LAKE OCONEE, Ga. – Technically, yes, there was only one winner on Friday at the inaugural Big Break Invitational Reynolds Plantation, and that man was Jay Woodson. But beyond him, the week was a win for all 40 players who teed it up at the Great Waters Course. Not because they all received consolation ribbons or participation certificates. Not because the 12 finalists that made it to Friday’s final round won money. Not because the competitors and their families spent the week at the Reynolds Plantation Ritz. Those are all victories, but this week was about something bigger than one win, something bigger than one week. To be clear, the $100K first-place prize awarded to Woodson is big. So big, in fact, it’s the largest check he’ll cash thus far in his professional career. At 32, Woodson has Monday qualified into one PGA Tour event (2008 Wyndham Championship) and six Web.com Tour events. Beyond that, he’s spent time competing on the NGA Tour, EGolf Tour and the Pepsi Tour. This season, he finished fourth on the NGA Tour money list, having earned $34,752. Don’t forget about the $850 he made this year in the Carolina Summer Series. While Woodson certainly cashed in this week, the money isn’t what this win is about. “When I started playing golf as a little kid, I never played because I wanted to make a lot of money,” Woodson said. “But, you need to make money to keep playing, so this is huge and it allows us to keep going and keep pursuing our dream. I definitely think I’m capable of [making it on the PGA Tour], so this just gives us a better opportunity.” Opportunity … and a chance to pay some off some debt, his wife Erin joked. “Pay some bills, that kind of pops in our head,” Erin said. “We have a one-year-old son, so just make sure he’s taken care of. It’s probably already spent, but it’ll go to good use.” It was a coincidence that Erin was even here for the biggest payday of her husband’s professional career. Her in-laws and parents pitched in to buy her a last-minute ticket from Richmond, Va., where the Woodsons reside, to Georgia on Thursday to make it just in time to watch Jay – the No. 11 seed – in his match against No. 2 seed Mark Murphy. “He made the cut on the number, and something inside of me just said, ‘That’s where you need to be,'” Erin said. ‘”You need to be there to support him, no matter if he does well, or if he does bad, just moral support.’ So, thank goodness I came, right?” It was a coincidence Erin was with Jay in the winner’s circle on Friday, but it was no coincidence Jay was there after a posting a bogey-free 4-under 68. “I played with Jay on the back nine, and he made some of the most incredible up-and-downs I’ve ever seen,” Mallory Blackwelder (T-5) said. “I was very happy for him. He’s a great guy, super nice to play with.” Perhaps the greatest up-and-down of the day came at the last. Three under heading to the par-5 18th and in the second-to-last group, Woodson knocked his second shot over the green and into a greenside bunker. He hit a near-perfect bunker shot that barely cleared the lip of the bunker, landed on the fringe, and nestled to 6 feet. He drained that for birdie to finish 4 under. “It was severely downhill and I had a downhill lie in the bunker,” Woodson said, “not to mention there was water on the other side [of the green]. … I probably had a 2-foot circle I could land the ball on to get to where it did. I hit a great shot, but I got lucky, too.” Lucky to win, perhaps, even luckier he was able to share this moment with family. With the people who care about him the most – his fellow “Big Break” competitors. Sixteen Big Breakers – a combination of the 11 who played Friday and five others who stuck around all week – gathered on the 18th green Friday night to congratulate Woodson. And it wasn’t just posing for the cameras. They were truly elated for him. “Everybody was really happy for him,” Blackwelder said. “He’s a great guy. … If I couldn’t win, I was happy to see him do it.” Justin Peters, the winner of the first “Big Break,” knows a thing or two about Woodson’s character, and his assessment is all postive. “I’ve known Jay for seven or eight years,” Peters said, “and we’ve been talking about patience all week and making putts. We were both the last two seeds (in match play). I was No. 12 and he was No. 11. We were supposed to both take down the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. He did his job, I didn’t. He finished it off and it was pretty awesome to share that moment with him on the 18th green.” “He is the sweetest, nicest guy in the world,” Mary Narzisi said, “and we were just talking about it. Not many people can be upset with Jay winning this. As a competitor, you always want to be like, ‘I wish that was me.’ But this could not have happened to a better guy.” No better guy and no better way to head into Q-School – with momentum and validation. Woodson heads to first stage of Web.com Q-School next week in Atlanta. Bigger and better things on the horizon for Woodson, and for all the Big Breakers after a feel-good week at Reynolds Plantation. “I think the week was phenomenal, Woodson said. “This is such an awesome tournament. The course was absolutely perfect. All of the volunteers and everyone at Reynolds Plantation and MetLife have been phenomenal. I would play in this event every year if they let me.” Good news, Jay: You’re a lock for 2015. The better news? You’re a member of the Big Break family for life.
