Tag:sawgrass thursday
Posted on: May 12, 2011 6:42 pm

O'Meara 'shocked' at Tiger WD, but in dark, too

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla . -- Mark O'Meara and his new bride had dinner with old pal Tiger Woods at an upscale steakhouse on Wednesday night.

O'Meara, a mentor to Woods for years in the latter's early days as a professional, sensed that his former Orlando neighbor was in a good place emotionally, after many months of well-chronicled turmoil. As a for-instance, he said Woods even picked up the check.

"It's not often that he goes to the hip," O'Meara cracked.

A day later, he took a knee.

It was a decidedly disjointed first day at the Players Championship for the longtime buddies -- O'Meara shot a 6-under 66 and claimed a share of third place at age 54, while Woods headed home with yet another chronic injury to his leg at age 35.

It felt like one of those sci-fi, trading-places scenarios: O'Meara, who hasn't played regularly on the PGA Tour for years, was the guy in the interview room talking about his stellar round, while Woods was home licking his latest wounds. O'Meara, who now lives in Houston, played practice rounds at TPC Sawgrass with Woods on Tuesday and Wednesday and was as stunned as anybody else when he learned before he teed off that Woods had withdrawn after nine sloppy holes.

"I'm as shocked and disappointed for my friend as anyone else," he said. "I know he's a fighter. His injury is probably a lot worse than what we thought it was."

Not that O'Meara, a former confident who lived a half-dozen houses down the same street, really knows, either.

After a one-month layoff, Woods re-injured his ailing left knee on his opening tee shot, he said, and limped his way to a front-nine 42, then withdrew and headed home, his medical and professional future very much in doubt. O'Meara said Woods conveyed few signs of physical discomfort when they practiced this week, and when he asked the former world No. 1 how he was feeling, Woods gave him every assurance that his legs were fine.

"I haven't talked to him," O'Meara said after his afternoon round. "I don't know how bad it is. Obviously, it's pretty bad. But he needs to get that fixed, because you know, I know how much he loves the game, and I know how badly he wants to be competing, and the game needs him. I mean, he's great for this game."

O'Meara said that like all but a handful of folks, Woods isn't a fount of full disclosure with him, either, and he has to read between the lines like the rest of us.

"Sometimes, Tiger, even as well as I know him, sometimes it's very difficult to read him," he said. "I asked him the other day, 'How's the leg,' and he says, 'It's fine.' I don't know if it's fine or if he's just telling me it's fine and it's really not that fine.

"I saw [swing coach] Sean Foley out there, and I asked him, and he's like, 'You know, his leg is not good.' I mean, he can hit balls, but he's having a hard time walking. It's a hard game to play if he can't walk."

Woods is in an increasingly tough spot. He has completed 16 stroke-play rounds in the States this year, and needs to log more rounds to get battle-ready for upcoming majors. But that means subjecting the ailing knee to more stress and strain than it can handle at the moment -- if not beyond.

"He definitely needs to have more reps because you can stand on the range at home at Isleworth or you can come and hit balls or play practice rounds or whatever, but until you get out there in the thick of the battle, it's very difficult to trust anything," O'Meara said. "Even as great as he is, he can struggle with his confidence, and certainly when you start hitting some wild shots and you haven't had the success that he's accustomed to, that just adds to the pressure.

"If the limitations that Tiger is facing with his injuries are holding him back, then he needs to get those totally fixed and get back, and then he needs to come back and just take little steps to get back, because he knows how to win."

Given that his recent hiatus didn't solve his knee and Achilles issues, that increasingly sounds like it could take a not-so-good, long, while. O'Meara said he doesn't sense any anxiety or urgency from Woods about the biological meter running in his bid to supplant Jack Nicklaus as king of the majors. But he is also uncertain as to how much Woods still wants to break those marks.

"I think that's always been a passion of his, to win majors and to compete, and for a while that's all he's dreamed about," O'Meara said. "But I think over the last couple years, now having a family and wanting to be there for his kids, I think he still wants that, but how much only he can really determine.

"Is the fire burning as bright as it once did? Maybe not. But that's to be expected when you look at the intense pressure that this kid has lived under for the last 20 years of his life."

Woods is no kid, but you get the gist.

