Posted on: August 6, 2011 4:43 pm

Bubba on Tiger: 'He's really close'

AKRON, Ohio -- It wasn't pretty.

It wasn't particularly effective, either.

But it marked another step of perceived progress for Tiger Woods on Saturday at the Bridgestone Invitational.

Woods shot his highest score of the week, a 2-over 72, and fell into a tie for 38th in his first full tournament since April, leaving him 13 strokes behind leader Adam Scott at Firestone Country Club.

Despite playing on a venue where he has seven career victories, Woods struggled mightily and missed every fairway on the front nine before finally settling into something of a rhythm on the inward half.

"Today was a struggle," he said. "But I pieced it back together, which was nice. I'm still fighting my old patterns."

That would include a run of less-than-spectacular results, compared to what people are accustomed to. Woods hasn’t won in 22 months on the PGA Tour and has been fighting injury and off-the-course travails for most of that time. He's found 17 of 42 fairways this week to rank T74 in a 76-man field, and isn’t much better at T53 in putts.

Woods explained that he isn’t curving the ball as much with his new swing and hasn't dialed in his launch patterns quite yet, so to speak.

"I've hit it flush all week," he said. "I'm trying to get used to my new setup and lines."

Because he was positioned dead in the middle of the pack after 36 holes and the PGA Tour sent players off both tees in threesomes to beat some forecast weather, Woods was in the first group off the first tee at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. He played alongside Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter, who both are ranked higher than he is in the world ranking.

Data is a bit sketchy, but it's believed to be the first time since his rookie year that Woods played with two higher-ranked players. Woods has skidded 26 positions this year to No. 28 in the world.

Woods has also had some misadventures on the greens, where he has missed two putts from around 30 inches this week and had another take a 360-degree tour of the cup before toppling in.

Yet Watson, who shot 2-under 68 and moved up to T20, still came away impressed by what he saw in his former practice-round partner.

"He didn’t make any putts, that's really what it was," said Watson, a two-time winner this year. "Those momentum putts.

"He's really close. I wouldn’t be surprised if he played really well tomorrow and then won next week."

Posted on: August 6, 2010 6:49 pm
Edited on: August 6, 2010 7:19 pm

Lefty shoots for won-and-one at WGC

AKRON, Ohio – Phil Mickelson was at his careening, wise-cracking, self-deprecating best on Friday at Firestone Country Club.

In other words, look out, Tiger Woods.

Presented with what he deemed to be his best chance to unseat Woods as the world No. 1, Mickelson bobbed and weaved his way through a 2-under 68 to move within a shot of the lead at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.

This weeks marks the eighth straight start in which Mickelson, who has never climbed to the top of the ratings mountain in his inevitable Hall-of-Fame career, has had a chance to supplant Woods with a victory. More than ever, the planets seem to be completely aligned at the moment for the big breakthrough.

First, Woods is well out of the running this week, foundering in a tie for 72nd place, and world No. 2 Lee Westwood withdrew Friday with a nagging calf injury that also will keep him from playing the PGA Championship next week, the season’s final major. Westwood also had a shot at unseating Woods this week.

At 6 under, Mickelson is tied for second heading into the weekend, one shot behind Retief Goosen. According to the world-ranking numbers crunchers, if Lefty finishes in solo fourth place and Woods is outside the top 44 on Sunday, Mickelson becomes numero uno.

Mickelson has been peppered with questions over the past few weeks about dethroning Woods, but he seems more engaged in the possibility this time around. Perhaps because Woods has turned up all but dead this week.

“Obviously, it would be cool,” he said. “I'm not going to say it wouldn't.  It would be something I would love to do and ultimately be regarded as No. 1, according to the rankings and so forth.  I know that I've got a great opportunity this week.  I know that I'm playing well, and this is my best opportunity.  I try not to think about it.”

Everybody keeps reminding him, obviously, and Lefty has his hands full on the golf course as it is. The last 90 minutes of his round Friday was vintage Mickelson, with a sloppy double bogey made after he drove into a bunker on an adjoining hole, two clutch birdies, and a wild tee ball on the 17th that hit a male fan in his right collarbone area, leaving a nasty bruise.

Mickelson found the fan and gave him a signed golf glove – he admitted to keeping extras in his bag for such eventualities – and drew huge laughs from the gallery when he apologized to the middle-aged guy, who tried to leave the scene but was convinced by other fans to stay on the chance that Lefty might slip him a signed ball or glove.