MOSCOW – Bradley Dredge shot 5-under 66 Friday to lead the Russian Open by one stroke at the halfway stage. The Welshman started the day tied for third but had a bogey-free second round for 10-under 132 overall after teeing off on a damp morning at the Skolkovo Golf Club outside Moscow. The 42-year-old Dredge is chasing his first tour win since the 2006 European Masters. England’s Lee Slattery is second after shooting 67, including five birdies on the back nine. Daniel Gaunt of Australia, who had a share of the lead after the first round, shot 69 to drop to third at 8 under. The other leader after the first round, Scotland’s Scott Jamieson, is tied for seventh after a par-71 second round, including a double bogey on the ninth. Last year’s winner David Horsey of England is tied for 11th on 5 under. Former top-ranked tennis player Yevgeny Kafelnikov missed the cut, tied for 127th on 12 over. However, the 41-year-old Russian’s performance this week easily beat previous efforts at the Russian Open, where he has been as much as 40 over after two rounds. Belgian amputee Ced Lescut, who plays with a prosthetic right leg following a motorcycle accident, placed last in his European Tour debut on 38 over, but finished with a birdie.
Justin Thomas leaps to the next level, Adam Scott’s putter catches fire, Tiger Woods undergoes another back procedure, John Peterson does his best “Happy Gilmore” impression and more in this week’s travel-weary edition of the Monday Scramble: Justin Thomas is much more than Jordan Spieth’s “good buddy.” Always has been. That’s been the lazy parallel drawn by TV commentators and fans over the past few years who didn’t know that Thomas is the son of a longtime PGA professional, or that he made his first PGA Tour cut at age 16, or that he was the 2012 college Player of the Year (over that Spieth fella) or that he was the best rookie in 2015, no matter how the final vote shook out. There should be no confusion anymore, not after Thomas scared 59 in the second round in Malaysia and then threw down a 67-66 on the weekend to win his first PGA Tour event at the CIMB Classic. The victory pushed Thomas into the top 30 in the world. It will also earn him a spot in next year’s Masters, an invitation he appeared on the verge of securing six weeks ago at the BMW Championship, until he found the water on the 72nd hole and finished two shots – two measly shots – from a top-30 FedEx Cup rank. Thomas has been compared to Spieth for years, ever since they were slugging it out for national junior titles. Even though Thomas (Alabama) edged Spieth (Texas) for NCAA POY honors in 2011-12, their only full year together in college, the young Texan got the last laugh in the NCAA Championship, holing an approach shot late and beating Thomas in a critical singles match that helped give the Longhorns their first national title in 40 years. It followed a familiar pattern, for Spieth has always seemed to step up on the biggest stages and garner more attention. (After all, he did match Tiger Woods as the only players to win multiple U.S. Junior titles.) With a 10-month head start, Spieth then made a quicker transition in the pros, after fine-tuning his lethal short game. Thomas might not be a once-in-a-generation talent, but it’s abundantly clear that he possesses all of the physical gifts and the competitive makeup to win a boatload of tournaments, maybe a few majors, and become a fixture in American team competitions, perhaps someday partnering with Spieth. After this maiden title, thankfully, he should no longer be viewed as just the trusty sidekick with the splashy game. 1. After frittering away chances over the past year in Palm Springs, White Sulfur Springs and Napa, Thomas showed his resolve with a brilliant closing stretch in Malaysia. Thomas fatted his tee shot in the water on the 14th hole Sunday and walked off with a double bogey. It seemed like a crushing blow. Then he ran off three consecutive birdies on Nos. 15-17 to surge ahead and stayed out of a playoff with a gut-check 6-footer on the last. Thomas has never lacked confidence, and so it was little surprise that he said afterward that he wasn’t surprised that he won so early in his Tour career. “I expected to win a lot sooner than this, honestly,” he said. “I always had high expectations for myself, and I definitely played well enough last year in some events to win.” 2. So here’s something that hasn’t happened in more than 30 years on the PGA Tour: Four consecutive winners who were age 23 or younger. Jordan Spieth, Emiliano Grillo, Smylie Kaufman and Thomas are part of a group of 20-somethings who now have won 11 of the past 12 events on Tour. “Seeing them win was a little bit motivating,” Thomas said. Since the beginning of last season, players age 25 or younger have won nearly 25 percent of the events. 