DUBLIN, Ohio – Last time Jordan Spieth wandered onto the property at Muirfield Village, Sammy the Squirrel was in the early moments of his 15 minutes of fame and the 20-year-old was still a curiosity with most fans – if not a few of his Presidents Cup teammates. Spieth had solidified himself as a bona fide phenom with his victory at the John Deere Classic and caught the attention of U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples with two more runner-up finishes, including his near miss at the Tour Championship. Couples made Spieth one of his captain’s picks for the matches at Jack’s Place. He had to. “He’s going to be on Ryder Cup teams and Presidents Cups teams forever,” Couples said at the time. But there was still a healthy amount of uncertainty as the matches approached. Spieth had started the year without any status, played a total of four majors in his life and Couples knew the pressures of playing for one’s country could be debilitating even for the most seasoned player. So Couples paired Spieth with veteran Steve Stricker in team golf’s version of an apprenticeship, not that the 20-something seemed to need much mentoring. Spieth aced the par-3 12th during a practice round, won his first match, 1 up, over the International side’s best pairing on paper in Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge and ended an eventful week with a 2-2-0 record. Memorial Tournament: Articles, videos and photos In a quintessential Couples’ move, he texted Stricker a few weeks before the matches to let him know he’d be playing the role of mentor at Muirfield Village. “He didn’t say much, you know Freddie,” said Stricker, who first played with Spieth at the Tour Championship just weeks before the matches. “Freddie being Freddie, he told us to have fun and go out and enjoy it.” For all his accolades and accomplishments, the rookie started his week in Ohio playing like one. He was nervous, excited, anxious and not entirely comfortable. Even when the two arrived at the first tee on Thursday there was tension that had been absent for the vast majority of his young career. “To say the least he was nervous starting out,” Stricker said. “He needed some mentoring the first couple of holes. I talked to him going down No. 4. He was out of sorts. I was like, ‘Hey, it’s all right. We’ve all been here and I’m here for you.’” Tour memories are not something Spieth has in abundance. He has a total of 47 starts in the major leagues, but Muirfield Village is the exception to that history. With a college tournament in 2012, the Presidents Cup and last year’s Memorial, he’s played at Jack’s Place three times under vastly different conditions and predictably his mind raced back to last fall’s matches on Tuesday. “It was cool to drive in today to see the (18th) green and remember the celebration and just the amazing times that we had throughout that week, which is one of the most incredible weeks of my life,” he reminisced on Tuesday. But then a lack of institutional knowledge hasn’t exactly been the kid’s Achilles heel the past 18 months. Last month at Augusta National, which has been particularly tough on first-timers, Spieth tied for second place following a closing 72; and took a share of the lead into the final day at his first Players Championship before another Sunday swoon. Nor are all of Spieth’s Muirfiled Village memories to be savored. He and Stricker lost a close four-ball match to Jason Day and Graham DeLaet and the Canadian beat him again in Sunday’s singles action, 1 up. “Individually it left a little bit of a tough taste in my mouth,” Spieth said. “We got off to a 2-0 start with (Stricker), and then I didn’t play my best golf those last couple of rounds. I’d like to get (DeLaet) in a couple of years if I can again.” A more immediate redemption loomed on Tuesday as Spieth made his way across Muirfield Village’s practice tee and walked past Tom Watson, the captain for this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team. The captain, in town to scout potential team members, stopped and watched Spieth, who is fourth on the points list, hit golf balls for a few moments with particular interest and Couples’ words from last fall seemed to linger in the warm air – “He’s going to be on Ryder Cup teams and Presidents Cups teams forever.”
