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.

The Players: Articles, videos, photos | GC coverage | Social Lounge

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.

Getty Images

Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

Getty Images

Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

Getty Images

DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

Getty Images

Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.