3. The fall events offer players an opportunity to get a head start in the FedEx Cup race, a two-year exemption and a Masters invitation. What isn’t on the table? Ryder Cup points. It was the task force that decided to exclude the six events, a decision PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem later admitted that he “kind of whiffed.” And so Thomas (and Kevin Na, for that matter) has made no headway in trying to earn a spot on the ’16 team. Keep that in mind when a lesser player finishes third in a major and leaps near the top of the standings. 4. Speaking of Na … he put himself in position to win, again. He went out in 32 and added a birdie on the 10th hole, but that was his final birdie of the day. He ended with eight consecutive pars, after two short lip-outs down the stretch. That wasn’t going to be enough in a track meet. His updated finishes this season: 2-2-3. He’s nothing if not consistent. 5. After a transitional year in which he juggled a sagging game, an impending rules change and the responsibilities of being a new father, Adam Scott resurfaced in a big way last week in Malaysia, closing with a 9-under 63 and finishing solo second. It was his best finish of the year. Even though he remains without a worldwide victory this year – remarkably, he hasn’t been shut out since 2000, his first year as a pro – Scott showed significant progress at the CIMB, particularly on the greens. Using a conventional-length putter, he was ranked fifth in putts per green in regulation. “I’m playing well, and that’s nice,” he said, “because I haven’t played that well for a while.” Scott has three more events, including two in his native Australia, to notch his first W of the year. That’s ample opportunity to salvage a disappointing year. 6. Tiger Woods announced last week that he underwent a third back procedure, this time to alleviate discomfort stemming from his Sept. 16 microdiscectomy. It’s another troublesome development for the soon-to-be 40-year-old who already seemed destined to be on the shelf until at least mid-spring. Now, Woods said on his website, there is “no timetable” for a return. It’s not a given that when he does come back he will even remotely resemble the player who finally appeared to be making some strides at the Wyndham in August. Getting back into competitive playing shape will take time. The big question, of course, is whether his body will allow it. 7. In an explosive excerpt from his new autobiography, out today, Woods’ former caddie Steve Williams wrote that he was “hung out to dry” in the wake of Woods’ sex scandal and said that at times he was treated like a “slave” on the course. It was a poor choice of words, comparing slavery to looping for Woods, especially since Williams was handsomely compensated for his work, likely raking in more than $6 million during their partnership. It’s clear that Williams still harbors plenty of resentment after one of the nastiest player-caddie breakups in recent memory. It always seemed like a matter of time until Williams dished on his relationship with Woods, with whom he worked for 13 years. ESPN.com reported that Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to comment when asked whether Woods and Williams had a non-disclosure agreement in place. 8. For the first time since his return from injury, Rory McIlroy moved into serious contention for a title at the Turkish Airlines Open. He walked away disappointed after a final-round 71 left him six shots back of Victor Dubuisson. McIlroy’s closing score was the worst of any finisher in the top 10. He made three bogeys in a five-hole span around the turn – critical errors that came at a time when the Frenchman started a run of 6 under for his last 10 holes. Though he said that “it’s not all bad,” McIlroy conceded that “I’ll be going away from this tournament very disappointed with how I played today.” Our panic meter is hovering at about .0001. 