“It’s kind of the hazard of following me,” Mickelson cracked.

The fan was walking straight toward the tee when Mickelson hooked his drive over the trees and whacked the guy on the fly. Recall that a series of hilarious television commercials were made a couple of years ago about his unwitting victims.

“I think that gentleman learned the hazards of following me and walking down in the landing area,” Mickelson smirked after the round. “I think that he might want to stay more by the tee next time.”

Mickelson won an event at Firestone in 1986 but hasn’t played consistently well here recently, though he did have a legitimate chance in 2008, when he bungled the last few holes and finished T4 behind Vijay Singh.

Mickelson, who finished sixth at the PGA in 2004, the last time it was held at next week’s venue, Whistling Straits, senses that if he doesn’t claim No. 1 this week, he will have plenty of chances if he establishes some momentum during the busiest part of the PGA Tour season. He hasn’t had much of a chance to get into a flow or winning frame of mind with his hit-and-miss summer schedule.

“We have a lot of tournaments,” he said. “I've got five or six events, Ryder Cup, so I've got a lot of golf here coming up, whereas over the summer, after the U.S. Open, you know, a couple weeks off, Scottish and British, a couple weeks off. So I feel like I'm playing two tournaments in a six-week stretch and I ended up not playing well in those two events.

“So I haven't been in the thick of it for a while and that's why I'm excited to be in contention here heading into this weekend.”

Category: Golf
Posted on: August 5, 2010 6:37 pm

Favorite haunt provides fright for Tiger, too

AKRON, Ohio – The stage doesn’t make the artist.

Despite playing on a venue where he has won a PGA Tour-record seven times, Tiger Woods recorded the highest round of his professional career at Firestone Country Club on Thursday in the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational.

Taking another backward step in his comeback from a raft of personal and professional issues, the defending champion shot a 4-over 74 and managed only two birdies in an event where he has never finished worse than a tie for fourth.

“Just because I like the golf course doesn't mean I'm going to play well on it,” a deflated Woods said afterward. “You know, unfortunately that's not the case. You still have to execute, and I didn't do that today. I did not execute the shots that I wanted to execute today, didn't shape the ball the way I wanted to shape it, and certainly did not putt well.”

Those lyrics have become all too familiar. He hit 5 of 14 fairways and spent most of the day carving recovery shots from the rough and around the course’s towering oak trees. His worse previous score at Firestone was a 72 and he had managed nine straight rounds of par or better on the famous parkland track entering the week.

It mirrored his season in many regards. Amazingly, the closest Woods has been to the overnight lead in any of his starts this year came in his first outing, at the Masters, when he was two shots back after the first and second rounds. At Firestone, he stands 10 shots behind Bubba Watson, who opened with a 64.

Worse, Woods was heckled at least once during the round. As he walked to the clubhouse from the 18th green, a male fan along the ropes waited until Woods was within arm’s reach and said, “You’re washed up, Tiger, give it up.”

Woods didn’t acknowledge the fan, though he did offer a self-deprecating curtsey for the gallery when he made his second birdie of the day, on the 17th. When the ball went in the cup, he turned and actually bowed twice at the waist to the fans, tipping his cap.

It was awful and uphill from the start. He bogeyed the first two holes and never sniffed getting into the leaderboard mix at a venue where he has been practically invincible, winning his last four starts at Firestone. He missed the 2008 event because of knee surgery.

“I was 2-over through two, on two easy holes, and from then on, I didn't hit any good putts, either,” Woods said, repeating a common lament about his putting this year. “I was struggling on the greens and didn't hit any good iron shots. Probably hit about two good iron shots all day today. That's definitely not enough.”

Woods had never before bogeyed the pushover second hole in 44 previous rounds at Firestone.

Woods had 99 putts over his first three rounds at his last start, the British Open, and followed up with 32 on Thursday. Few others were having the same issues, making it even more frustrating for Woods, whose position as world No. 1 is again in jeopardy. The course was there for the taking.

“Absolutely, it's soft, the fairways are running, but they're not out-of-control fast,” he said. “They're still giving it up a little bit. But still, the greens are really soft and you can go after just about every flag.  The 5-irons and 4-irons are still holding, so it was a day you could be aggressive if you played better than I did.”

Woods didn't stick around for any post-round tinkering. Moments after hs conducted a brief post-round interview, Woods and his caddie loaded their gear in a Lexus SUV and were gone.

Category: Golf
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