SYLVANIA, Ohio (AP) — Now that she’s officially a millionaire, Lydia Ko joked she’ll have to keep a closer watch on where her paychecks go. ”I’ll probably see that going into my mom’s account,” she said with a laugh, referring to the $210,000 she got for winning Sunday’s Marathon Classic. The 17-year-old broke free from a late tie with So Yeon Ryu, hitting a wedge to 4 feet for birdie on the 72nd hole to take the lead. Then she tried in vain – she’s just 5-foot-5 – to see past the large gallery at 18 as Ryu missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have forced a playoff. ”I couldn’t see it properly. I was behind some people,” she said after her second LPGA Tour victory that matched the two Canadian Open titles she won as an amateur. ”But I kind of could tell what happened by the crowd’s reaction.” She became the youngest player to top $1 million in career earnings on the LPGA Tour. Ko is roughly 17 months younger than Lexi Thompson, previously the youngest. Ko has shown incredible consistency in her rookie year on tour, making the cut in all 15 tournaments she’s entered. She has six top-10 finishes in addition to her wins, with five of those being top-fives. Ryu had poured in a big-breaking, 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th to pull even. But then Ko stuck her approach at the par-5 closing hole and calmly rolled in the birdie putt for a 6-under 65 that left her at 15-under 269. Ryu hit a brilliant third shot to the green, but pushed her 6-footer at the 18th. ”Absolutely I’m disappointed I missed (that) birdie putt,” she said. ”Sometimes if I get something lucky, then I get something that is unlucky. I just accept it and let it go.” Ko was resilient, also shrugging aside a challenge from veteran Cristie Kerr, who pulled into a tie with her on the homeward nine. Ko, who proudly bears the flag of her native New Zealand on her golf bag, started the final round in fifth place, three shots behind co-leaders Laura Diaz and Lee-Anne Pace. While they foundered, she crept up the leaderboard with birdies at holes 3 and 4. She tied for the top spot with a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-3 eighth, then took a solo lead for the first time after hitting her approach to 10 feet at the 10th. Kerr, seeking her 17th career victory, rolled in a left-to-right breaker from 15 feet at the 13th to pull even. But her approach on the 399-yard, par-4 15th missed left and settled into heavy rough. She muscled the pitch shot onto the green, but it rolled 6 feet past and she lipped out the par putt. Kerr, who shot a 67 to finish three shots back in third, failed to apply pressure when she could not birdie the closing two par-5s. ”I had a good/bad week,” she said. ”I didn’t play 17 and 18 well all week. If you’re going to win here you have to take advantage of those holes.” Ko hit a pitching wedge from 121 yards to 6 feet past the pin, then rolled in the downhill putt for a two-shot lead at the 16, but Ryu birdied four of six holes late in her round to tie. Playing in the pairing immediately in front of Ryu, Ko hit three perfect shots on the closing par-5, which is bisected by a large, deep valley with a creek at the bottom. Her 72-yard chip shot nestled 4 feet away and she drilled it into the heart of the hole to regain the lead. Ryu’s third on the final hole ended up pin-high and 6 feet away. But she pushed the putt off the right edge, the large gallery groaning as the ball rolled past. Ryu’s 67 left her at 270. Kelly Tan (67), Katherine Kirk (68) and Pace (71) were at 273. Diaz, who led almost from the start after birdieing her first five holes on Thursday, lapsed to a 75 and finished at 277. Ko came into the round, which was delayed an hour by fog, vowing to shoot a 65. After she did it and collected the routine over-sized cardboard check, she pondered what she might do now that she’s a millionaire. ”I may do one of those teenage things – like getting something electronic,” she said with a grin.
It’s a funny thing, this business of defining time periods by separate eras. We never quite know when one is ending and the next is beginning – not while that transition is happening, at least. There is no specific date on the calendar, no handy color-coded chart to help us immediately understand exactly what we’re witnessing at the time. Dinosaurs didn’t just show up on earth one day and declare it the Jurassic period; more recently, historians can’t pinpoint one singular action that ended the Renaissance. And in a transition of slightly less global significance, we might not know for years whether Sunday afternoon, when the final putt of the Open Championship was tapped into the final hole, was the exact moment when the golf world shifted from the Tiger Woods Era to the Rory McIlroy Era. It sure felt that way, though. Ultimately, history will decide if McIlroy’s third career major victory officially ushered us into this new era in the game. But in a week where Woods – who won the last time this tournament was held at Hoylake – finished 68 spots behind