 2013 Masters participant – spoke to the team’s incredible depth.

“The most impressive thing to me is that every single guy on that team has an opportunity to win,” said Derek Freeman, head coach of third-ranked UCLA. “Not just guys, who if they play absolutely perfect, can win. I’m talking they legitimately have five guys who can go out and win the golf tournament.”

Stroke-play prowess can only carry Cal so far, though. Eight teams qualify for match play after the three-round stroke-play qualifier. The Golden Bears could win by a dozen shots and only have the No. 1 seed to show for it.

In fact, so dominant has Cal been during the season that anything less than a victory this week could prompt a change to how the year-end champion is determined.

“If ever there was a time where we should look at whether match play is the right thing to do for our championship, this would be it,” Freeman said. “It’s clear that Cal has played better than anyone and has done it on a longer scale. Someone is going to have to play really well to beat them. But match play gives you that chance.”

Desimone has never been a fan of match play determining the NCAA winner. Sure, last year at Riviera, there was a No. 1 vs. No. 2 final, the matchup everyone wanted to see, and Texas prevailed on the final hole in an epic match. But two years ago, Oklahoma State was the No. 1 team in the country, a winner eight times during the regular season, and the Cowboys didn’t even make the final.

“No team has had the success we’ve had this year,” Desimone said. “But we know what’s in front of us now.”

It guarantees little in this unpredictable format, of course, but Cal has also enjoyed success at this year’s NCAA venue, a big, brawny course that isn’t ideal for match play. One coach said that unless the tees are moved around to create some excitement, this year’s championship could be a “grind of monumental proportions.”

That style of play would seem to suit Cal, which has arguably the longest hitter in college golf in Hagy, as well as two other boppers, Max Homa and Weaver. Their length puts pressure on their opponents, especially if the rough is long and gnarly, as it was during the NCAA Preview last September. Cal and UCLA shared team honors during that event, and the low individual score after 54 holes was 2 under.

“You have to bring your A game across the board or it’s over,” Desimone said.

OK, so if not Cal, then whom?

New Mexico is one of the few teams that has beaten Cal, head to head, and has the power to contend at Capital City Club. North Florida resembles the Augusta State teams that went back to back in 2010 and ’11. Washington has Ben Hogan Award winner Chris Williams at the top of the lineup.

But the best bet is the Alabama Crimson Tide, whose triumvirate of 2012 Player of the Year Justin Thomas, Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt is arguably the strongest 1-2-3 in the country. That trio combined for five wins and 20 top 10s this season.

All three players were part of last year’s NCAA finals team, the one that pushed Texas to the 18th hole at Riviera before finally succumbing.

The core is intact, yes, but the team is missing 2012 graduate Hunter Hamrick, whose bulldog personality helped shape the Tide. Much like last year, however, this team is the undisputed No. 2 in the country, steamrolling into NCAAs having won six of its seven spring starts. They’re a “quietly confident bunch,” said head coach Jay Seawell. And more importantly, they are driven by last year’s near miss.

“Everyone has something that makes them want to climb a mountain,” Seawell said. “I do believe somewhere inside all of our guys that’s in there. I’d be lying if I said it’s not inside of me also.”

Which team did Alabama defeat in last year’s semifinals? Ironically, it was Cal, which came within two lip-outs of advancing. The Golden Bears returned four starters from a year ago and added Weaver, who was coming off a redshirt season.

With strong play from those two teams – and, it seems, a bit of good luck – we’ll see another No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown come Sunday.

“That’s been our motivation from the moment we lost,” Desimone said. “Everything we did pointed toward winning a championship this year. Is it possible that we’ll get it? Yes. But it’s possible that we’ll fall short, too. And it’ll be as bitter as it can get.”

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TT Postscript: Finally, officially, Tiger Woods is back

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 23, 2018, 11:47 pm

ATLANTA, Ga. – He’s baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack. Here are some things I think I think after watching Tiger Woods end a five-year winless drought and capture his 80th career PGA Tour victory Sunday at the Tour Championship.

