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Woods still the center of attention

By Will GraySeptember 27, 2017, 7:53 pm

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The gaggle of assistant captains filed into the interview room, first the International contingent and then the Americans. They checked the nameplates in front of each seat to ensure they were lined up correctly, and the microphones were turned on.

It took about 10 seconds for the table spanning the entire room to slant decidedly in the direction of a certain 14-time major champ.

Tiger Woods was the man of the hour during a Q&A session that was designed to be spread across the eight Presidents Cup assistants in the room. Instead, Woods fielded all but five questions from the assembled media – and one of those outliers was directed to Jim Furyk and Fred Couples to gauge the impact of Woods’ participation this week at Liberty National Golf Club.

While the length of his shadow should decrease once a meaningful shot is struck, the impact of Woods’ presence is unmistakable.

“Tiger has spent over the last few years, between the Ryder Cup and here, more time on all the guys on the team as far as his homework and research and what he’s doing, and looking into everything,” said Rickie Fowler. “He spent more time on that than he did homework at Stanford, there’s no question about that.”

It’s the second straight year Woods has hopped off his couch to ride in a cart, and he has spoken often about how his time inside the team room last year at Hazeltine helped fuel his (abbreviated) return to competition. Of course, this year has brought with it some unique adversity for Woods.

Nearly eight months removed from his last competitive golf shot, Woods’ comments Wednesday were his first since undergoing lumbar fusion surgery in April. It was also the first time he stood behind a microphone since his arrest in May for driving under the influence in Florida, which led to a stint in a “private intensive program” to address his use of prescription drugs.

A year that opened with great optimism quickly fell apart both on and off the course, leaving Woods to once again pick up the pieces.

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“I don’t even want to step inside that mind, or how hard it’s been his whole life,” said Charley Hoffman. “I wouldn’t have wanted to be him at the top, and I wouldn’t want to be him now. He’s had struggles all the way up, and I expect him to learn from everything and come out on top, bigger, better and stronger.”

This week offers Woods a coveted glimpse of normalcy. While he’s traded his clubs for an earpiece, he’s still able to walk the course, grind on potential pairings and hone his nickname game. It’s back to “Stricks” and “Pricey” and ping pong matches in the team room, even if only for a few days.

“I enjoy being out there with the guys. I always have,” Woods said. “Most of these guys have come over to the house or practiced at my place, and we’ve had a great time.”

Woods ended his comments with a sobering admission that his playing days may, in fact, be behind him. He remains limited to 60-yard shots and work around the greens, with many physical hurdles still left to cross before he can even assess his competitive options.

In the interim, his presence this week helps to peel back the onion on a figure who many on the American team view more as myth than mortal. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger all spent their formative years with Woods at the height of his power, winning majors seemingly at will. But their chances to compete against him have been scant, meaning opportunities like the one presented this week to bend his ear and receive insight are akin to a rare commodity.

“He was our dominant player, the face of the PGA Tour, and they grew up idolizing him,” said assistant captain Jim Furyk. “Having him here in the team room, and here with those guys, is invaluable.”

After fielding a flurry of questions, Woods sat next to captain Steve Stricker as the opening-day matches were set. He scribbled notes on the paper in front of him, talked in hushed tones with the other assistants and leaned over Stricker’s shoulder like a kid trying to get a peek at the answer key.

Woods won’t hit a shot this week, but he has managed to translate his laser-like focus from the fairways to the team room. In the process, he has seemingly drawn more attention than he did when he occupied the top spot on any 12-man roster.

But judging by the smile that often crept across his face, Woods has embraced his newfound role as advisor  - especially in the wake of a difficult summer and with his playing future still very much in doubt.

“There were times when … I didn’t know if I was going to be able to be here, because I couldn’t ride in a cart. The bouncing just hurt too much,” Woods said. “There were some intrepid times, not just for this golf tournament but for life going forward.” 

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USGA receives more than 9,000 U.S. Open entries

By Will GrayApril 26, 2018, 4:31 pm

The field of contestants for golf's most democratic major has been set.

The USGA announced that it received 9,049 entries for this year's U.S. Open, with the deadline for entry expiring at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. That total includes 515 applications on the final day, 115 in the final hour and a buzzer-beater from Drew Caudill, a 32-year-old pro from Mount Vernon, Ohio, who beat the entry deadline by only 23 seconds.

