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Another underwhelming final round (72) for Tiger

By Will GrayJune 3, 2018, 8:30 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Entering the final round of the Memorial Tournament, Tiger Woods knew the path to a comeback victory would be arduous. He knew he’d need a fast start, plus a little help from the leaders behind him, to once again stand over meaningful putts on the tournament’s final holes.

Equipped with all of that knowledge and the most control over his swing he’s had in years, Woods executed his game plan to perfection. For exactly one hole.

A clinical dissection of the opener at Muirfield Village Golf Club was as good as it got for Woods. First the mid-range birdie putts started sliding left and right, then the short miss that has plagued him all week caught up again at the turn. By the time he three-putted the 16th hole, the only thing he was withering away was world ranking points.

The game continues to show progress, and the roars are still vintage. But when it comes to final-round charges, Woods keeps coming up empty.

Granted, this was of a different magnitude from his close calls in both Tampa and Orlando. Woods started the day five shots off the lead, and never got closer than four with a handful of names above his on the leaderboard. There was no single shot that cost him, a binary result where his fate changed with a single swipe.

This was instead a slow bleed from close range, one 5-foot miss at a time.

Woods tallied seven such errors this week, mixed among five three-putts. He ultimately missed out on a playoff by six shots. After leading the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green and proximity to the hole, he finished 72nd out of 73 in putting.

While every player can recount with vivid detail the ones they let get away, especially on greens as slick and undulating as the surfaces at Jack’s place, Woods has known all week that he had only one club to blame.

“If I just putt normally, I probably would be right there with those guys and up there in the last couple of groups,” Woods said. “If I just keep building on this, with how I’m hitting it right now, I’m in good shape for two weeks from now.”

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That would be in reference to the U.S. Open, where he’ll make his 26th attempt at major No. 15. And while his mood was decidedly more optimistic than the sullen tones that followed a frustrating third round, Woods still has one sizeable hurdle to clear before returning his weekend stride to its former glory.

Woods has now played eight final rounds in official events as part of this latest comeback installment, and he has yet to shoot better than a 69 in any of them. While that’s typically when conditions are the toughest and setups the most penal, it’s telling that in a season where he has exceeded nearly every other expectation he still has struggled to put a charge into a Sunday crowd, regardless of his position on the leaderboard.

Entering the week, Woods was sixth on Tour this season in third round scoring and 59th in terms of the final round. Those spreads won’t get any closer after he accurately estimated that a 63 was in reach during Saturday’s 68 before turning in a final-round 72 that at times felt more like a 75.

“I’ve had little building blocks along the way, and I keep getting a little bit better, a little bit more refined, and you see the results,” Woods said. “If I just make a few more putts like I did earlier in the year, when I was putting really well, you put those two together and then I’ll have something.”

The ability to align the various pieces mentally serves only to frustrate when they, in turn, don’t come together in practice. Woods couldn’t buy a putt when it looked like he might make the Valspar Championship his watershed victory, and it was the driver that cost him at Bay Hill. Errant irons were the culprit at the Masters, while a pair of poor wedges doomed his comeback bid at TPC Sawgrass.

This time around, the finger of blame was pointed squarely at his Scotty Cameron, a trusted ally for so many years but undoubtedly the villain that stood between him and truly contending over the weekend.

It seems straightforward, with Woods speaking of a “minor tweak” that can be made with some off-week reps. But what if later this month the driver he twice hit out of bounds in Ohio finds only the punishing rough off the tee at Shinnecock Hills? What if, by the time the putter cooperates, the short-range makes are for bogeys instead of birdies?

Golf is, at its core, a vexing game. It’s a realization for every player who has ever picked up a club, but it’s also one that Woods admirably avoided for years. But as this latest comeback shows, he is still mortal. His game is subject to the same capricious whims that plague the rest of the field.

And so he waits, and we wait, for the moment when it all comes together. It feels close on the horizon – much closer than ever expected a few short months ago. But after another underwhelming final round, he’s clearly not there yet.

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Paisley (61) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Chris Paisley birdied four of the last five holes for a 10-under 61 and the first-round lead Thursday in the season-ending Tour Championship.

The South African Open winner in January for his first European Tour title, Paisley played the back nine first at Atlantic Beach Country Club, holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the par-5 18th. On the front nine, he birdied the par-3 fifth and finished with three straight birdies.

''I think just all around was really good,'' Paisley said. ''I hit it well off the tee, which gave me a lot of kind of short irons into the greens and opportunities. I hit a lot of really good iron shots close, and then a few other bonus kind of things happened where I holed the bunker shot on 18 and holed a long putt on No. 8.''

The 32-year-old Englishman missed the cuts in the first three Tour Finals events after getting into the series as a non-member PGA Tour with enough money to have placed in the top 200 in the FedEx Cup. The final card went for $40,625 last year, with Paisley needs to finish in a two-way tie for fourth or better to mathematically have a chance to secure one of the 25 PGA Tour at stake.