• There’s only one place to start. That walk down 18. Tiger Woods leading throngs of maniacs (and me) into an arena only he can create, only he can star in, only he can thrive in. That was a security nightmare, and I’m sure whatever entities hold the insurance policies on Tiger and Rory were pulling their corporate hair out, but that was a scene you can’t really stage. A scene you can’t recreate. Not like that. Not with that level of exaltation. Every single person who has followed Tiger Woods’ career – every single person who loves the game of golf – felt like they were following Tiger in that crowd up 18. Regardless of whether you root for him or against him, you know no one else in the game can create a spectacle like that. After the surgeries, and the scandals, and the personal demons, Tiger Woods teared up, tapped in, put his arms in the air, and soaked in a kind of redemption none of us will ever fully understand.

• He admitted he almost cried twice on the way in. He almost cried in the crowd en route to the front bunker, and he almost cried after Rory McIlroy ceded the stage on the 72nd green. For years, he was invulnerable. Impenetrable. That was his aura. That aura was later shattered at too many different points along the way. There was a popular thought that Tiger Woods couldn’t be Tiger Woods without that same air of invincibility – that edge. But on Sunday, the golf world and Tiger himself saw that he could be vulnerable and a champion. Notah Begay perhaps put it best when he suggested on Golf Central that Tiger could, moving forward, strike a balance between playing with an edge and playing with a sense of gratitude.



• That gratitude seems genuine, too. He thought he was done. More than that, at his lowest point, he didn’t know what was going to be left of his life.

“Am I going to be able to sit, stand, walk, lay down without feeling the pain that I was in? I just didn't want to live that way,” he said in the interview room. “This is how the rest of my life is going to be? It's going to be a tough rest of my life. And so – I was beyond playing. I couldn't sit. I couldn't walk. I couldn't lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg.”

Now the roars, the support, the embrace, the victory – it all means a little more. Tiger Woods seems like a guy who took everything he had for granted, faced down the possibility of losing it all, and came out on the other end.


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• As for what exactly he really went through, maybe we’ll never know. Maybe we’ll never know how deep and dark that hole went. But clearly there’s an inner circle that knows. And that includes some of Tiger’s colleagues on Tour.

“You know, 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,” he said. “Their support and some of those things that they said coming off that last green meant a lot to me.”

• Tiger has been the face of golf for the last two decades. And that’s why it’s so weird to think that anyone can conceive of him as anything other than the most dominant player in the history of the game. But his kids are young enough that they really don’t know. Hearing him discuss his family Sunday night was both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

“I think they understand a little bit of what Dad does now. I hadn't won any tournaments in which they can remember, so I think this will be a little bit different for them. … A lot of times they equated golf to pain because every time I did it, I would hurt, and it would cause me more pain. And so now they're seeing a little bit of joy and seeing how much fun it is for me to be able to do this again.”

• So where do we go from here? To Paris, where Tiger through a wry smile suggested that everyone is going to sleep well on the U.S. plane tonight. Uh huh.

• But what’s next in that big-picture sense? Does he pass Sam? Does he catch Jack? Hell, I don’t know. I never thought we’d get to this point again. And neither did he. Maybe it’ll never get any better than this. But you know, it just might.

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With 80 wins, Woods eyes 'chipping away' at Snead

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2018, 11:38 pm

ATLANTA – Round numbers just feel better than the crooked ones.

80.

It’s only one more than 79, but it’s prettier and more historically significant.

“Eighty is a big number,” Tiger Woods said after winning the Tour Championship to reach that amazing tally in Tour wins. “I’ve been sitting on 79 for about five years now, and to get 80 is a pretty damned good feeling.”

Not since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational had Woods hoisted a trophy. And in those five winless years, he endured multiple surgeries; more personal turmoil; and doubt that he’d ever live a comfortable life, let alone play professionally.

