Woods' Players strategy tailor-made for Open, too

By Ryan LavnerMay 13, 2013, 2:31 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – With spectacular flame-outs all around him – Jeff Maggert rinsing his 71st tee shot, Ryan Palmer thrashing about in the pine straw, Sergio Garcia self-immolating on the final two holes – Tiger Woods did not deviate from his game plan at The Players.

Put away the driver. Find the fairway. Hit the center of the green.

In grueling, U.S. Open-like conditions, boring golf is beautiful golf.

Late Sunday, when a few “well-influenced” fans alerted Woods on 18 tee of the carnage behind him, he responded with a nod. Then he ripped a 5-wood shot 286 yards down the left side of the fairway, apparently oblivious to the watery stuff waiting to swallow an off-line tee ball.

In the end, his prize – far more significant, of course, than getting in the last word against a petulant Sergio Garcia – was a fourth title this season, another unmistakable salvo, a wheelbarrow full of cash ($1.71 million) and a very impressed girlfriend. (Lindsey Vonn’s tweet: “Woooo hoooo!!!! He did it!!!!!”)

The last time Woods sat in this media center with the winner’s crystal was 2001. The Players that year was in March. In his next start, the then-25-year-old slipped into his second green jacket, the third victory in a five-win season.

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Those two players – Tiger 2001 and Tiger 2013 – are incomparable. The injuries, the frailties, the scandal, the resurgence. We can’t go back. We know too much now.  

But this much is unchanged through the years: Woods knows how to win, emphatically, and how to do so at an unprecedented clip.

“I know a lot of people in this room thought I was done,” the 37-year-old said. “But I’m not.”

Woods now has four wins, and it’s only mid-May. The last time he did that was 2000. Of course, that year he went on to win nine times, including three majors. He tacked on the fourth, the completion of the Tiger Slam, in spring 2001.

His victory Sunday was his seventh in his last 22 PGA Tour starts, a ridiculous winning percentage of 31.8. His career winning percentage, if you were curious, is now 27.2 (78 wins in 286 starts). This new Tiger is pretty good, too.

Woods was in a three-way tie for the lead when he began the fourth round, and his closing 70 was enough for a two-shot victory over three players. His conversion rate when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead now sits at 52 for 56. Even New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is envious.

In the afterglow of his stirring victory, it’s easy to forget that Woods has struggled mightily at Sawgrass since his last victory here, in ’01. One top 10 and two withdrawals. As many finishes outside the top 20 (four) as inside.

“This golf course has been a little bit tricky over the years,” he said, “and I’m not the only one who has struggled with it.”

So what changed?

The two keys, Woods said, were controlling his trajectory in the swirling winds and working the ball both ways. When he missed the greens – he was T-3 for the week in GIRs, hitting more than 76 percent – he left himself in easier spots from which to get up and down. One of the few times he short-sided himself (No. 15 Sunday), he played a delicate pitch and sank an 8-footer for par. Don’t forget, he’s also No. 1 on Tour in putting.

“He’s always hit it really good, and now he’s starting to get that putter back to the way it was in 2000,” Brandt Snedeker said. “It didn’t seem like he missed a putt for two years, and he’s kind of getting that feeling back again.”

OK, so his putter is behaving once again. But for years, the main criticism Woods has endured is his wildness off the tee. You never could tell when Woods was about to hit a vicious snap-hook, or a wild block slice. That point is rendered moot, however, when he employs a conservative game plan, as he did at Sawgrass.

Only once in the final round here did he unsheath his driver, and that came on the par-5 11th, which features one of the widest fairways on the course. Other than that, it was a steady diet of 3-irons and 15- and 19-degree fairway woods that traveled anywhere between 250 and 315 yards.

Clearly, the strategy worked – it was the first time since 2003 that he carded four under-par rounds at TPC. He finished at 13-under 275.

“We’re all playing from the same spots,” Woods said. “It’s just how you get there.”

Approaching his second full year with instructor Sean Foley, Woods has a better, firmer, tighter grasp on his game, his pop-up, chunk-hook into the pond on 14 notwithstanding. His scaled-back strategy at Sawgrass was reminiscent of his victory at Hoylake in the 2006 British Open. Back then, he hit only one driver all week (in the first round) and bludgeoned the fast, fiery links with impeccable iron play.

Well, that toned-down approach also figures to suit Woods at Merion, host of this year’s U.S. Open. With a blend of long and short holes, the classic layout boasts only two par 5s, and through the first 13 holes, there are nine potential wedge opportunities.

“Merion is looking pretty good for Tiger,” NBC analyst Johnny Miller said on the telecast. “I almost feel like he is playing Merion right now with all of the layups and the conservative shots and positioning. It looks like he’s getting ready for it right now.”

Woods, it should be noted, has never played Merion. He doesn’t know what to expect in four weeks. But there’s no reason to suggest why he can’t turn the 6,996-yard track into target practice, wearing a new sweet spot into his long irons and fairway woods.

“It sounds good in theory,” Woods said, when asked about employing a similar strategy at the upcoming Open, “but I don’t know. You’ve got to play the golf course for what it gives you.”

In Tigerspeak, that means letting his opponents self-destruct, like they did Sunday. It means playing more boring, beautiful golf, like Woods did Sunday.

After all, that’s the kind that he prefers, that he has nearly perfected.

Good thing, because it’s the kind of golf that Merion will demand.

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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)