Tiger's Bridgestone win won't silence critics

By Will GrayAugust 5, 2013, 6:40 pm

AKRON, Ohio – There might be a better way to head into the week of a major championship, but you’d be hard-pressed to find it.

Fresh off his seven-shot victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Tiger Woods will now make the short commute to Rochester, N.Y., for the PGA Championship, equipped with as much momentum as you could possibly extract from four rounds against the best players in the world.

A winner five times this year, Woods will tee off at the season’s final major as the top-ranked player in the world, leading the PGA Tour this year in wins, earnings, FedEx Cup points, scoring average and the all-around ranking.

“But …”

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It’s an inevitable refrain when discussing any of Woods’ achievements since the summer of 2008. For as many as will now laud the 79-time Tour winner for his recent play, an opposing faction – equally fervent, equally resilient – will demand to see it done on a major stage.

Welcome to the life of Tiger Woods, where lapping an elite field in a WGC event and taking home the $1.5 million winner’s check in the process does nothing to sate your doubters.

Whether right or wrong, golf’s major championships are placed in a stratosphere unto themselves, as are the performances of players in those events. Woods himself has supported this notion on multiple occasions, once again highlighting their importance in his Sunday post-round news conference.

“Those are the events that we try and peak for and try and win,” he explained after walking off the 18th green at Firestone victoriously for the eighth time in his career. “There’s four of them a year.”

With all facets of his game seemingly aligned and with trophy once again in hand, all signs appear to point to Woods claiming a 15th major title six days from now.

“But …”

The dissenters quickly point out we’ve been down this road before. Woods has won his final start before a major 19 times in his career, and has gone on to win the subsequent major “only” four times (as though a cross-section of data that yields the career major haul of Ernie Els could ever be viewed as a pittance).

More recently, though, the scenario has created fewer results. Woods began three of the past seven majors having won in his prior start, but all he has to show for it is a Dropgate-shrouded tie for fourth this year at the Masters. In 2009, he won prior to each of the season’s four majors and came up empty-handed all four times.

This past week in Akron, though, felt different. It felt dominant. Woods awoke the ghosts of Pebble Beach circa 2000 with his Friday 61, five shots clear of the day’s next-lowest total, then successfully kept the field at arm’s length across the final 36 holes.

His performance this weekend also drew parallels to 2007, a year in which he cleared the field at the South Course by eight shots. He followed that effort up a week later by cruising to a two-shot victory at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills.

“Performance-wise, yeah. Scoring-wise, yeah,” Woods noted when asked if he saw any similarities between his win six years ago and his most recent triumph.

In fact, while the 37-year-old has won before a major several times, this will mark only the fourth instance where he has won exactly one week prior, with the three other occurrences each yielding strong results. In addition to the aforementioned double in 2007, Woods also notched runner-up finishes at the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships immediately after wins at the Buick Open and WGC-Bridgestone, respectively.

With the top-ranked player in the world clearly rounding into form, this week’s PGA Championship is not lacking for storylines. While Woods’ quest for major No. 15 remains chief among them, three of the next four players in the world rankings behind him have major titles to their credit this season, including British Open champion and world No. 2 Phil Mickelson.

For Woods, though, the repercussions of the next few days cannot be overstated. While he appeared unbeatable for much of the weekend at Firestone, an errant shot or an afternoon spent struggling on the greens could easily result in a missed opportunity in Rochester. That, in turn, would lead to eight months of rampant speculation, with no end in sight until players drive down Magnolia Lane next spring.

The finality of the season’s fourth major can, in that regard, be brutal.

“Do I want it any more? No, it’s the same,” he said Sunday when asked if this week’s upcoming event carries with it an added sense of urgency. “Each and every major, I always want them.”

Over the next three days, Woods will endure a cycle of pre-tournament interrogations that would have remained entirely unchanged regardless of Sunday’s outcome. The fundamental questions lobbed at him will undergo a revision only after he claims a 15th major title, and while you can’t win a tournament on Thursday, you certainly can’t do much to secure the title the Sunday prior.

Recent weekend struggles will be mentioned, as will the speeds of Oak Hill’s greens – surfaces that Woods himself deemed “spotty” on Wednesday – and the 14-time major winner will be forced to face the chasm of time that has passed since his last title, one that now stretches more than five years and grows by the day.

“But …”

While his overall body of work continues to impress, the few remaining doubts still linger. This week’s PGA Championship offers Woods another opportunity to emphatically silence his dissenters while taking a significant step toward the record he most covets.

Though the end result is yet to be determined, one fact is clear: the dress rehearsal couldn’t have gone any better.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.