80.

That puts him two wins from tying Sam Snead on the all-time PGA Tour wins list. What once seemed like a lock, then appeared unlikely, is attainable once again.


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This is more than just a nice, round number, however. More than an opportunity to be called the winningest Tour player ever.

For Woods, this is a recognized and appreciative product of grace and good fortune.

“To kind of get to the 80 mark is a big number," Woods said. 'Sam is still ahead of me. I've still got, I feel like, a chance to play some more golf and maybe I'll keep chipping away at that number and maybe surpass it. 

“But I just think that what I've gone through and what I've dealt with, I've gotten lucky, to be honest with you. I've gotten very lucky. I'm not playing a full-contact sport or I've got to move people around in that regard. At 42 years old with a fused lower spine; that's not going to happen.

“But in this sport, it can. I'm lucky to have the opportunity to have the people around me to have supported me and worked through this process with me, and I've ground out a chance to win golf tournaments again.”

 

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Key stats from Woods' historic win at East Lake

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 23, 2018, 10:47 pm

Tiger Woods won his 80th career PGA Tour title on Sunday with a two-stroke victory at the Tour Championship. Here are the key stats from the final round at East Lake.

• 80th career PGA Tour win; first since 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

• Two wins behind Sam Snead for most in PGA Tour history

• Snead was 47 years old when he won his 80th career PGA Tour title (Woods is 42)

• 43-for-45 converting outright 54-hole leads in PGA Tour career

• 24-for-24 converting 54-hole leads of three or more shots

• First win in 1,876 days; 118 players won on PGA Tour between Woods' wins

• Third career Tour Championship victory (most all-time)

• Has won Tour Championship in three different decades (1999, 2007, 2018)

• Fifth PGA Tour event won in three different decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)

• Projected to move to 13th in World Ranking with victory

• Was ranked 1,199 before beginning of 2017 Hero World Challenge

• Snead won 11 times after turning 43 (Woods turns 43 in December)

• Eighth PGA Tour win in Georgia; fourth-most of any state (Fla., Calif., Ohio)

• Extended lead to four strokes with birdie on first hole of round

• Second in field in strokes gained: putting this week

• First in field in scrambling this week (17-for-24)

• Finished second in FedExCup; was making first Tour Championship start since 2013

• Led field in one-putt percentage this week (51.4%)

• Finishes season first on PGA Tour in strokes gained: approach

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)

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Rose captures FedExCup, $10 million

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2018, 10:45 pm

ATLANTA – Like the “Price is Right” big wheel, $10 million spun around and around on Sunday, waiting to land on someone. It rolled past Dustin Johnson, looked like it was going to settle on Tiger Woods, and then made a final tick to rest on an ecstatic Justin Rose.

Rose won the FedExCup title on Sunday at the Tour Championship, two-putting for birdie on the par-5 18th to secure the big bonus. Woods, who won the tournament, finished second, with Bryson DeChambeau third.

Rose entered the final round as the projected winner, tied for second in the event, three shots back of Woods. However, it was a struggle from the start for the – now former – world No. 1. Rose made four bogeys and one birdie over his first 15 holes, and when he bogeyed the par-4 16th, the scenario became clear: Play the last two in 1 under or lose the cup.


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Johnson had an outside shot at claiming the $10 million, but parred the last. He finished in solo third place, four back of Woods.

Woods, meanwhile, was in command of the tournament from the start on Sunday. He played steadily, for the most part, and no one provided a challenge. In order to win the cup, he needed to win the event – which was close to a lock all day – and Rose needed to finish in a three-way tie for fifth or worse.

So, here he was, Rose, tied for SIXTH place on the 18th hole. A birdie and he’d jump into a three-way tie for fourth – as well as into a mountain of cash.

Rose hit the par-5 18th in two and successfully two-putted to clinch the cup. He didn’t win a playoff event, but his MC-2-2-T4 results were good enough, points wise, to capture the season-long race.