his youthful pal, this one appears earmarked as a milestone moment. Call it a changing of the guard or a passing of the torch or a textbook example of out with the old and in with the new, but the facts clearly outweigh any hyperbole. In the time since Woods’ last major victory, McIlroy has three of ‘em. As Woods continues to slide down the world ranking, McIlroy continues to climb. With Woods seemingly growing more frustrated with his on-course performance, McIlroy appears unburdened by any demons from his past. Years from now, we’ll very well look back on this one in the same manner that we review the 1960 U.S. Open. In a tournament that is often considered a crossroads of the generational gap, Ben Hogan was upstaged by 30-year-old Arnold Palmer defeating 20-year-old Jack Nicklaus by two strokes. Hogan would never again win a professional tournament. This latest transition period, however, likely won’t prompt such a dramatic fade, just as it won’t provoke the sudden spike that occurred when Woods won the 1997 Masters. He will win again – and he could very well win multiple major championships from the age of 38 and beyond. Instead, this has a more similar feel to the latter part of the career of the man Woods is chasing. Nicklaus was 38 when he won his 15th major title – one more than Woods owns now. That was in 1978, but two years and exactly zero wins later, the Jack Nicklaus Era had given way to one led by young upstarts like Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros. When the Golden Bear was able to win the 1980 U.S. Open and follow it with a PGA Championship two months later, he was impinging on the next generation’s era rather than extending his own. By the time he won his 18th and final major at the 1986 Masters, his personal era was long a thing of the past. Woods prides himself on being a golf historian and so he knows all of this already. He understands that one generation giving way to the next doesn’t necessarily mean the older players will be shut out from ever winning again. Woods also realizes that although McIlroy’s early accomplishments might not be level with those from the early part of his own career, they are eerily reminiscent. The accolades, at least, if not the consistency. “The way he plays is pretty aggressively,” Woods analyzed Sunday, comparing him favorably with Phil Mickelson. “When he gets it going, he gets it going. When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad. It’s one or the other.” Rory joined Jack and Tiger as the only players in the Masters era with three major titles by the age of 25. He’s now just a green jacket away from becoming the sixth player in history to win the career grand slam, all of which should feed into this transition period. While the festivities at Augusta National have often been hailed as Tigermania, the circus will appear more like Rorymania next April, when he attempts to join that exclusive club. If that’s not enough to sound the alarms of change, then try this: Mickelson, with five major titles and more than three dozen other PGA Tour wins, is on the short list of the greatest players of all-time. He’s certainly inside the top 15, arguably amongst the top 12, pushing toward the top 10. Well, McIlroy owns three majors at an age that’s eight years younger than Mickelson when he won his first. That’s just another on a long list of reasons why the transition to a new era felt complete on Sunday. It’s not an exaggeration to state that golf has apparently entered a new time period. Every generation has eventually succumbed to the next one, but rarely has that process taken place in such an abrupt manner. History will tell us whether that’s true. Years from now, though, don’t be surprised if we look back on these days as the beginning of what’s forever remembered as the Rory McIlroy Era.
MOSCOW – David Horsey birdied four of his final six holes Thursday for a 7-under 65 and a one-stroke lead in the first round of the Russian Open. Former French Open tennis champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov, one of 10 Russians in the field, shot an 11-over 83 with one birdie, six bogeys and three double-bogeys. Horsey has four top-10 finishes this season, including a share of ninth in last month’s Lyoness Open in Austria. ”I have been working hard on my game the last 9-to-10 months and while it’s been a bit inconsistent, the good stuff has been really good and it’s just that inconsistency and a lack of confidence with it that’s hurt a bit,” the 29-year-old Englishman said. ”However, that comes with the territory when you bring in changes, but they’re starting to bed in and I’m starting to get more comfortable.” Scott Jamieson and Peter Whiteford (both 66) were tied for second at the Tseleevo Golf and Polo Club. A further eight players shared fourth place at 5 under. Jamieson capped his round with an eagle at the par-5 eighth hole and a birdie at the last. Whiteford birdied four of his last seven holes. Defending champion Michael Hoey withdrew from the event with a left foot injury.
