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Focus shifts to Augusta as Woods continues to impress

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 12:30 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – On the final question of his final meeting with the media at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tiger Woods offered his shortest and most direct response of the week.

Back when he launched this latest version of his comeback, before the Hero World Challenge in December when his world was filled with more doubt than possibility, could he have envisioned heading down Magnolia Lane carrying as much momentum as he’ll have on his fused back in a couple weeks?

“No,” he said.

That was it, outside of maybe the slightest hint of a grin. But there was also nothing more that needed to be said.

Woods’ bid for a record ninth title at Bay Hill ended when his tee shot on No. 16 bounded over a fence and out of bounds Sunday. His title bid last week at the Valspar Championship lasted two holes longer but eventually arrived at the same conclusion: close, but not quite enough.

But given where Woods stood a few months ago – even a few weeks ago – his Masters preparation has been nothing short of a success.

“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year, that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments, I would have taken it in a heartbeat,” Woods said.

In three straight starts in the Sunshine State, Woods compiled three top-12 finishes. He nearly broke the Trackman equipment with his driver swing speed, flaunted a transformative short game and stirred memories of years gone by with each shockwave he sent through the galleries.

And yes, that continued in a big way Sunday at Bay Hill as there was about a 45-minute stretch where it seemed like maybe, possibly, Woods might somehow find a way to chase down Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson.

“It was a clinic I thought today, except for two tee balls,” said caddie Joe LaCava. “No. 9 he got away with it, but you know what I mean. It was a clinic ball-striking except for the tee balls at 9 and 16. Other than that, it was great.”

This week Woods officially became the Masters betting favorite in Las Vegas, a statement that would have seemed ludicrous to type in the wake of his missed cut at the Genesis Open just four short weeks ago. At that point his ability to simply tee it up the following week at PGA National was seen as a great coup, and a sign that he might still be able to make a go of it in his latest comeback attempt after so many previous attempts were aborted or derailed by further injury.


Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Now here we sit, with his last competitive shot before the Masters in the rear-view mirror, and suddenly the man seems to have all the shots necessary to make a legitimate run at a fifth green jacket.

“I’m looking forward to it. I miss playing there,” Woods said. “I’ve been there for the dinner, and as great as that is, it’s frustrating knowing that I’m, I would have to say, young enough to play the event where some of the other champions are not. And I just have not been able to physically do it, which is difficult.”

It’s a testament to Woods’ rapid ascent that the number of questions he faces about his health and stamina dwindle with each passing round. Seemingly overnight, the focus has shifted back to mental preparedness, shot selection and equipment tweaks he might make in order to nab his first win in nearly five years.

In the span of a few weeks, performances that once seemed on the brink of extinction have become the new normal.

“I don’t want to get too high or too low. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. But you’re seeing improvement each week,” LaCava said. “I know you hear that from him, too. But it just seems like he’s getting better and better with his swing and trusting it more, which I think is huge.”

The latest effort came Sunday on a course he knows like few others. Woods realized entering the day that the odds were stacked against him, and as it turns out even his most valiant effort wouldn’t have been enough to keep pace with McIlroy. But when he buried a birdie putt on No. 13 to get within a shot of the lead, his third in the last four holes, a familiar glint returned to his eye as he trudged to the 14th tee.

Realizing the moment, the ever-expanding crowd responded with a “Tiger! Tiger!” chant that enveloped the tee box and caused McIlroy to step back off his birdie putt across the lake on the 11th green. And while his title bid ended in abrupt fashion a couple holes later, it was still a snapshot from a scene that so recently seemed improbable.

For a second straight Sunday, Woods donned his traditional red and black and exceeded expectations. Even, as it turns out, the ones he set for himself.

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Johnson, Moore co-lead Valero Texas Open through 36

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 11:32 pm

SAN ANTONIO - Zach Johnson was going nowhere in the Valero Texas Open when it all changed with one putt.

He made an 8-foot par putt on the 13th hole of the opening round to stay at 2 under. He followed with a big drive, a hybrid into 12 feet and an eagle. Johnson was on his way, and he kept right on going Friday to a 7-under 65 and a share of the early 36-hole lead with Ryan Moore.

''You just never know. That's the beauty of this game,'' Johnson said. ''I felt like I was hitting some solid shots and wasn't getting rewarded, and you've just got to stay in it. You've got to persevere, grind it out, fight for pars. You just never know.''

Moore had three birdies over his last five holes for a 67 and joined Johnson at 9-under 135.

Ben Crane (66), Martin Laird (65) and David Hearn (68) were three shots out of the lead among those who played Friday morning. Billy Horschel and Keegan Bradley shot 71 and were four shots behind at 5-under 139.

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio, might have a long stay in his first time at the Texas Open since 2010. Garcia shot an even-par 72, and at one point became so frustrated he threw his driver into the shrubs.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Garcia finished at 2-over 146 and was outside the cut. He was in jeopardy of missing his second straight cut, depending on afternoon scoring.