"Any athlete that's under the scrutiny like he's been under, there's a little price you have to pay, and so it slowly erodes," O'Meara said. "No one can be inside his brain or his body and figure out where he's at, but he needs to just get around his friends, keep practicing, get healthy, and then I think he'll be back where he wants to be."

After three injury-ravaged seasons and yet another debilitating setback, it anybody still holding their breath?

Category: Golf
Posted on: May 12, 2011 4:02 pm

Yang finds he has a yen for Sawgrass

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla . -- Major winner Y.E. Yang is experiencing a case of golf culture shock.

The South Korean veteran is making his first start in the States since the Masters, where the greens are slicker that a bucket of 30-weight Valvoline.

His last two starts came in Asia, on greens that were slower than avocado-colored, 1970's-era shag-pile carpet.

Now he's back on mega-fast Bermuda surfaces at TPC Sawgrass, where by the weekend, the greens will pretty close to Augusta National speeds.

He nonetheless made the adjustment in a hurry, shooting a 3-under 69 that left him tied for 10th as the afternoon wave played at the Players Championship.

For those who watched the Asian events on the Golf Channel, including Lee Westwood's win in Korea two weeks ago, the greens were about as slow as anybody has ever seen in a major professional event. Everybody struggled to gets putts to the hole.

"The tournaments in Asia, the greens were unbelievably slow," Yang said through his interprester, Ryan Park. "It's a breath of fresh air to be back up to the usual speeds.

"It was a good day of calibration to get back up the the green speeds out there."

Yang said he enjoys playing Sawgrass, which isn't exactly a course where players reach for a driver on every tee shot, like others on common use on the tour.

"It's definitely more mind-boggling than most," he said. "It's a thinking man's golf course. You need good strategy on every hole, every shot. You have to think continuously and meticulously.

"I like a course where you have to think and not just whack it out there off the tee."

Category: Golf
Posted on: May 12, 2011 3:51 pm
Edited on: May 12, 2011 4:03 pm

Hey, is that actually O'Hair on the leaderboard?

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla . -- There was a slightly unfamiliar name on the leaderboard for most of Thursday morning at the Players Championship, given that it had been months since he'd climbed that high up the pecking order.

It was none other than Sean O'Hair, who has been on the radar lately only for the wrong reasons.

O'Hair got off to a strong start and was 4-under and stationed in the top 10 for a couple of hours before finishing with a 71. Still, given the way he has played lately, it was a huge step forward.

In a move that generated some buzz last week, O'Hair parted ways with swing coach Sean Foley and went back to his former teacher, Steve Dahlby, who helped launch O'Hair career years ago. Foley, of course, has been in the news a bit lately as the man behind Tiger Woods' new swing.

"I feel like I was thinking too much out there," O'Hair said. "I feel like I played golf today and not golf swing. It's nothing against Foley. I just needed something different and more natural for me."

Clearly. O'Hair had missed five straight cuts and hasn't mustered a top-20 all year.

O'Hair has a reputation as a slow player, and it sounds like it relates at least partly to the confusion in his head about how to properly belt a golf ball, which has always been the strongest part of his game. O'Hair is a terrific ball-striker and regarded as a so-so putter at best.

"I'm standing behind the ball [before address], and I can't walk into the ball and hit it," he said of his confusion.

Finishing 1 under isn't anything that had him declaring that his slump is over, but he was certainly in a better mood than he's experienced for months.

"I needed a change of scenery for me," he said.

That would include his caddie, too, sort of. Back on the bag is father-in-law Steve Lucas, who has looped off and on for O'Hair several times over the years, often with solid success.

"It's not permanent," O'Hair said. "He's just trying to help me get back on my feet."

Category: Golf
Posted on: May 12, 2011 3:28 pm

Crane's wooden effort a marquee performance

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla . -- For those who think that wood has long since been replaced by titanium in the game of golf, behold Ben Crane, who has conclusively proven otherwise.

On a course famouse for its wooden bulkheads that surround the design's many water hazards, Crane thrice visited the wooden planks when playing the 17th and 18th hole at the Players Championships and never once took a dip in the water.

How lucky was he? Knock on wood.

It began on the 17th, the infamous hole with the island green. He hit his tee shot all the eway to the back of the green, where it caromed off the top of the wooden planks, bounced over the water hazard and onto a grasy bank populated by fans. The wooden rail is perhaps 18 inches wide.