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Jordan Spieth was one shot out of the lead and one round away from the third leg of the Grand Slam. Not since Bobby Jones has an amateur won the Open Championship, and then along came Paul Dunne with a bogey-free performance Sunday at St. Andrews that gave him a share of the lead. When a shootout at St. Andrews ended Sunday, 14 players were separated by three shots. Half of them were major champions. Even for a place packed with centuries of history, this Open offered endless possibilities. Dunne, the 22-year-old from Ireland, was impervious to everything around him and soaked up a day he won’t soon forget in his round of 6-under 66. Louis Oosthuizen, the last player to lift the claret jug on the Old Course in 2010, made three birdies over his last five holes for a 67. Jason Day had a share of the 54-hole lead for the second straight major with a 67, and this time he doesn’t have to worry about vertigo symptoms he dealt with at the U.S. Open. They were at 12-under 204. ”It’s surreal I’m leading the Open, but I can easily believe that I shot the three scores that I shot,” Dunne said. ”If we were playing an amateur event here, I wouldn’t be too surprised by the scores I shot. It’s just lucky that it happens to be in the biggest event in the world. ”Hopefully, I can do it again tomorrow,” he said. ”But whether I do or not, I’ll survive either way.” Such an opportunity might not come around again for Spieth. Only three other players won the first two legs of the Grand Slam since the modern version began in 1960. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods only got one shot at it, and none ever started the final round so close to the lead. And so it was Spieth, a 21-year-old Texan with an uncanny sense of occasion, who brought the gray, old town to life in a mixture of sunshine and rain. After punching his golf bag in frustration at the turn, he ran off three straight birdies on the back nine and kept alive his hopes of becoming the first player to sweep the four professional majors in one year. He finished with a 66. Ben Hogan in 1953 was the only other player to win the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same year. ”I’m going to play to win,” Spieth said. ”I’m not playing for a place. I don’t want to place third tomorrow. I want to win. And so I’m going to play my game – to stay in the mix if it’s not all there at the beginning, and if it is, I’m going to continue to play that way to try and get out in front. It’s going to be hard.” Rarely has the Old Course been as easy as it was Sunday. One day after raging wind off the Eden Estuary caused a 10-hour delay and forced a Monday finish, the flags were soaked from passing showers and limp from no wind. Marc Leishman flirted with a record-tying 63 until he made par on the closing hole. It still got him with two shots of the lead. The leaderboards were loaded with birdies, and seven players had at least a share of the lead at some point in the third round. That’s what made Dustin Johnson’s collapse so shocking. With a one-shot lead after powering his way around St. Andrews for 36 holes, he was the last player in the field to make a birdie, and that wasn’t until the 15th hole. He followed with three straight bogeys for a 75 to fall five shots behind. That might not seem impossible to make up, though having 17 players ahead of him – Spieth included – makes it a tall order. Spieth, the youngest professional in the field, seemed calm despite the historic moment in front of him. His goal at the start of the week was to treat the Open like any other tournament he was trying to win. Even during the long delay on Saturday, he said he hasn’t thought much about the slam. There is no escaping it now, and Spieth doesn’t see that as a problem. ”If I have a chance coming down the stretch, if it creeps in, I’ll embrace it,” he said. ”I’ll embrace the opportunity that presents itself. As far as handling it, I don’t look at it as a negative thing. I look at it almost as an advantage. Why should it add more pressure in a negative way? ”If it adds more pressure, it just makes me feel like this is something that’s a little more special,” he said. ”Let’s go ahead and get the job done.” This will be his toughest challenge. He won the Masters in a runaway. He was part of a four-way tie for the lead at Chambers Bay and outlasted Johnson and Oosthuizen over the final hour. Now he’s starting a race against an extremely crowded field. Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion, revived his game with a 65 and was two shots behind. The nine players at 9-under 207 included Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, Retief Goosen and Adam Scott, and one other amateur – Jordan Niebrugge of Oklahoma State, who shot a 67.
