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One year later: Surgery to success for Tiger

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 6:30 pm

So much can happen in a year.

Exactly 365 days ago, Tiger Woods went under the knife. When it comes to Woods, surgery has become a somewhat regular occurrence over the years; his timeline of injuries and procedures stretches nearly as long as the one detailing his on-course accomplishments.

But this one was surprising, both for the timing and the operation in question.

It was only one day prior, after all, that Woods sat in front of a sparse gallery of fans and media to announce his plans to design a new course at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri. He smiled while sitting carefully in a wooden folding chair, then stood up and gingerly hit a short wedge shot to cap the publicity stunt. He needed to re-load and swing again in order to find the makeshift green.

While it was clear that Woods was not firing on all cylinders, at no point in the proceedings did he mention the surgical appointment looming on his calendar.

“The back is progressing,” Woods said on April 18, 2017. “I have good days and bad days. I’ve had three back operations, and that’s just kind of the nature of the business unfortunately. That’s all I can say.”

He added back operation No. 4 the very next day, this time opting for a lumbar fusion that was more serious and invasive than any of its predecessors. The surgery brought with it a six-month recovery window and the very real notion that, at age 41, Woods may have already played his final hole of competitive golf.



“He is looking forward to life without pain, looking forward to day-to-day without pain,” Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, said the day after the surgery. “He’s looking forward to playing with his kids without pain, playing golf without pain. He knows he’s got a long road, but there’s a huge sense of relief right now.”

Fast-forward one year, and Woods returned to Missouri this week to survey the progress of his Payne’s Valley layout that is scheduled to open in 2019. And near the same spot where he swung through pain with wedge in hand, this time around he ripped a driver at full speed to the delight of the estimated 7,000 fans gathered for a junior clinic he hosted.

Given the relative normalcy of his most recent appearance, what Woods endured last April 19 seems like a lifetime ago.

In recapping the subsequent 12 months, keep in mind that the surgery wasn’t even Woods’ lowest point. That would come six weeks later, when he was arrested and cited for driving under the influence in Florida. There was the mugshot photo, and the arrest reports, and of course the police video where one of the greatest athletes of the last 30 years struggled to tie his shoes.

At that point, professional golf was an afterthought.

But Woods entered private treatment over the summer for his use of prescription drugs, and when he re-emerged as an assistant at the Presidents Cup in October the focus was again on his potential return to life inside the ropes – even as Woods himself acknowledged the possibility that he may never return to competition.

“I don’t know what my future holds for me,” he said. “As I’ve told you guys, I’m hitting 60-yard shots.”

It wasn’t long before those pitch shots gave way to irons and full swings with drivers, one social media video at a time. Woods’ whirlwind renaissance after receiving clearance from his surgeon raised expectations for his return at the Hero World Challenge in December to stratospheric levels.

Now four months into his latest comeback attempt, Woods has exceeded nearly every expectation while re-establishing himself as a regular contender on the PGA Tour. Three straight top-12 finishes in Florida highlighted his spring, and his health is such that questions about the status of his back from the media are now few and far between.

“I think as an athlete, you’re always pushing yourself, right? And the best ones are pushing themselves beyond their limits,” Woods said at the Valspar Championship. “I happened to be one of those guys who pushed my body and my mind to accomplish the things I knew I could. I was able to do it.”

How the next 365 days unfold remains to be seen. Woods is now 42, fighting an undefeated opponent in Father Time, and it wasn’t that long ago that the one-year retrospectives about him had a decidedly different tone.

But heading into the heart of the summer season, Woods’ prospects seem more promising than they have been at any point since his five-win season in 2013. And the winding path from bleak to rosy can be traced back to a fateful decision exactly one year ago to try once more to heal his ailing back where multiple prior attempts had failed.

From limping with a wedge to veering off the road to hinting at a possible return to smashing expectations while staring down players half his age.

So much can happen in a year.

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McIlroy battles back into tie for BMW PGA lead

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 4:09 pm

Rory McIlroy got off to a rocky start on Saturday in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, including hitting a spectator and making a double bogey. But after that incident on the sixth hole, he didn't drop another shot, birdieing the final hole to shoot a 1-under 71 and tie for the lead.

McIlroy had gone into Moving Day with a three-shot lead, but Francesco Molinari had the round of the day, a 6-under 66. "It was nice keep a clean scorecard," said Molinari, who hasn't made a bogey since the 10th hole on Friday.


Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship


McIlroy and Molinari will be paired in Sunday's final round. They are tied at 13 under par, four shots clear of Ross Fisher, Branden Grace, Sam Horsfield and Alexander Noren.

The Wentworth course ends with back-to-back par-5s, and McIlroy birdied both of them. He got a break on the 18th hole as his drive hit a spectator and bounced into light rough.

"It was a struggle out there today," McIlroy said. "I think when you're working on a few things in your swing and the wind is up and you're stuck between trying to play different shots, but also try to play - you know, make good swings at it, I just hit some loose tee balls on the first few holes. But I'm proud of myself. I stayed patient. I actually - I'm feeling a bit better about myself after today than I was even walking off the course yesterday."

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Watch: McIlroy hits spectator on hand

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 2:58 pm

We never cease to wonder at how close fans crowd in to the intended line of some shots, and just how skilled Tour players are in not hitting someone.

But every once in a while, golf ball and spectator intersect, with painful results. It happened to Rory McIlroy during the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, after he had hit a wayward drive on the sixth hole. Attempting to hack out his second shot from under a bush, McIlroy struck a female spectator on her right hand. There was no official word on her condition, but she was clearly - and understandably - in pain.

McIlroy went on to make double bogey but was able to put the incident behind him, as he promptly birdied the next hole.

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.


Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship


McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''