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This Woods, nothing like we've seen in several years

By Ryan LavnerMarch 12, 2018, 12:15 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Over four days, Tiger Woods blew into a new city, shattered attendance records, boosted TV ratings, ignited social media and surged into contention – serious contention – for the first time in ages, teeing it up in Sunday’s penultimate pairing.

Afterward, he stood in front of a pack of reporters and sounded pleased that he’d given himself an opportunity, sure, but disappointed that he’d come up short.

“I gave myself a chance,” he said, “and I had all the opportunity in the world today to do it. I didn’t get it done.”

That exact scenario unfolded Aug. 23, 2015 – 932 days ago – at the Wyndham Championship, when Woods last gave himself a realistic chance to win for the 80th time on the PGA Tour. The circumstances surrounding Sunday’s final round here at the Valspar Championship were almost identical, but with one key difference.

“He’s a completely different person,” said Notah Begay III, a longtime Woods confidant. “He’s gone through public humiliation. He’s gone through personal challenges. He’s gone through physical injury. He’s gone through technical problems in all parts of his game.

“He’s risen above it all, and the end result is a guy who is out here really appreciative of his ability to go out and play the type of golf that he’s capable of.”


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And that type of golf, Woods proved yet again Sunday, will be good enough to win tournaments. 

He wasn’t as sharp with his irons in the final round, and he struggled with the speed of the greens while taking 32 putts, and yet he arrived on Innisbrook’s 18th tee needing a birdie to force a playoff with Paul Casey.

Woods had just canned a 44-foot birdie on 17, offering a sarcastic smirk when the putt found the bottom of the cup, and then he tried to settle himself on the final tee, taking a deep breath and wiping his palms.

“All you want is a shot coming up 18,” said Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava. “We knew what we had to do.”

Woods blistered a 258-yard 2-iron off the tee, then strode purposefully up the last, the adrenaline flowing, fans young and old lining the fairway and hollering, “Let’s go Tiger!”, trying to will the game’s most popular figure to a victory that seemed improbable even five months ago. His 35-footer to match Casey came up two feet shy.

Woods should win again, and maybe soon, but he settled for a tie for second, his best finish since August 2013, when his back betrayed him for the first time in public. It was at that Barclays event that, in the midst of a Player of the Year season, he fell to his knees after playing a shot in the final round. Later, he blamed his sore neck and back on a soft hotel bed, but less than a year later he went under the knife for his first of four back surgeries.

Woods made only 17 starts over the next two seasons before summoning that out-of-nowhere performance at the Wyndham, where he shared the 36-hole lead and sat just two shots back heading into the final round. He wound up in a tie for 10th, but it was a fluke – he didn’t play another Tour event for 17 months.

The player four starts into this latest comeback bears little resemblance to that aging warrior.

Start with his speed. In 2015, his clubhead speed was 118 mph. Here on Saturday, he uncorked a 129-mph rocket – the fastest recorded on Tour this season.

And then check out his short game. In 2015, it was in utter disarray, a collection of thinned and flubbed chips and pitches that Woods chalked up to conflicting “release patterns” but in reality looked an awful lot like the yips. Only three years later it is apparent that Woods’ body was broken, and that it was uncomfortable for him to assume that setup position. At the Valspar, Woods played a series of deft pitch shots, somehow only holing out once and finishing the week fifth in strokes gained-around the green.

And then, well, just look at him: “I think he’s for real healthy this time,” LaCava said. For how long, no one knows, but in 2015 Woods was trying to scale back his schedule to preserve his body. Now, he’s trying to redline it, adding new and intriguing events during this run-up to the Masters.

What hasn’t changed is Woods’ post-round assessment, both then at the Wyndham and here at the Valspar.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said Sunday.

And: “I was close.”

And: “I had a chance today.”

That Woods contended at the Wyndham was a testament to his otherworldly talent and his grit and his course-management skills.

This is something different entirely. In just 14 rounds Woods has checked every box in his comeback: Staying upright for two rounds. Battling for a score. Making the cut. Playing consecutive weeks. Moving into the fringes of contention. Hovering around the lead.

Then on Sunday, he assumed a position that used to be so familiar: Chasing down the leader.

“The trend is going the right way,” LaCava said.

And unlike three years ago, it’s no aberration.

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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.

 

 

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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


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Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”