SYLVANIA, Ohio – Ha Na Jang parred the last five holes Saturday for a 2-under 69, leaving her a stroke ahead with one round left in the LPGA’s rain-plagued Marathon Classic. The South Korean player had an 11-under 202 total at Highland Meadows. Fighting back pain, she opened with rounds of 66 and 67 and has only two bogeys over the first 54 holes. Play was delayed for 1 hour, 59 minutes in the afternoon. Delays Friday forced 54 players to complete the second round Saturday morning. Seeking her first LPGA victory, Jang said her target is to finish at 15 under. “I don’t want to think about any players. Just myself, confidence, concentration and play,” Jang said. South Korea’s Q Baek was second. She birdied the final hole for a 68. “Overall I missed a lot of putts today,” Baek said. “But I was just happy with the way I played.” Jang and Baek have played against each other numerous times over 10 years on the Korean tour. “We have played a lot of events against each other,” Baek said through a translator, adding that she and Jang played together on the South Korean national team. “We have a pretty good friendship. I am just one shot behind Ha Na. The main focus is to keep my temper down, and try to stay calm and play as best golf as I can and stay positive.” Defending champion Lydia Ko, ranked No. 2 in the world, was 9 under after a 67 in a group that included top-ranked Inbee Park. Ko also was second, two shots off the lead last year. “It’s great to be back,” Ko said. “I don’t mind the position I’m in right now. It’s great to return to a course where you’ve played well. There is a little bit of expectation and a lot more people recognize you and you kind of get that support. So there are pluses and minuses.” Ko said the putts started dropping for her in the second and third rounds. “I’ve been hitting it pretty solid so I’ve been trying to give myself plenty of opportunities,” Ko said. Park also had a 67. “It was a long day,” Park said. “But no bogeys today, which is really good. I feel like I have played pretty solid the last couple of days. I still feel I left a few out there. I am satisfied where I am.” Chella Choi, Austin Ernst and Shanshan Feng were tied with Ko and Park. Choi had a 65, the best round of the day. She started her round with a bogey, but then made seven birdies, including three of the last four holes. “Actually, my shot is good, but I don’t make that [many putts],” Choi said. “So just one birdie Thursday. But yesterday and today my shots really good and made more putts.” Ernst, who had five birdies, finished her second round with a double bogey for a 66, but was able to wipe out that memory and play a solid third round. “I just said it was one bad swing and then – you know, just made a bad swing and a bad putt,” Ernst said about her double bogey. “So really over the last two days that’s the only blemish on the card. “I am hitting it well. I just need to make a few putts.” Feng shot a 68. Third-ranked Stacy Lewis was tied for 23rd at 5 under after a 69. Alena Sharp, Jenny Suh and Jaye Marie Green earned spots in the Women’s British Open. Sarah Kemp and Dewi Claire Schreefel locked up spots Friday.
TUCSON, Ariz. – Fred Couples shot an 8-under 65 on Friday in the Tucson Conquistadores Classic, leaving playing partner Steve Stricker two strokes back in his PGA Tour Champions debut. Coming off a victory last month in the Chubb Classic, the 57-year-old Couples birdied five of the first seven holes in hot conditions, and added four more on the back nine before bogeying the par-4 18th. ”I’m driving the ball well and putting well, so those are good things for me no matter when I’m playing,” Couples said. ”And if I can hit a few good irons, I’m going to have a lot of birdie putts.” He three-putted on 18. ”If I had lost the tournament by a shot, then it would be bittersweet, but there’s 36 more holes and I made a lot of putts today, too,” Couples said. Stricker birdied his first three holes in his bogey-free round on Omni Tucson National’s Catalina Course. The 12-time PGA Tour winner turned 50 on Feb. 23. He will captain the U.S. Presidents Cup team in September. ”I was a little more nervous than what I expected to be or thought I was going to be,” Stricker said. ”I got off to a good start, birdied the first three and settled down a little bit, but I was excited to get it going finally. It’s been a lot of hype that I’m really not accustomed to, and I just kind of wanted to get it going and start playing. So, it was good to get the first round under my belt.” Stricker missed the cut last week in the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship and will make his next start in the big tour’s Shell Houston Open. Tom Lehman and Jeff Maggert shot 66, and Stephen Ames, Billy Mayfair and John Cook matched Stricker at 67. Bernhard Langer had a 71 for his 30th straight round under par. Gil Morgan set the PGA Tour Champions record of 31 in 2000. Colin Montgomerie also is at 30, but he is not playing this week. Bob Estes also made his debut on the 50-and-over tour, shooting a 70. The 51-year-old Estes won four times on the PGA Tour and has made six starts on the top circuit this season. Defending champion Woody Austin also shot 70.
