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

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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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Stricker leads in hometown event; Daly three back

By Associated PressJune 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

MADISON, Wis. – Steve Stricker made himself at home at the top of the leaderboard on a rainy and breezy Friday at the American Family Insurance Championship.

The hometown star and tournament host shot an 8-under 64 at University Ridge to take a one-stroke lead over Brad Bryant in the PGA Tour Champions event. Because of the wet conditions, the players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairways.

John Daly, Colin Montgomerie and Steve Flesch shot 67. Daly returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for three events.

Splitting time between the PGA Tour and the 50-and-over circuit, the 51-year-old Stricker had his 30th consecutive Champions round under par, the fourth-longest streak in tour history.

Stricker won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. The 12-time PGA Tour winner played the big tour the last two weeks, tying for 18th in Memphis and tying for 20th in the U.S. Open.

Fellow Madison player Jerry Kelly and Illinois coach Mike Small, Stricker's teammate with the Illini, were at 68 with Bernhard Langer, Scott Verplank, Jeff Sluman, Glen Day, Billy Mayfair, Doug Garwood, Jerry Smith and Rocco Mediate. Defending champion Fred Couples had a 69.

Stricker played alongside Vijay Singh and Davis Love III. Singh shot 81, and Love 72.

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Aphibarnrat keeps promise to M. Jutanugarn

By Randall MellJune 22, 2018, 9:25 pm

Moriya Jutanugarn was inspired by a special fan Friday who kept a promise to her.

She will be looking to use that boost to make this a memorable new chapter in the Jutanugarn “Sisters Act” story.

Three weeks after Ariya won the U.S. Women’s Open for her second victory in 2018, Mo is in early position in Rogers, Ark., to join her sister as the tour’s only two-time winners this year.

Mo put up a 7-under-par 64 to get into early contention at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. She was tied for the lead among the morning wave with Aditi Ashok, who is looking to inspire the entire nation of India by winning a first LPGA title for her homeland. Lizette Salas and Mirim Lee also shot 64s in the early wave.


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Moriya got in contention with PGA Tour pro Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the gallery following her. A fellow Thai, Aphibarnrat promised Mo he would come watch her if she won an LPGA title. She broke through for her first victory in April at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open, and Aphribarnrat lived up to his promise showing up this week.

“He's like my brother, and it’s very nice to see him,” Moriya said. “Really happy for him, as well, because he is having a very good year this year.”

At the Masters, Ariya caddied for Aphibarnrat during the Par 3 Contest.

Aphibarnrat said he is a big fan of the Thai sisters and also planned to watch Ariya in the afternoon.

“They inspire me,” Aphibarnrat told LPGA media official Christina Lance after the round.

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Two-time champ Bubba fires 63 at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 7:20 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Amid a resurgent season that has already included a pair of wins, it only makes sense that Bubba Watson is back in contention at the Travelers Championship.

TPC River Highlands has been one of Watson’s favorite haunts over the years; it’s a layout where the southpaw’s creative approach is often rewarded. This is where he burst into tears after earning his first PGA Tour victory in 2010, and this is where he beat Paul Casey in a playoff to again lift the trophy in 2015.

He’ll once again have a late weekend tee time after firing a 7-under 63 during the second round, tying the low score of the week and moving to within three shots of Brian Harman’s 10-under total.

“Little bit less wind, little more confidence on the ball-striking, and I made putts,” Watson said. “The key is making putts. When you start making putts, that’s where you’re going to score a decent number.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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Watson was well down the standings after opening with an even-par 70, a round that included three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine to negate progress he had made earlier in the day. But he ran into no such struggles the second time around, adding six birdies to an eagle on the par-5 13th hole when he hit his approach shot from 229 yards to within 18 inches of the hole.

The difference, according to Watson, was between the ears.

“Yesterday I was just thinking about some negative stuff instead of focusing on my target and focusing on the shot at hand,” Watson said. “I was focusing on hitting to the bunker, or focusing on, ‘Water is over here, so hit it over here.’ Just things like that, just things that you can’t do around the golf course.”

Watson was also a runner-up in 2012 here in addition to his two wins, and he has racked up nearly $3.5 million in earnings in 11 prior appearances. Once again thinking the right thoughts on one of his favorite tracks, he’s potentially 36 holes away from his third win since February.

“Obviously around here I feel pretty comfortable,” Watson said. “I can hit some shots around here, and I’ve made it work throughout some of the years.”

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Only putting is holding McIlroy back

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:48 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Through two rounds of the Travelers Championship, the tee shots are towering and the approaches are accurate for Rory McIlroy. Now he just needs the putter to heat up.

McIlroy started to show signs of life during the second round last week at Shinnecock Hills before missing the cut, and after putting in some extra work honing his swing over the weekend, his tee-to-green game is worth boasting about at the halfway point at TPC River Highlands.

McIlroy has missed only five greens in regulation through two rounds, barely breaking a sweat en route to rounds of 64 and 69 that left him at 7 under. He’s within striking distance heading into the weekend, three shots behind Brian Harman, but might be topping the standings with a more cooperative putter.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I felt like I left a few out there,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I had a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. I started them on line, did everything I needed to do, and it’s just one of those days where they were sliding by the edges.”

McIlroy took 32 putts to complete his second round, including a three-putt on No. 7 for his only bogey of the day and another three-putt on No. 13 that turned an eagle opportunity into a par. Already with a win under his belt this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he knocked in putts from all directions during a final-round 64, McIlroy feels confident that he might be only a few rolls away from having another shot to contend in his second career trip to the Hartford-area stop.

“I think if I can put the ball in the fairway and hit my irons as good as I have been over the first couple of days, I’ll give myself a lot of chances for birdies,” McIlroy said. “It’s just about converting them and taking the opportunities when they present themselves.”