9. As for the victor, Victor, it was his second win in Turkey in the last three years. The 25-year-old Frenchman has been off the map for the majority of the season, recording just one top-10 worldwide since January. After ending 2014 at No. 17 in the world, he had dropped all the way to 69th entering last week. He attributed his slump to “personal reasons.” Yet in Turkey, he made a tournament-high 27 birdies and looked like the player who earned a spot on last year’s Ryder Cup team. “Sometimes you feel like your game is never going to come back,” he said, “and this week I realized that my whole game was here.” 10. At least Ian Poulter got the airline points. After a spate of withdrawals from this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions, Poulter, the sixth alternate, got into the limited-field event, after all. That last-minute Orlando-to-Hong Kong flight that left the Englishman fatigued and Rich Beem in tbe broadcast booth? Completely unnecessary. Poulter only booked that trip because he had dropped out of the top 50 in the world and didn’t qualify for the WGC event, which he had scheduled as one of his mandatory 13 European Tour events. Without that appearance, he would have lost his Euro Tour membership and been ineligible for next year’s Ryder Cup. Poulter couldn’t take the chance that several players would pull out of the Shanghai event, even though flying halfway across the world for a no-cut event during a quiet time of year has never been a priority for many top players. John Peterson was 36 shots off the lead heading into the final round of the CIMB Classic. He approached the last day like it, too. Stepping up to his first shot of the day (literally), Peterson took a “Happy Gilmore” swing: Let it be known if you Gilmore it off the first on Sunday you shoot 6 under. @drewsteckel pic.twitter.com/eFjaVxWdVe— John Peterson (@JohnPetersonLSU) November 1, 2015 He followed it up with this tweet: “Guys. It’s just a happy Gilmore. It was pure, yeah. But I ain’t playing till Hawaii. We will see y’all in January. #huntingseason.” Some people on social media loved it. Others thought it was unprofessional and that he should be fined. When you’re playing that bad, though … does it really matter? • Probably the only player more frustrated than Kevin Na at the moment? Stacy Lewis. Sei Young Kim’s 72nd-hole birdie gave Lewis her EIGHTH top-three finish of the season. She hasn’t won since June 2014. • Kim now has three wins this season and is a virtual lock to claim Rookie of the Year honors. She is the third newcomer in the last 10 years to win three or more times in her debut season. • Brendan Steele didn’t blow up in the final group this time. Two weeks after he shot 76 while trying to go wire to wire at the Frys, Steele shot 68 in Malaysia but got lapped by both Thomas and Scott (63). The solo third was his best finish since a runner-up at PGA West in January. • Tim Mickelson, the head coach at Arizona State and Phil’s brother, won Halloween with this costume: • Pre-tournament favorite Henrik Stenson tied for 47th at the CIMB, his worst finish since May. It remains to be seen whether the big Swede will be able to complete a busy end-of-year schedule in which he will play five events in six weeks. He recently revealed that he is set to undergo surgery next month to repair the meniscus in his right knee. • Danny Lee withdrew from the CIMB, citing an injured finger. A WD during a no-cut, guaranteed-money event? He must really have been hurting. • The Solheim Cup is heading to Scotland’s Gleneagles Resort in 2019. The venue is unspectacular, but it still managed to secure a Ryder Cup last year and produced one of the most bizarre news-conference moments in golf history. Who will play the role of Phil Mickelson in 2019? Here’s hoping Suzann Pettersen.
CHONBURI, Thailand – Jamie Donaldson leads the Thailand Championship into the weekend by two shots over Martin Kaymer after the second round on Friday. Donaldson carded a 4-under-par 68 to lie at 13 under in the Asian Tour event at Amata Spring Country Club. Kaymer, the runner-up last year, had eight birdies against a single bogey on the 14th hole, for a second-round 65 and two-day total at 11 under. Former champion Sergio Garcia featured in a three-man group tied for third at 9 under. Donaldson started on the back nine and made four birdies, but ran into trouble on the front nine with three birdies and three bogeys. ”You need to keep the momentum going and I managed to do that today,” he said. ”It was a great temperature at the start of the day but it got really hot on my back nine which is the front nine.” Kaymer thought his round was an improvement on Thursday, but merely solid. ”There wasn’t really any highlight for me,” he said. ”I just hit good iron shots towards the greens, and gave myself a lot of good chances for birdies. I didn’t miss many putts.” Garcia also struggled in the heat on his back nine and shot a 69, to tie with Matthew Fitzpatrick of England (67), and Chinnarat Phadungsil of Thailand (69). Defending champion Lee Westwood improved with a 68 after his opening 71, to be eight shots behind Donaldson. Bubba Watson (70) is 10 back and tied for 28th.