Johnson, a two-time winner of the Texas Open, appeared to be headed to a short week until the key par save on the 13th hole, followed by his eagle, par and three straight birdies. He began the second round Friday with five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, a sixth birdie on the par-4 first hole, and then an eagle on the short par-4 fifth when he holed out from a greenside bunker.

The only sour taste to his second round was a three-putt bogey from about 30 feet on his final hole. Even so, the view was much better than it was Thursday afternoon.

Moore thought he had wasted a good birdie opportunity on the par-5 14th hole when he left his 50-foot eagle putt about 6 feet short. But he made that, and then holed a similar putt from 8 feet for birdie on the next hole and capped his good finish with a 15-foot putt on the 17th.

''That was a huge momentum putt there,'' Moore said of the 14th. ''It was a tough putt from down there with a lot of wind. That green is pretty exposed and ... yeah, really short and committed to that second putt really well and knocked it right in the middle.''

The birdies on the 14th and 15th were important to Moore because he missed a pair of 10-foot birdie tries to start the back nine.

''So it was nice to get those and get going in the right direction on the back,'' he said.

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Daly-Allen team grabs Legends of Golf lead on Day 2

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 11:14 pm

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - John Daly and Michael Allen took the second-round lead Friday in the cool and breezy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Daly and Allen shot an 8-under 46 on the Top of the Rock par-3 course with wind gusting to 15 mph and the temperature only in the high-50s at Big Cedar Lodge. They had three birdies on the front nine in alternate-shot play and added five more on the back in better-ball play to get to 13 under.

''Michael and I go back to the South African days in the late 80s and playing that tour,'' Daly said. ''We've been buddies since. He's just fun to play with. We feed off each other pretty good. And if he's not comfortable guinea-pigging on one hole, I'll go first.''

On Thursday, they opened with a 66 on the regulation Buffalo Ridge course. They will rotate to the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course on Saturday, and return to Top of the Rock for the final round Sunday.

''I went to high school in Jeff City, so it's cool to have the fans behind us,'' Daly said.

Allen won the PGA Tour Champions team event with David Frost in 2012 and Woody Austin in 2016.

''I'm just here to free up John,'' Allen said. ''It was fun. Luckily, I started making good putts today. We just want to keep the good times rolling.''


Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf


Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco were a stroke back along with Bernhard Langer-Tom Lehman and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett. Singh and Franco had a 7-under 32 in best-ball play at Mountain Top, and Lehman-Langer and Broadhurst-Tripplet each shot 6-under 48 at Top of the Rock.

''Part of the issue here is all the tees are elevated, so you're up high hitting to a green that's down below and the wind is blowing, and there is more time for that wind to affect it,'' Lehman said. ''If you guess wrong on the wind, you can hit a really good shot and kind of look stupid.''

Former UCLA teammates Scott McCarron and Brandt Jobe were two strokes back at 11 under with Steve Flesch and David Toms and the Spanish side of Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez. McCarron-Jobe had a 47, and Jimenez-Olazabal a 48 at Top of the Rock, and Tom Flesch shot 34 at Mountain Top.

First-round leaders Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik had a 52 at Top of the Rock to fall three shots back at 10 under. Madison, Wisconsin, friends Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly also were 10 under after a 32 at Mountain Top. Jay Haas aced the 131-yard seventh hole at Mountain Top with a gap wedge. Haas and fellow 64-year-old Peter Jacobsen were 8 under after a 32.

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Football coach hates golf: Don't need practice swearing

By Jason CrookApril 20, 2018, 10:15 pm

Some football coaches are a little more talkative than others. On one side of the spectrum, there's Bill Belichick. On the other sits Washington State football coach Mike Leach.

Leach always delivers the goods, and when asked recently if he liked golf, he didn't hold back:

As wrong as the 57-year-old is on the topic (golf is awesome), the man makes some hilarious points:

• “It’s boring. I don’t care where that ball goes.”

• "Golfers are always practicing their swing. But you know what I never did? I never practice fishing in my living room.”

• "They'll line up over the ball and they'll say they're going to do something that you can't do with a sniper rifle and a scope, but they're going to do it with a stick and a ball."

• “Golf’s pretty much for people that don’t swear effectively enough or need practice. And so there are people that need golf, and I don’t think I do.”

So in conclusion, it's confirmed: Mike Leach - not a golf guy.

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Quiros takes 1-shot lead in Morocco

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 8:22 pm

RABAT, Morocco - Alvaro Quiros shot a solid 2-under 70 in windy conditions to push into a one-shot lead after two rounds of the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco on Friday.

Quiros fought the elements, carding seven birdies and five bogeys to move to 7 under overall and take the outright lead at the halfway point of the European Tour event.

The Spaniard was one clear of Andrew Dodt, who moved into contention with a 4-under 68 at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam course. Dodt dropped two shots in his first six holes but the Australian recovered from that shaky start to collect four birdies and an eagle.


Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II


Erik van Rooyen of South Africa was another shot back in third on 5 under after his 71.

Bradley Dredge of Wales, who shared the first-round lead with Quiros, slipped off the pace with a 1-over 73. He's tied for fourth with Austin Connelly of Canada (71), 4 under par and three shots behind Quiros.