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.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

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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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)

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Watch: Rory finds trouble, and more trouble, and more ...

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 4:33 pm

Rory McIlroy was in a must-win situation against Brian Harman in order to have a chance to advance to the one-and-done portion of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

And, as you can see, McIlroy did not get off to an ideal start on Friday.

McIlroy lost the third, fifth and ninth holes at Austin Country Club. Harman led, 3 up, at the turn.