ADELAIDE, Australia – Canadian-based South Korean SooBin Kim shot a course-record 9-under 63 on Thursday to leave defending champion and top-ranked Lydia Ko seven strokes behind at the Women’s Australian Open. Kim’s bogey-free opening round came after starting on the 10th hole of The Grange’s West course. She had a three-stroke lead over American Casey Grice and Germany’s Caroline Masson. Five-time champion Karrie Webb was in a group with 67s, four behind. Ko, who won last year’s title at Royal Melbourne, bogeyed two holes on her first nine after starting on the 10th, but the New Zealander had three birdies on the back nine for her 70. ”I’ll take it,” Ko said. ”I hit two really loose shots where it was hard to put myself in position the next time but overall I played pretty solid … not many putts dropped.” Kim, who moved to Canada from South Korea with her family when she was 10 and is based in Langley, British Columbia, birdied seven of her first 12 holes. Ranked 258th in the world, Kim was playing her first LPGA tournament round this year because her low ranking failed to gain her direct entry into the initial two LPGA events in the Bahamas and Florida. Kim, who eclipsed the previous women’s course record of 66 shot by Australian Nadina Taylor at an amateur event in 2000, had 26 putts in what she described as ”one of those days.” ”I was just picking my line and rolling them in, let the ball do the rest,” the 22-year-old Kim said. ”I was pretty ready for it, so (I am) not surprised.” Kim has not made up her mind whether to become a Canadian citizen. She has had the same coach, Brian Jung, for nine years and was part of British Columbia Golf’s junior program. ”I was definitely thinking about it but I still haven’t got the citizenship yet, still deciding,” Kim said. ”Most of the Koreans they want their kids to learn English, so that was the only reason when I moved to Canada. And then golf followed after that …” Grice is also playing in her first year on the LPGA tour, and likes The Grange on her first visit to Australia. ”The par 5s are pretty reachable for me, being a longer hitter, and so I’m giving myself a lot of opportunities for birdies,” Grice said. ”The weather was great, not a lot of wind, and it was basically perfect conditions today.” Webb said she would have been happy with 5-under before the round began – ”I would have stayed in my hotel.” ”We got pretty lucky, the wind kicked up later today than it has, so we really only had to play in that gusty wind probably for the last four or five holes,” Webb added. Cheyenne Woods and Katherine Kirk had 71s while 2009 champion Laura Davies shot 78. The tournament is also sanctioned by the Australian Ladies and Ladies European Tour.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – At this juncture, one could argue that Tiger Woods’ only competition is with himself. Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and the rest of today’s cast of stars provide all of the competition one could ask for, but that’s allowing yourself to become a prisoner of the moment. This isn’t about the week-to-week challenges Tiger may face so much as it is finding a realistic standard that would allow some sort of meaningful comparison when you consider that currently the top 10 players in the World Golf Ranking have won a combined 12 major titles to Woods’ 14. Sure, that four-pack of missing majors to match Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Grand Slam tilts – and the more attainable goal of matching Sam Snead on the all-time PGA Tour victory list (he currently trails Slammin’ Sammy by three trophies) – are the most often cited examples of Woods’ career scorecard, but before the golden years finally arrive for Tiger the only real competitive comparisons will be against himself. How, for example, would the 2000 version, you know the guy who won the U.S. Open by two touchdowns, stack up against this most recent iteration? Or the 2006 Tiger, who won more than 50 percent of his starts (8 of 15), fare against the 2013 model, who literally winced his way to five Tour titles and his last Player of the Year trophy? Wells Fargo Championship: Articles, photos and videos It’s a compelling exercise because Woods has made it so. Since returning from back fusion surgery last year Woods, who is poised to make his first start since the Masters at this week’s Wells Fargo Championship, has contended for titles at the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, defying perhaps even his own lofty goals and creating a frenzy of expectations, be they realistic or otherwise. It’s Woods’ demeanor and confidence that’s largely fueled this narrative, the idea that he could somehow return to something close to those early editions that re-wrote record books and dominated the game like no other player. It’s also been his words. “I’m seeing speeds and velocities I hadn’t seen since my early 20s, which is nice because I was long then relatively speaking,” he said on Wednesday following his pro-am at Quail Hollow Club. Although it’s difficult to fully quantify because the Tour didn’t keep radar statistics like they do now when Woods joined the circuit in the late 1990s, he recently figured that in his prime his club head speed was about 126 mph with a 43 1/2–inch driver shaft and he was always among the game’s longest players off the tee. During the Valspar Championship in March he recorded the year’s fastest club head speed on