Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Woods' 69 so close to being 'stupid good'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:08 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – After an uncharacteristic misfire, Tiger Woods was standing awkwardly on a downslope behind the 15th green, a bunker directly in front of him, water looming long.

He widened his stance, shifted his weight forward and hit what he thought was the perfect, high, soft flop shot into a 15-mph wind. There was maybe a 3-foot circle in which he could land his ball, and Woods missed that mark by a few inches, his ball agonizingly hanging up in the rough just over the bunker. He dropped his club, grimaced and barked an expletive loud enough for those in Ponte Vedra Beach to hear.

“That would have been stupid-good,” said his playing partner, Jason Dufner.

But it epitomized Woods’ day at the Honda Classic – on so many holes, he was mere inches from a round that could have been “stupid-good,” or at least his best of the year. Instead, he settled for a 1-under 69 – his first round in the 60s in nine attempts this season – and a spot among the top 11 heading into the final round at PGA National.

“Today was the highest score I could have possibly shot,” he said afterward. “I really hit it good.”

Those who so easily dismissed Woods as too old and too broken and too far removed from his glory days are surely sweating now.

Woods isn’t anywhere close to unlocking his best – and, to be fair, perhaps he never will – but already he is on the fringes of contention in just his fourth Tour start since August 2015.

That bad back? It seems like an afterthought now. With temperatures climbing into the mid-80s Saturday, Woods looked fit and spry, uncorking a 128-mph swing – an eye-popping number that would have ranked first on Tour every year since 2007.

It’s not just uncontrolled fury, either. After disastrous ball-striking performances at Torrey Pines and Riviera – including a career-worst showing at Riv, where he hit only 16 greens in two rounds – Woods has put himself in the fairway more often and carved iron shots on one of the most difficult courses on Tour.


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Seven of his approach shots Saturday were within 20 feet – for the week, he is second in the field in proximity to the hole – but he made just two of those attempts.

“I’m making some tweaks in my golf swing but also trying to understand what this body can do,” he said. “It’s not like it used to be – those angles are gone. I’ve had to make adjustments here and there, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of gradually building it together.

“Today was the best I’ve hit it.”

Dufner has seen plenty of Woods over the past years, playing a couple of times a week at Medalist in nearby Hobe Sound. The former PGA champion was surprised to see Woods’ pedestrian results in his first two starts.

“Today was closer to what I saw during casual rounds,” Dufner said, “which is a good indication that he’s on his way to playing some good golf.”

There were still some indifferent moments Saturday, and that’s to be expected. Woods flared a few wedge shots right. He made only 67 feet worth of putts, his fewest of the week. He missed left on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, bailing out away from the water, and made bogey. But here’s a dose of perspective: Those wedge shots still found the green, every player is struggling to make putts on these sand-filled greens and those watery par 3s are some of the most uncomfortable on Tour.

“He’s a smart guy,” Dufner said. “He’s always kind of been a strategist and a tactician out there. If he gets just a little bit better with his control and what he’s doing, he’ll be right there.”

Woods spent much of his first two starts tempering expectations, suggesting that he has only just begun his comeback, that it’ll take more time.

So much for that.

Sitting seven shots back, Woods was asked his thoughts heading into the final day. He immediately shifted into his default setting.  

“I’ve got a shot,” he said.

And at this rate, he should have plenty more this year. 

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'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

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Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”

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Ball headed O.B., Stone (68) gets huge break

By Mercer BaggsJuly 19, 2018, 2:14 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brandon Stone knew it when he hit it.

“I knew I hit it out of bounds,” the South African said following his opening round in the 147th Open Championship.

Stone’s second shot on the par-4 18th, from the left fescue, was pulled into the grandstands, which are marked as O.B. But instead of settling in with the crowd, the ball ricocheted back towards the green and nearly onto the putting surface.

Stone made his par and walked away with a 3-under 68, two shots off the early lead.

“I really didn’t put a good swing on it, bad contact and it just came out way left,” Stone said. “I feel so sorry for the person I managed to catch on the forehead there, but got a lucky break.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“When you get breaks like that you know you’re going to have good weeks.”

It’s been more than just good luck recently for Stone. He shot 60 in the final round – missing a 9-foot birdie putt for the first 59 in European Tour history – to win last week’s Scottish Open. It was his third career win on the circuit and first since 2016. It was also just his first top-10 of the season.

“A testament to a different mental approach and probably the change in putter,” said Stone, who added that he switched to a new Ping Anser blade model last week.

“I’ve been putting, probably, the best I have in my entire life.”

This marks Stone’s sixth start in a major championship, with his best finish a tie for 35th in last year’s U.S. Open. He has a missed cut and a T-70 in two prior Open Championships.