Tucked behind the 10th green at TPC River Highlands, Jeff Howell and his team watched last week’s action at the Travelers Championship through a different lens. From his perch inside the PGA Tour’s ShotLink trailer, Howell, the circuit’s director of ShotLink Technologies, studies a black-and-white image of the ninth green in real-time, a dizzying display of fixed points and potential tracks. “Everything that moves the system has to identify if it’s a golf ball; if it is a golf ball is it moving; and if it’s moving let me track it,” Howell explains. Howell calls the new system ShotLink Plus, a video-based model that will eventually replace the lasers that have been used since the system was introduced 17 years ago. When it was unveiled, ShotLink was a revolutionary way to enhance the fan experience by using lasers to track shots from tee-to-green. For example, the system noted that Jordan Spieth’s tee shot on the first playoff hole last week traveled 220 yards into the fairway and that his approach shot ended up 205 yards away in a greenside bunker. What ShotLink can’t do, however, is show that Spieth’s tee shot clipped a tree and bounced back into the fairway or that his approach caromed off the lip of the greenside bunker before settling at the bottom. As useful as ShotLink has become, the inherent limitations of a one-dimensional system have become evident in recent years. “We were looking for a replacement for our lasers, we’ve been doing that for 17 years now and we’re still using the same lasers we started with,” Howell said. “They are getting older and needed replacing and the thought came up we can get newer lasers or we can look at what is innovative and what will be new and increase the fan experience.” A look behind the cameras of the ShotLink system being tested by Tour officials. The new system, which was developed by SMT, utilizes fixed cameras instead of lasers to identify and track the speed, break and distance of shots. Where the current ShotLink lasers can quantify a player has made a 5-foot putt for birdie, the new system tracks the line and speed of every putt. Currently, Howell and his team are testing the cameras only on greens, and for good reason considering the amount of data the new technology produces, but the system could easily be expanded to include all shots. “If we can improve and perfect the system in small increments on the greens, then moving it into other areas of the golf course becomes much easier,” Howell said. Currently, the new cameras have been set up on six greens at each week’s Tour stop as Howell works with the software engineers to perfect the system. Howell explains that the cameras are accurate about 80 percent of the time, compared to about 97 percent of the time using the current lasers. The challenges of creating a digital snapshot of a sprawling field of play that changes every week are many. “Camera placement needs to be specific, you have to place the cameras in such a fashion that they are going to cover the greens if one or two of them lose the track, we have to have at least one camera on the track,” said Howell, who explained there are currently three cameras per green. The amount of information the new system collects can also be staggering. Consider that a single shot from the lasers that currently power ShotLink is about 10 bytes of data, whereas a single second of video imagery from the new cameras is about 400 megabytes of data. It takes one server to process nine cameras’, or currently three holes’, worth of information. Without getting too deep into the math just imagine how much information will need to be processed if every shot of every player is tracked under the new system. How that information is processed and presented during a telecast or to an individual user is also part of the challenge of bringing the new technology to the masses. “We’re capturing 20 points per second of that ball moving across the green and all of that is getting stored in a data base and we’re working with the developers to figure out how we’re going to provide that data in real time and display it,” Howell said. “You’re going to be able to see the exact track.” Howell said there’s no timeline for when the system might be ready to go live, but the benefits of an automated platform, compared to the current laser-based system that depends on the accuracy of volunteers on the course, will lead to a more precise track as well as a more detailed picture of an actual shot. “The volunteers do great, they are the reason we’re up in the 97 percent [accuracy] of every shot, but it does take away the human element, thinking they are shooting the golf ball with the laser when you may be over shooting it and hitting a couple feet away,” Howell said. “Now the camera can see it more clearly.” Which means we will all see shots more clearly, and comprehensively.
PARAMUS, N.J. – Just two weeks ago at the PGA Championship, fans pushed in along every corner of Bellerive’s 18th hole chanting, “Let’s go Tiger,” undeterred by the oppressive heat or the hopelessness of Tiger Woods’ title chances. It was a fitting send-off for a player who would come up two strokes short in his quest to win his 80th PGA Tour title and his 15th major championship, not to mention an apropos snapshot of the massive St. Louis galleries who cheered Tiger’s every step. It was also a sign of the times for the game’s most recognizable athlete. Since Woods embarked on this most recent comeback from injury, the sense of excitement has steadily built. What began as a curiosity now looks like certainty. Woods has repeatedly explained the 2018 season was always going to be filled with more questions than answers. He didn’t know how his repaired back would hold up under the pressure of competition or what swing he would have. Fan didn’t know which