Saturday at 129.2 mph, and he currently ranks third on Tour with a 121.9 mph average club head speed. In 2013, when he was dealing with ongoing back issues, he ranked 28th with a 118.3 club head speed, while in ’08, the year he won his last major championship, he had a 124 mph average. But then club head speed is far from the ultimate benchmark for success. A more objective way of estimating how the 24 year old would match up against the 42 year old could boil down to simple math. Woods’ fourth full year on Tour was by far his statistical high-water mark. He averaged 298 yards off the tee (second on Tour), hit 71.2 percent of his fairways, 75 percent of his greens in regulation and had a 67.7 scoring average. He also won nine times. In 2006, he was longer (306 yard average) but hit fewer fairways (60.7 percent), greens (74 percent) and his scoring average climbed to 68.1; and that trend continued in ’13 with a 293-yard driving average, just 62.5 percent of his fairways and a 68.9 stroke average. In a limited sample size – Woods has played just six events this season – his 2018 statistics compare favorably with ’13 and ’06. This season he’s averaging 302 yards off the tee and is hitting 51.9 percent of his fairways, although his scoring average has ballooned to 69.8. Lost in these comparisons, however, is what Woods now brings to the table. His short game has been vintage Tiger and his putting average (1.74) is statistically similar to 2013 (1.73). Most importantly he understands better than ever what it takes to win, but he’s yet to prove the importance of that element when it counts on a Sunday. If Nicklaus’ 18 majors provided motivation for Woods as a child growing up in Cypress, Calif., these new standards are what now must drive him. If statistically he’s well off the historic pace he set in 2000 – and he is well off that pace – the 2013 season, or maybe even ’06, provides a more realistic, and perhaps with time even attainable, measurement. Maybe the modern, rebuilt version of Tiger would never have a chance against that ’00 goliath who won three legs of the single-season Grand Slam; or even the ’06 buzz saw who won his last seven starts of the year, but when you’ve accomplished everything that Woods has it might be the only competition that makes any sense.
Bring it on! OK, I’m not fluent in body language, and maybe that’s not exactly what Tiger Woods was communicating with his exuberant fist pump after closing out a 64 Sunday at the PGA Championship, but there was so much hope in the excitement he let loose with his closing birdie. Hope beyond what was still going on behind him at Bellerive. Hope in what lies ahead. Bring it on! You know Woods wanted Brooks Koepka to hear his legion roar, to let Koepka know he better not stumble back there behind him. You know he also wanted Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and all today’s stars to hear all those roars, to let them know he’s finally fit for a fight again. Bring it on! Yes, Koepka refused to flinch, and Woods ultimately finished second, but that rollicking last fist pump told you what Sunday’s finish meant to Woods. He’s going to win again. That’s the confidence won closing the way he did, celebrating at the 72nd hole in a way we’ve only ever seen him do on his way to hoisting a trophy. Because that’s where he is headed again. He can and will win again. Bring it on! That’s the thrilling promise Sunday brought to all of golf. Koepka wasn’t about to get out of Woods’ way, in the fashion the players of another era seemed to do when weekend roars preceded a Woods stampede. Koepka did today’s players a favor sending his own message. He was a rock. He didn’t flinch and didn’t fold in the wake of all those deafening Tiger roars. PGA Championship: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage If Koepka flinches Sunday, it sends the wrong message to all these other young guys. It gives them all pause. It makes them all wonder if Tiger’s aura really does come with some unfair advantage, with a one- or two-shot advantage in his ability to ride the noisy chaos to heights they can’t. We heard more than one young star complain this spring about the boisterous crowds that followed Woods. These young guys don’t need that in their heads. So Koepka didn’t back down, and Johnson, Thomas, McIlroy, Spieth, Day, Fowler and Rahm aren’t likely to, either. That’s the great fun Woods’ comeback brings. The battles all these young guys say they want with the legend are real possibilities now, with all those Tiger birdies and Tiger roars confirming Sunday that he is ready to begin giving them what they want. “I’ve always wanted to battle it out in a major with Tiger,” Jordan Spieth said during The Open last month. “Who hasn’t? It’s kind of a dream come true, just to have the opportunity.” The wonder in Sunday’s finish is that Woods was so good spraying his driver all over the place early in the round. Back in the day, he would have said he shot that 64 with his “B” game. You won’t hear him say things like that now, but the beauty in the round was knowing how he may have turned a 70 into a 64. It was in knowing how much better he still might get on these old legs. It’s a shame we have to wait eight months for the Masters to see if his run of T-6 at The Open and 2nd at the PGA Championship continues on a majestic trajectory, because the message I heard in his last fist pump is still ringing in my ears. Bring it on!