This marks the seventh straight year that the USGA has received more than 9,000 entries, but the total marks the second straight year of a decline in applications. At least 9,860 players entered each year from 2013-16, topping out in 2014 when 10,127 applications were received. But last year there were 9,485 entries for Erin Hills, and this year's return to Shinnecock yielded only one more application than the USGA got in 2005.

For the vast majority of entrants, the next step is a spot in 18-hole local qualifying which begins April 30 and runs through May 17. The fortunate few advance from there to 36-hole sectional qualifiers, played May 21 in Japan and June 4 across 11 other sites in the U.S. and England.

A total of 54 players are already exempt into the 156-man field, including 12 former winners. The only remaining ways to earn an exemption from qualifying are to win either The Players or BMW PGA Championship next month, or be ranked inside the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings on either May 21 or June 11.

The U.S. Open will be played June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., which is hosting the event for the first time since 2004.

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Report: Houston Open may move to Memorial Park in '19

By Will GrayApril 26, 2018, 3:48 pm

Still without a permanent spot on the PGA Tour schedule, the Houston Open appears to be on the move.

According to a report from the Houston Business Journal, there is a proposal in place to shift the tournament downtown in 2019, returning to Memorial Park Golf Course which previously hosted the event from 1951-1963.

While formal relocation plans have not been announced, the tournament officially reached the end of an era this week when the Golf Club of Houston, which has hosted the event since 2003, informed the Houston Golf Association that it would no longer serve as tournament host moving forward.

"We received notice this week from the Golf Club of Houston regarding the club's decision to no longer host a PGA Tour event," read an HGA statement obtained by "Currently, the HGA's focus is on securing a long-term title sponsor. The Golf Club of Houston has been a great venue for the Houston Open dating back to 2003 and we look forward to maintaining a great relationship with the club."

Such a move would be a win for Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, who has expressed an interest in returning the tournament within city limits. The Golf Club of Houston is located in Humble, a suburb 20 miles northeast of downtown.

"This move would place the tournament on center stage in downtown Houston, creating a central location for the city to rally around," read marketing materials cited in the Business Journal report. "Houston Proud Partners of the Houston Open would have the opportunity to collaborate with the Houston Golf Association on this historic move and make a lasting statement that would be seen for generations."

The Houston Open's lineage dates back to 1946, but its future remains in question. Shell Oil ended its 26-year sponsorship of the event in 2017, and this year it was played without a title sponsor and financed in part by the HGA.

The tournament has also carved out a niche with its pre-Masters slot on the schedule, where it has been played every year but once since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007. But next year that coveted position will go to the Valero Texas Open, leaving Houston's place on a revamped 2019 schedule in question.

The Houston Open remains one of only two tournaments on the current Tour calendar without a title sponsor. Earlier this week Charles Schwab signed a four-year deal to sponsor the Fort Worth Invitational beginning in 2019, and a report this week indicates the other unsponsored event, The National, may be on the verge of moving from the Washington, D.C. area to Detroit.

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With baby on the way, Piller WDs from Zurich

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 2:45 pm

AVONDALE, La. – With wife Gerina set to give birth to their first child, Martin Piller figured he’d need to check his phone every few holes at the Zurich Classic.

He didn’t even make it that far.

Piller withdrew before the start of the first round Thursday.

Piller’s partner, Joel Dahmen, who only got into the field because of Piller’s status as the team’s A player, was allowed to remain in the event.

Piller was replaced in the field by Denny McCarthy. The new team of McCarthy-Dahmen will tee off at 2:36 p.m. ET.

The format change at the Zurich should make things easier for the new teammates. The first round is now best ball, not alternate shot.

The only event that Gerina, a three-time U.S. Solheim Cupper, has played this season was the Diamond Resorts Invitational in January. The couple’s baby was due May 3, and she said that she plans to take off the entire year.

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China's Jin (64) leads by one in Beijing

By Associated PressApril 26, 2018, 12:28 pm

BEIJING – Daxing Jin took a one-stroke lead at the China Open after shooting an 8-under 64 Thursday in the first round.

Jin's bogey-free round at the Topwin Golf and Country Club included six birdies and an eagle on the par-5 eighth. The 25-year-old Jin is playing in only his eighth European Tour event and has made the cut only once.

Matt Wallace (65) had an eagle-birdie finish to move into a tie for second with Nino Bertasio, who also produced a bogey-free round. Alexander Bjork and Scott Vincent (66) were a further stroke back.

Defending champion Alexander Levy, who won last week's Trophee Hassan II in Morocco, is in a large group five shots off the lead at 3 under.