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Confident Woods says wins are not far off

By Will GrayMay 14, 2018, 12:27 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For Tiger Woods, gone are the days when second place means disappointment.

The “win or bust” mentality got plenty of mileage during Woods’ prime, back when he was dusting fields and rewriting the record books one chapter at a time. For every Y.E. Yang or Billy Mayfair there were dozens of times when Woods was barely challenged, so it often made anything short of the winner’s circle feel like a waste of time.

But Tiger version 5.0, the 42-year-old who continues to turn back the clock in the post-fusion world, has plenty of appreciation for a quality near-miss.

After torching the opening half of the Stadium Course for the second straight day, Woods sputtered down the stretch at The Players Championship. There are not many ways to sugar-coat playing Nos. 14 and 17 in 3 over given that he had sand wedge in hand on both holes.

Two poor swings transformed a potential runner-up into a far less palatable T-11 finish, but they did little to dampen Woods’ beaming enthusiasm only minutes after finishing his round.

“I felt very comfortable with every facet of my game today. Everything felt good,” Woods said. “I had control. I was hitting it high, low, right, left, didn’t matter what it was. I felt like I had control of it today.”

Part of that brimming optimism inevitably stems from Woods’ tenuous position at the halfway mark. His first two rounds looked much more like the uphill battle he endured last week at Quail Hollow, and for a few brief moments it seemed like he might actually miss the cut. Given that scenario, his promising play this weekend can be viewed as a bonus.

But Woods has always taken view of the bigger picture, and that tendency hasn’t changed in the most recent iteration of his comeback. And so he looks upon his quest to return to an elite level, to contend regularly and end a five-year victory drought, as an assembly of various pieces.


Full-field scores from The Players Championship

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos


The putts didn’t drop at Innisbrook. The driver failed him at a critical juncture at Bay Hill. His iron play kept him from contending at the Masters. And so on.

Slowly but surely, he continues to thin the list of variables that can derail his game at any given moment.

“I mean, he’ll win sometime soon enough,” said Jordan Spieth, who played the final round alongside Woods. “His game, if I compare it to other guys that are winning golf tournaments that I’m playing with day-to-day, it’s right up there.”

“He’s clearly playing some good golf,” added Jason Day. “If he got off to a half-decent start, I mean who knows what would have happened on the weekend. He may have been walking off with a third Players Championship.”

And so it is that Woods is able to stomach a back-nine backpedal – a seemingly impossible notion a few years ago – and instead focus on the positives as he continues his steady climb.

“It’s weird. Not to really mis-hit a shot today and only shoot 3 under par is just weird, because I played much better than that,” Woods said. “I hit the ball better today than I did yesterday, and I obviously didn’t end up with the score I needed to.”

Granted a reprieve from a possible missed cut, Woods took full advantage this weekend amid steamy but favorable conditions on a course that has given him plenty of difficulty in the past. He never got within reach of Webb Simpson, sure, and the fickle breezes circling the infamous island green blew against him.

But watch the ease with which he brushed off those shortcomings, note the beaming smile that emanates when he describes the state of his game after shooting 10 under for the weekend, and know that this was every bit a step in the right direction.

Just like Woods needed Innisbrook and Bay Hill to feel the heat of contention, this weekend gave him a glimpse of the ceiling. He was able to wrap his arms around a fickle game and see, even for a short time, what can be accomplished when the pieces come together.

It could be weeks, or even months, before they align in place again. He knows this more than most players traipsing around the grounds at TPC Sawgrass.

But in a few short months, Woods has managed to trim considerably the number of obstacles in his way. No longer hurt, or battling an uncooperative short game, or a fickle driver, or a balky putter, he has glimpsed the potential of every aspect of his game.

It stands to reason that the next time they all decide to converge, he might not be facing a 14-shot deficit.

“There’s no way I would have predicted I would be at this point at the beginning of the year, the way I was just coming back and just trying to get a feel for it and then hopefully have a schedule. Didn’t know,” Woods said. “But now I feel like I’ve got my playing feels back, and I’m playing tournament golf and I’ve got it. I’m not that far off from winning golf tournaments.”

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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.

Scoring:

TV Times (all times ET):

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