GREENSBORO, N.C. – J.T. Poston kept racking up birdies and pars – but no bogeys – at the Wyndham Championship. They added up to his first PGA Tour victory and a first-time-in-decades achievement. Poston shot an 8-under 62 on Sunday for a one-stroke victory at the tour’s regular-season finale. He tied Henrik Stenson’s 2-year-old tournament record at 22-under 258 and became the first player since Lee Trevino in 1974 to win a 72-hole stroke-play event on tour without any bogeys or worse. ”I probably haven’t had that many bogey-free rounds this year,” Poston said. ”To be able to do four in a row is pretty special and finish it off with a 62 on Sunday is pretty awesome.” The native North Carolinian began his round three strokes back, took the lead for good with – what else? – a birdie on the par-5 15th hole, then finished with three straight pars to earn $1,116,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points. Webb Simpson was at 21 under after a 65. Byeong Hun An, who held or shared the lead after each of the first three rounds, three-putted the 18th for a bogey and a 67 to finish two shots back. Trying to force a playoff with a birdie, he nearly holed a 60-footer but had it run well past. ”Nothing was really working at the end,” An said. ”I just ran out of juice.” Full-field scores from the Wyndham Championship Full coverage of the Wyndham Championship Poston, a former Western Carolina golfer playing a 100-mile drive from his hometown of Hickory, became the third player in 11 years with strong local ties to win at Sedgefield Country Club. He joined 2008 winner Carl Petterson – a Swede who grew up in Greensboro – and Simpson, the 2011 champion who’s from Raleigh and played college golf at Wake Forest. ”To be able to do it here in North Carolina, with a lot of friends and family, I don’t think I could have drawn it up any better,” Poston said. Poston closed the gap with An with three birdies and an eagle on the front nine. Then came the key hole: No. 15. Poston took sole possession of the lead with a birdie on that hole after placing a bunker chip 6 feet from the flagstick. An, playing two groups behind Poston, sent his tee shot on that hole into the weeds. He took a penalty stroke, then landed his third shot left of the green, left his chip 35 feet short and dropped to 20 under after two-putting for his first bogey of the tournament. ”The bogey was definitely the killer, I think, because I knew I needed to make a birdie there,” An said. After a birdie on the next hole and a par on 17, An needed to finish with a birdie to force a playoff. He sent his tee shot into the trees and recovered by landing his second shot 60 feet from the pin. Simpson, who finished second for the second straight week, earned his seventh top-10 finish at this tournament since 2010 and climbed to No. 9 on the playoff points list, earning $550,000 in bonus money as part of the inaugural Wyndham Rewards Top 10 program. ”Honestly, it wasn’t even on the radar going into Memphis (last week),” Simpson said. ”I was too far back, I thought, unless I did something crazy. So yeah, it was on my mind this week.” Nine players started this tournament with a shot at some of that cash, but only Simpson and Paul Casey came away with some. Casey finished eighth on the points list and earned $600,000. The other annual subplot at Sedgefield focused on the players on the playoff bubble. Two players who began the tournament outside the top 125 – No. 129 Patton Kizzire and No. 134 Andrew Landry – played their way into the field for The Northern Trust next week in New Jersey. An average of 2.7 players played their way into the top 125 in this tournament’s previous dozen years as the tour’s final pre-playoff event. ”I definitely knew what I was playing for,” Kizzire said.
