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'Tired' Woods has work cut out for him Sunday

By Ryan LavnerAugust 12, 2018, 12:33 am

ST. LOUIS – After the third and final stop of his post-round media blitz, at the end of a 13-hour workday in 90-degree heat, Tiger Woods trudged up the steps of the Bellerive clubhouse and into the air-conditioned comfort of the locker room. He took a seat in the far corner, tipped back the lid of his Nike hat and sipped from a white Styrofoam cup. How he felt was apparent, but he verbalized it anyway.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I’m definitely tired.”

Woods was in the early-late wave to start this 100th PGA Championship, and so he needed to return to the course at 7 a.m. local time Saturday to complete his second round, which was previously suspended because of inclement weather. When play resumed, Woods had 28 1/2 holes to complete. He played them in 5 under par, vaulting up the leaderboard and giving himself another realistic chance at snapping that decade-long major drought.

After a third-round 66, there are only five players between Woods and the lead, but two of them are major champions (Brooks Koepka and Adam Scott) and two others surely will be soon (Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm).

“I’ve got my work cut out for me tomorrow,” said Woods, who is at 8-under 202. “This golf course is putting it on us – you have to be aggressive. You’ve got to make birdies.”

Which is why Woods was frustrated by his finish Saturday, by his 10 consecutive pars to close on a cupcake-soft course. Time and time again, he couldn’t get the ball to the hole on the “fuzzy” greens, and the one time he did, with his eagle putt on 17, he bashed it 4 feet by and yanked the comebacker.

That Woods stalled on the back nine wasn’t completely surprising, at least not this year. It’s been one of the lone disappointments of this remarkable comeback.

For months, Woods has been as good as anyone through 63 holes. But he also knows that careers are defined by what comes next, and there’s a whole other mountain to climb to get from 63 to 72.

For the game’s preeminent closer, his inability to finish out rounds has been mystifying.

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There was the late slip-up at Honda, where he played the last four holes in 3 over.

There was the curious end at the Valspar, where, needing a birdie to force a playoff, he laid well back off the tee and left himself a 40-footer that never had a chance.

There was the out-of-bounds tee shot on 16 at Bay Hill. The 3-over stretch late at The Players. The bogey and double bogey on the back nine at Carnoustie once he grabbed the outright lead on Sunday.

Add it all up, and his final-round scoring average (70.45) is nearly two strokes higher than his scores in the third round (68.64).

Digging even deeper reveals a disparity between even his front- and back-nine scoring: He’s 10th (34.75) on the front nine and 120th (35.56) on the back.

What’s the deal?

Maybe his concentration wanes.

Maybe his body fatigues.

Maybe he succumbs to the pressure.

Woods himself didn’t have an answer earlier this week. 

“I wish I could figure that out,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why I haven’t played the back nine as well as I have in the past. Who knows? If I had the answer to it, I would give it to you, but I really don’t know.”

It happened again Saturday.

Needing to take it deep on another ideal day for scoring, Woods went out in 31 to sit just two shots off the lead. Bellerive shook, the thunderous roars echoing all the way back to the clubhouse.

“It kind of reminded me of being in the vortex a lot years ago,” said Stewart Cink, who was grouped with Woods on Saturday. “It didn’t really feel like there was a difference at all. It felt like all that I remembered playing with Tiger all those years ago, when he was winning tournaments. Today was really no different.”

What’s different, perhaps, was that instead of going on to post a super-low round to surge into or near the lead, Woods stood pat. He missed five consecutive birdie tries inside 20 feet on the back nine, growing increasingly annoyed with each squandered opportunity.

In need of a spark, Woods roped a 243-yard long iron into the par-5 17th, walking after his ball as it rocketed through the still, humid air. It climbed the ridge in the middle of the green and finished 20 feet away.

The eagle would have put him in solo second, but he was so determined to get the ball to the hole that he instead powered it through the break. He left himself 4 feet coming back, and missed that, too.

On 18, he spun a wedge shot to 15 feet, only to leave his birdie try a foot short.

“I know he’s a little frustrated on the back nine with not making some of those putts,” Cink said, “but it’s not the easiest course this week to hole putts.”

This week, Woods leads the field in front-nine scoring average (10 under). And he’s tied for 69th on the back nine (2 over).

It’s impossible to know whether his Saturday stall was because of the fuzzy greens, or the major pressure, or the fatigue of a long day in the heat.

Not surprisingly, Woods pointed to the latter.

“It’s not necessarily the physical,” he said. “It’s mentally grinding that hard for 29 holes in this heat. It was a long day.”

To get his body ready for Sunday, Woods is likely slated for more ice baths and deep-tissue massages.

If they can work out the kinks of his back-nine struggles, the final round of the PGA could be one for the ages.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

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On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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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.