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''The nice thing was I won early in the year in Europe,'' said Paisley, a former University of Tennessee player. ''I've got the first two Final series events locked up, I think I'm in those. I'm not guaranteed to be in Dubai yet. But I just thought we have a house over here, my wife's American, my goal is to try to get on the PGA Tour, so it was a perfect opportunity to try and do it.''

Cameron Tringale and Canadian Ben Silverman were two strokes back at 63. Tringale is tied for 83rd in the PGA Tour card race with $2,660, and Silverman is tied for 85th at $2,600.

''I hit a lot of good shots and made some good putts,'' Silverman said. ''Actually, it could have been lower, but I'm not complaining. Missed a couple putts inside 6x feet, but I'm not complaining at all, it was a great round.''

Lucas Glover was at 64 with Ben Crane, Nicholas Lindheim, Matt Every, Trevor Cone, Denny McCarthy, Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez. Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez earned PGA Tour cards as top-25 finishers on the Tour regular-season money list, and McCarthy has made $75,793 in the first three Finals events to also wrap up a card. In the race for the 25 cards, Lindholm is 19th with $35,836, Every 30th with $25,733, Glover 40th with $17,212, and Cone 59th with $8,162

The series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and Paisley and other non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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McIlroy likely to join PGA Tour PAC next year

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:28 pm

ATLANTA – The upside of the PGA Tour’s sweeping changes to next year’s playoff finale, along with a host of other significant changes to the schedule, seems to be more engagement in circuit policy by top players.

Jordan Spieth served on the player advisory council this season and will begin his three-year term as one of four player directors on the policy board next year, and Justin Thomas also was on this year’s PAC.

Those meetings might become even more high profile next year.

Projected FedExCup standings

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“I'm not on the PAC. I'm probably going to join the PAC next year. Nice to sort of know what's going on and give your input and whatever,” Rory McIlroy said following his round on Thursday at the Tour Championship.

McIlroy said he spoke with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about the transition to a strokes-based format for the Tour Championship starting next year. Given his take on Thursday to the media it must have been an interesting conversation.

“I like it for the FedExCup. I don't necessarily think it should be an official Tour win. I don't know how the World Ranking points are going to work,” said McIlroy, who is tied for fifth after a first-round 67 at East Lake. “There's a lot of stuff that still needs to be figured out. But in terms of deciding the FedExCup, I think it's good.”

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Thomas (67) happy to feel no pain in wrist

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:03 pm

ATLANTA – When Justin Thomas arrived at East Lake he didn’t have very high expectations.

After injuring his right wrist during the final round of the BMW Championship he spent last week in south Florida getting therapy after being diagnosed with a case of tendinitis and little else.

He said he didn’t hit a full shot last week and didn’t expect much out of his game at the finale, but was pleasantly surprised with his play following an opening 67 that left him tied for fifth place and two strokes off the lead. But most of all he was pleased that he didn’t feel any pain in his wrist.

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“I thought that I may not be playing very well because of my preparation being able to hit as few balls as I have, but no, in terms of pain, it's not an issue,” he said.

Thomas explained that he tested the wrist earlier this week to be sure he was pain-free and conceded he considered not playing the Tour Championship in order to be as healthy as possible for next week’s Ryder Cup.

“If it would have hurt at all, I wouldn't have played,” said Thomas, who will be a rookie on this year’s U.S. team. “No. 1 most important part is my future and my career. I don't want to do anything that's going to put me out for a while. But to me, second most important is Ryder Cup. I would rather not play this week and play the Ryder Cup and be fresh and make sure I'm going to get as many points for the team as possible.”

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Fowler 'pain free' and tied for Tour Championship lead

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:01 pm

ATLANTA – The most important member of Team USA at next week’s Ryder Cup may be the team trainer.

Justin Thomas began the season finale nursing a case of tendonitis in his right wrist and Rickie Fowler skipped the first two playoff events after being slowed by a right oblique injury.

Neither player seemed impacted by the injuries on Thursday at the Tour Championship, with Thomas tied for fifth at 3 under and Fowler tied for the lead with Tiger Woods at 5 under par.

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“I needed the 2 1/2 weeks or so of just sitting around really not doing a whole lot,” said Fowler, who tied for eighth last week at the BMW Championship. “It was definitely the right call. If I would have played through the first or second playoff events, there was really no benefit, especially looking at the ultimate goal being ready for the Ryder Cup and to have a chance to be here at East Lake.”

Being rested and pain-free is a vast improvement over how he felt at the PGA Championship last month, when he underwent therapy before and after each round and had to wear tape just to play.

“It's nice to be back swinging pain-free because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with how it felt during PGA week for a continued amount of time,” said Fowler, who finished his day with a bogey-free closing nine to secure a spot in Friday’s final group with Woods.