Tiger would arrive on the first tee each week – Vintage Woods or the often-injured guy who managed to play just 19 events the last four years. As Woods progressed, the answer seemed to be the former, with Tiger electrifying fans at the Valspar Championship on his way to a tie for second place. “This entire year has been so different,” Woods said on Tuesday at The Northern Trust, his first playoff start since 2013. “I’ve had excitement. I’ve had people into it over the years, but this has been so different. We go back to how everyone received me at Tampa, that was very special and I had not received ovations and warmth like that.” Woods tied for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and fourth at the Quicken Loans National. Despite Tiger’s regular calls for patience and perspective, a fan base that was reluctant to dive back in with a self-described medical miracle is now wading into the deep end. This zeal has built to a crescendo, with the PGA Championship emerging as the new raucous standard. “I’ve played with him a lot during that time [in his prime],” Stewart Cink said late Sunday at Bellerive. “After the round yesterday, I commented it sounded like the old times, but the truth is it was more intense yesterday then I remember it being at any time.” The Northern Trust: Articles, photos and videos A portion of that Bellerive buzz was the byproduct of a community starved for major championship golf. And, to be fair, eventual champion Brooks Koepka earned his share of cheers for his third major triumph in his last six major starts. But the majority of that fervor was attibutable to Woods’ play. Woods is not playing the role of ceremonial golfer and this is not a farewell tour. For the first time in a long time, his play has lived up to his legend. There’s nothing better in sports then a comeback, and Woods may end up being the most compelling reclamation project golf has seen in decades. “I think that everyone can relate to that because they have all gone through it. Everyone has got aches and pains, and whether you’ve had kids or not, you get to your 40s, you’re feeling it, and I’m not the only one,” Woods explained. “The only difference is I’m an athlete and I’m playing at a high level and one of the best players in the world as what I do for a living. That’s hard. People understand that. They understand, trying to compete against the younger generation, and it gets a little more difficult.” Although Woods has given fans plenty to cheer along the way, this is about more than numbers on a scorecard. Approaching his 43rd birthday in December, Tiger has embraced his newfound health as much more than simply another competitive chapter. Woods’ comeback has been defined by a perspective that only comes when one faces their own competitive mortality. He’s openly appreciative of this opportunity, and the crowds seem to realize that. “I think that people are more, I guess appreciative. I don’t want to make that sound wrong or anything but they know that I’m at the tail end of my career, and I don’t know how many more years I have left,” he said. “I’m certainly not like I was when I was 22. Forty-two, it’s a different ballgame.” There’s still plenty of competitive compartmentalization, as evidenced by the all-too-familiar scowl he wore on Sunday at Bellerive. The difference, however, is that he’s more willing to offer the world a glimpse of a softer side where the sharp edges have been dulled by age and injury. On Tuesday, he was asked about his relationship with the crowds that line every fairway. “Unfortunately, I’ve gotten to know a lot of them because I’ve hit a lot of wayward balls. I’ve signed a lot more gloves this year than I have in the past,” he laughed. He’s also introduced an entirely new generation of fans to a concept only those of a certain age could previously understand: Tiger-mania.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Gary Woodland birdied the 18th hole for a 5-under 67 to move into a three-way tie for the lead with Marc Leishman and Shubhankar Sharma after three rounds of the CIMB Classic on Saturday. Woodland just missed an eagle putt, while Sharma (66) and Leishman (67) had to settle for pars on the par-five final hole. Playing in the last threesome of the day, the leading trio had 54-hole totals of 19-under 197 on the TPC Kuala Lumpur West course. They had a two-stroke lead over Louis Oosthuizen, who moved up the leaderboard with a 65, and first-round leader Bronson Burgoon (67) in the first of three U.S. PGA Tour events in Asia. Woodland equaled the course record of 61 on Friday that Justin Thomas shot on his way to winning the event in 2015. The American was again consistent. ”Kind of got a little loose there a little bit on the back nine, maybe ran out of gas a little, but it was nice to finish up with a birdie and get some momentum going into tomorrow,” Woodland said. Full-field scores from CIMB Classic CIMB Classic: Articles, photos and videos Leishman had an eagle and three birdies on his first five holes to be 5 under, but was 1 over on the back nine with bogeys on the 11th and 13th after a birdie on the 10th. ”Happy with the round, gave myself a good chance tomorrow, so hopefully I can be hot like I was that first 10 holes today,” Leishman said. Sharma has already won in Malaysia this year when he clinched the Maybank Championship in February. ”Good thing is that I’ve been in this position before so I know what happens and what my mind goes through, so I’ll just try and relax myself as much as possible,” Sharma said. ”The way I’m playing, I’m pretty sure I’ll play well tomorrow as well.” Stewart Cink shot 63 for the low round of the day and was four strokes off the lead. Thomas, trying to win the tournament for the third time in four years, had a 69 and was at 12-under, seven behind.