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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

With eye on Masters, Howell wins Match Play group

By Rex HoggardMarch 23, 2018, 8:15 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Charles Howell III appears to have solved his match play mystery, advancing out of pool play for the second consecutive year after failing to play the weekend his first eight trips to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The timing couldn’t have been better.

At 65th in the Official World Golf Ranking, Howell needs to advance to Sunday’s final four to move into the top 50 in the world and earn an invitation to the Masters, which is always a primary goal for the Augusta, Ga., native.

“Knowing that I need a big week here to get through, obviously, it's massive in match play,” said Howell, who will face Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the first stage of knockout play on Saturday. “Kiradech is an awesome player. I feel like I'm the underdog, and nothing to lose, I like that.”

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

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

Howell, who began the week as the 59th-seeded player, was unbeaten in pool play, defeating Phil Mickelson on Day 1 and securing his spot in the weekend with a 2-and-1 victory over Satoshi Kodaira on Friday.

Although Saturday’s matches may have a qualifying feel for Howell, who last played the Masters in 2012, he’s also in the field for next week’s Houston Open and could earn a spot at Augusta National with a victory there.

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McIlroy to rest, play Augusta after early exit at Match Play

By Rex HoggardMarch 23, 2018, 7:02 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – For the second consecutive year, Rory McIlroy failed to advance out of pool play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, but there was a silver lining for last week’s champion.

McIlroy, who lost on Friday, 5 and 3, to Brian Harman, said he didn’t have much time to recharge following his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and having the weekend off will give him a chance to prepare for what promises to be an intense build up to this year’s Masters.

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

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

The Northern Irishman will travel to Augusta National on Wednesday for what he said will be a 54- to 72-hole, two-day practice session.

“Me and [caddie Harry Diamond] are going up, two members are hosting us, we're going to have a couple of social runs Wednesday and Thursday,” McIlroy said. “I’ll rest up a little bit, recharge the batteries, get into the gym. Sort of have a good week training and a good practice week. And just get myself ready for Augusta.”

McIlroy is listed among the favorites at the Masters, where he could complete the career Grand Slam if he were to win.

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Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 6:35 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.

(Note: Group winners are highlighted; * equals won in playoff)

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

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 5:44 pm

Here is how things played out on Day 3 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play. Click here for Day 2 match results:

Group 1: Dustin Johnson (1) vs. Kevin Kisner (32)

Group 1: Adam Hadwin (38) vs. Bernd Wiesberger (52)

Group 2: Justin Thomas (2) def. Francesco Molinari (21), 7 and 5: Looking like the man to beat, Thomas put Molinari in an early 3-down hole and kept applying pressure, putting him away with seven birdies in one of the most lopsided results of the week – and in a battle of two unbeatens. Thomas can become world No. 1 with a victory this week.

Group 2: Patton Kizzire (48) vs. Luke List (60)

Group winner: Justin Thomas

Group 3: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Jon Rahm, 4 and 3: Unbeaten through two days, Aphibarnrat put the hammer down on Rahm, last year’s finalist. Barnrat needed only three birdies to secure the group win, while Rahm dropped to 0-2-1 for the week.

Group 3: Chez Reavie (43) vs. Keegan Bradley (63), halved: With the group already decided as they played the closing stretch, Bradley coughed up a late lead for the third consecutive round, halving the match on 18 and finishing the week with a 0-1-2 record that could (and should) have been so much better.  

Group winner: Kiradech Aphibarnrat

Group 4: Jordan Spieth (4) vs. Patrick Reed (19)

Group 4: Haotong Li (34) vs. Charl Schwartzel (49)

Group 5: Hideki Matsuyama (5) vs. Patrick Cantlay (30)

Group 5: Cameron Smith (46) vs. Yusaku Miyazato (53)

Group 6: Brian Harman (18) def. Rory McIlroy (6), 5 and 3: Harman took advantage of McIlroy’s missed putts and uncharacteristic mistakes to build a 3-up advantage on the front nine, then cruised to a lopsided victory. At 2-0-1, Harman wins the group, while McIlroy can begin his prep for Augusta.

Group 6: Jhonattan Vegas (44) vs. Peter Uihlein (57) def. Jhonattan Vegas (44), 4 and 3: Even though Uihlein won the first two holes on his way to routing Vegas, it wasn’t enough for the former U.S. Amateur champion to advance. He finished the week 2-1.

Group winner: Brian Harman

Group 7: Sergio Garcia (7) def. Xander Schauffele (20), 3 and 1: Two down with seven to play in this battle of unbeatens, Garcia birdied the 12th and 13th holes to square the match, then pulled ahead with a pair of birdies on 15 and 16 and a conceded birdie on 17, after Schauffele tugged his tee shot into the hazard.

Group 7: Dylan Frittelli (41) vs. Shubhankar Sharma (62)

Group winner: Sergio Garcia

Group 8: Jason Day (8) vs. Louis Oosthuizen (25)

Group 8: Jason Dufner (42) vs. James Hahn (56)

Group 9: Tommy Fleetwood (9) vs. Daniel Berger (26)

Group 9: Kevin Chappell (33) vs. Ian Poulter (58)

Group 10: Matthew Fitzpatrick (31) def. Paul Casey (10), 3 and 2: After looking unstoppable over the first two days of pool play, Casey never led against his fellow Englishman, going 3 down after five holes. It was Fitzpatrick’s first point of the week.

Group 10: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Russell Henley (51), 1 up: Stanley flipped an early 2-down deficit and rolled in a 10-footer birdie putt on the final hole to beat Henley and earn a full point to force the sudden-death playoff with Casey.

Group 11: Marc Leishman (11) vs. Branden Grace (23), halved: Already eliminated, Leishman kept Grace from reaching the pool-play playoff by never trailing in the match. Though the South African holed a 25-footer on 17 to extend it, both players halved the 18th hole with birdies, including a 6-footer from Leishman, to earn a half-point.

Group 11: Bubba Watson (35) vs. Julian Suri (64), halved: Needing just a half-point to advance, but two down with two to go, Bubba stuffed his tee shot on 17, then hit his driver pin-high on the home hole. After Suri couldn’t get up-and-down for birdie, Watson sank his 8-footer for the halve. It's the second consecutive year in which Watson has won his group.

Group winner: Bubba Watson

Group 12: Tyrrell Hatton (12) vs. Charley Hoffman (22)

Group 12: Brendan Steele (36) vs. Alexander Levy (55)

Group 13: Alex Noren (13) vs. Tony Finau (29)

Group 13: Thomas Pieters (39) vs. Kevin Na (61)

Group 14: Phil Mickelson (14) def. Rafa Cabrera Bello (17), 1 up: Mickelson needed help to advance, but he took care of Cabrera Bello, making birdie on the last two holes to edge the Spaniard. The group was already decided, however, with Howell closing out his match while the other group played the 18th hole.

Group 14: Charles Howell III (59) def. Satoshi Kodaira (40), 2 and 1: Needing just a halve to advance, Howell won the 14th and 16th holes with par to gain a 2-up advantage and complete a perfect week in pool play. It’s the second year in a row that Howell has won his group.

Group winner: Charles Howell III

Group 15: Pat Perez (15) vs. Gary Woodland (24)

Group 15: Webb Simpson (37) vs. Si Woo Kim (50)

Group 16: Matt Kuchar (16) vs. Ross Fisher (27)

Group 16: Yuta Ikeda (47) vs. Zach Johnson (54)