Consecutive Sundays of live and meaningful golf has proven that the game can move forward from COVID-19, albeit on a much smaller scale and with a wealth of understandable and relatable missteps along the way. The TaylorMade Driving Relief match and The Match: Champions for Charity were what officials had hoped for as golf inches closer to its official return next month at Colonial. Two exhibitions also set the stage for what we can expect when play resumes. Here’s what we learned from both: • Endless hours putting on living room carpet and hitting chip shots in the back yard may vaguely look like practice, but it’s a poor substitute for the real thing, and the two matches offered a glimpse of what to expect when play resumes – rust. With the exception of Rickie Fowler’s putting and Tiger Woods’ tee game, we’re talking lots and lots of rust. • Social distancing is going to cause awkward moments in the months to come, like the “air five” Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson exchanged after winning their bout at Seminole Golf Club or the “no five” between Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady when the duo eagled the par-4 11th hole at Medalist Golf Club. Rory delivers knockout shot to win 6 skins, $1.1 million • Any plan to return to play without caddies – which the PGA Tour discussed but eventually dismissed – was never going to work based on the two matches. At Seminole, the players appeared utterly lost on the greens and at Medalist, club selection was a serious challenge for everyone except Woods, who is the club’s most high-profile member. • Justin Thomas is going to be the game’s most insightful and straightforward television analyst in 25 years, when he’s finished with his Hall-of-Fame playing career. “Chuck [Barkley], I’d love to see your fat ass try to dunk,” was one of JT’s numerous unfiltered observations. • If every major was played at Seminole, the brilliant Donald Ross design, McIlroy would have already won the career Grand Slam. If every major was played at Medalist, the Tour’s unofficial South Florida home, Woods might never lose. • The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but if the pause in action was beneficial for anyone it was Woods. Considering Tiger had skipped traditional starts at the WGC-Mexico Championship, Honda Classic and the Arnold Palmer Invitational to allow his body to recover before play was halted, he looked downright spry on Sunday. • Similarly, Mickelson still appears to be searching. Lefty has just a single top-10 finish this season and was fresh off back-to-back missed cuts when the schedule was suspended. At Medalist, he missed more fairways than he hit and was equally off-the-mark with his irons. He did, however, offer one of the more entertaining moments when Woods said he couldn’t match Mickelson’s length off the tee. “Dude, I’m 50. In three weeks, I’m going to be Champions Tour eligible,” Mickelson said to laughter. • Not that we “learned” this, but just as a reminder: golf is really hard. Peyton Manning’s first tee shot, really? As an aside, if the former signal caller ever wanted to get into the golf announcing business, we’d be the first to sign up for that. • Both matches also gave a glimpse into what golf will be like without fans. There’s certain to be a fair share of surreal moments, but the silence will provide players and caddies a chance to show some personality that otherwise would have been stepped on by the cheers. From Fowler acknowledging the non-existent applause following a birdie putt to Mickelson’s non-stop narration, it’s going to offer a humanized element to the broadcast. • Social distancing is also going to take time to figure out, if the matches were any indication. Six feet means 6 feet, and Woods’ momentary lapse when he grabbed Manning’s driver to help his partner with a drop is proof how challenging behavior modification will be. • Golf has always been a productive outlet for charities and the matches proved that the pandemic hasn’t changed that. More than $25 million was raised between the two matches to benefit COVID-19 relief and other charities. • There’s not going to be anything normal about golf’s return, but the matches did provide the game with a proof of concept. From four players on the course the last two weeks to 144 next month at Colonial, the game is learning how to carry on and the matches proved that point.
WARE, England — Andy Sullivan is closing in on his first win in almost five years after a third-round 64 on Saturday gave him a five-shot lead at the English Championship. The 33-year-old Englishman won three times in 2015 as he finished in Europe’s top 10 but he has not lifted a trophy since the Portugal Masters in October of that year. The 2016 Ryder Cup player entered the third day at Hanbury Manor with a one-shot advantage and carded two eagles, five birdies and two bogeys to move to 21 under, five strokes clear of countryman Steven Brown. Full-field scores from the English Championship ”My strategy (Sunday) will be the same as today,” Sullivan told europeantour.com. ”Just control what I can do. I can’t control anyone that is going to come up behind me.” Sullivan set the tone with a remarkable drive to 2 feet on the par-four No. 1 for an eagle but he needed another eagle on the ninth to reclaim the lead from a charging Brandon Stone (67), who had six birdies before the turn. As the South African faltered on the back nine, Brown became the nearest challenger, signing for a 66 that included him hitting the pin to be denied a hole-in-one on the sixth. Highlights: Leader Sullivan (64) opens up big gap in England But Sullivan picked up four birdies in six holes from the 12th, with a three-putt on the 13th his only blemish on the back nine. Stone was alongside countryman Dean Burmester (69) and Spain’s Adrian Otaegui (67) at 15 under. The top 10 players on the European Tour’s mini Order of Merit after the first five events of the U.K. Swing will seal a place in the U.S. Open, with Sullivan having finished fourth at the British Masters two weeks ago.