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Woods begins latest comeback with no guarantees

By Will GrayOctober 30, 2017, 11:15 pm

Here we go again.

With a quick blog post and a tweet launched into the social media ether, Tiger Woods again lit a flame to the biggest tinderbox in golf.

Will his oft-injured back hold up in the latest iteration of his return to competition, now set for the Hero World Challenge a month from now? Can he improve upon last year’s result, where he led the field in birdies but only beat two players across 72 holes? Is there still time to get a bet down in Vegas that he’ll slip on a fifth green jacket in April?

After months of sparse updates and rudderless speculation, it’s all again on the table. Woods will step back inside the ropes a few weeks before his 42nd birthday, with a rebuilt body and a revamped mindset.

“I’m excited to return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge,” he said Monday in a release. “Albany is the perfect setting and it will be great to join this outstanding field.”

But the question remains: will this time be any different than the last?

Keep in mind, this entire string of events, the sheer idea of Woods hitting a competitive shot before 2018, seemed rather preposterous only a month ago. It was at the Presidents Cup that Woods entertained the notion that he might never play competitive golf again, much to the surprise of the media gathered in the shadow of Lady Liberty.

“I don’t know what my future holds for me,” Woods said on Sept. 27. “As I’ve told you guys, I’m hitting 60-yard shots.”

My, how things can escalate. In the span of a few short weeks, Woods went from hitting pitches to full shots on the range to drivers on the course and his patented stinger.

A brimming arsenal was showcased – and quickly, at that – leading many to suddenly realize that the Hero, which had purposefully held back two open spots when announcing the majority of its 18-player field, was still in play.

Granted, this rapid renaissance flies in the face of Woods’ other recent comments about easing back into things. That was also the goal a year ago, when he ended a 15-month hiatus in his Bahamian alcove after patiently biding his time, only to see a well-crafted comeback attempt crumble after only seven rounds.

“I don’t know what 100 percent means after eight surgeries, but I’ll try and get as close as I can to that number,” Woods said last month. “But as I said, we just take it one step at a time. It’s a process, and I’m in no hurry.”

Perhaps the calendar sped things along, given that his next plausible playing opportunity wouldn't be until late January. Or maybe Woods was simply overcome with giddiness after cranking out a handful of swings without flinching in pain for the first time in months, if not years.

Don’t discount the allure of making his much-anticipated return in the highly-controlled environment of Albany. With an 18-man field, unofficial stakes, sparse crowds, limited media and a forgiving course with which he’s familiar, there are plenty of reasons to circle this particular week, even if he seems to be progressing ahead of any discernible schedule.

To his credit, Woods appears to have used his time away from the game to turn over a new, self-deprecating leaf. He grinned his way around Liberty National as an assistant captain and displayed a level of self-awareness with his “return of the stinger” tweet last week that would have seemed out of place a decade ago.

Even Monday’s announcement included a reference to the “committee of 1” which granted Woods, the tournament host, an exemption specifically reserved for the tournament host.

The thought of a largely healthy Woods returning to action is tantalizing enough, but for that same player to be willing to have a little fun while trying to keep up with players half his age? The internet has combusted over less.

Granted, there are still far more questions than answers as to the state of Woods’ game. His lumbar fusion surgery in April, the fourth procedure in recent years aimed at healing his ailing lower back, was by all accounts his most invasive surgery to date. Its impact on his flexibility and swing arc over the course of 18 holes, let alone 72, remain to be seen.

And by Woods’ own account, he wasn’t doing anything “golf-related” until a few weeks ago, and only earlier this month did he receive clearance from his surgeon to resume full golf activities. The situation is a far cry from last year, when he slowly but surely ramped his game back into playing shape only to find that it was decidedly rough around the edges.

But if nothing else, Woods’ comments last month served the purpose of flattening any lingering expectations. Each accurate drive, flushed iron and holed birdie putt from here on out will feel like a bonus given the state of Woods’ game, or lack thereof, for much of the year.

At this point, Woods’ much-heralded return doesn’t extend beyond a few low-key rounds along the Bahamian coast. After the misfire that followed last year’s appearance, there are no certainties about how his body will respond at Albany, or in the weeks that follow.

Four years removed from his last healthy season, nine months since limping away from Dubai and again tasked with rehabbing a surgically-repaired body, Woods won’t begin this latest comeback equipped with any guarantees.

But his latest announcement shows that he’s still willing to give it another shot.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."