He grabbed a wedge and pitched back across the water and hit the same plank, the ball bouncing forward and staying out of the water.

“It hit, probably, in the same dimple mark,” Crane said.

He salvaged a bogey from what might have been far worse. On the 18th, his ninth hole of the day, he pulled his 5-iron approach shot andit caromed off the top of the bulkhead yet again, bouncing to the ack of the green. Again, he made a bogey, but it might have been more disastrous.

Better yet, Crane hit a shot into the trees on his back nine and the ball clanged back into play. This is one guy who doesn't need the extra luck. The only two players in the field who have finished in the top 10 in each of the past two years at Sawgrass are Crane and defending champion Tim Clark.

With all the extra magic, Crane is right back up there again. He finished with a 4-under 68 and was tied for sixth after the morning wave.

Category: Golf
Posted on: May 12, 2011 3:02 pm

Tiger was obviously ailing? Yes and no

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla . -- Two guys with the same front-row seats.

But you'd never know they were watching the same sporting event.

The playing partners of Tiger Woods in the first round of the Players Championship could not have been farther apart in their postround comments about Woods, who quit after nine holes on Thursday. It was almost funny, the difference in their levels of perception with regard to the pain Woods was feeling with his myriad leg issues.

"Tiger looked like he was in pain today," said Matt Kuchar, who shot 69. "It looked like you could tell he was walking quite slowly, quite gingerly it seemed like. He was just last to get to his ball every time as he was just walking so gingerly."

Woods said he aggravated his injuries with the very first swing of the day. Which Kuchar picked up quickly.

"Yeah, probably by the second hole I knew that you could tell," Kuchar said. "That walk wasn't normal, and I think by the third hole started seeing some grimacing."

While Kuchar was almost expecting Woods to stop after nine holes, Kaymer, ranked No. 2 in the world, was clearly caught off guard. Woods handed him his scorecard after walking off the ninth green.

"I was surprised because I was not expecting it," Kaymer said. "But I mean, nobody really knows in how much pain he was [in]."

Kaymer failed to notice that Woods was favoring his right leg and struggling to keep up with his playing pertners.

"Did I notice anything?" Kaymer said. "Yeah, he was walking really slowly. He was walking behind us. But I didn't know that it was because of pain or I just thought that he walks a little slower than me. 

"I didn't really know in how much pain he was. I don't know what he told you guys after the round, but for us, I was focusing on my game. I was not really paying too much attention."

Not a bad idea, really. Kaymer, the defending PGA Championship winner, shot 65 and was in a tie for third after the morning session.

Posted on: May 12, 2011 2:18 pm

Watney on Sawgrass board isn't a surprise

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla . -- Nick Watney has a funny, endearing habit of getting a wide-eyed look on his mug when he's on the golf course, which one media wiseguy once described as the expression a baby gets when it's passing gas.

You should have seen the look on his mug two weeks ago when his wife nearly gave him a coronary with a surprise 30th birthday party.

Watney had planned to play golf with his caddie Chad Reynolds and a few friends three days before his April 25th birthday and called home to inform he is wife that they were set to play 18 holes starting at 2:45 p.m. For the first time ever, she said no.

"If that's when you are playing, you can only play nine holes," she said.

Watney never figured out why she had placed him on the short leash until he walked in the front door of their Las Vegas home a few hours later and was greeted by his friends and family.

"I didn't even make the connection," he laughed. "I was very slow on the draw."

The rising American standout was nothing of the sort in the first round of the Players Championship on Thursday, bolting out of the gate for a scintillating 8-under 64, despite making a double-bogey.

Interestingly, Watney missed the cut last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, his first weekend off in 11 months, and didn't exactly sulk about it. He and Reynolds flew to TPC Sawgrass early and did some tuneup work and Watney almost immediately picked up where he was for much of the spring, when he was one of the hottest players on the planet.

"I played with Ernie Els at the Masters and he told me that he won two of his major titles the week after he had missed the cut, and he worked real hard afterward," Watney said.

This isn't a major, but it's the next-closest thing, for sure. The winner gets a tidy $1.71 million and Watney already has one victory in Florida this season, at the World Golf Championships event at Doral in March.

The California native has the added benefit of having Reynolds around to help with the tricky Bermuda greens. He is a former Jacksonville club pro and caddied several years for area resident Vijay Singh, who has amassed so many hours on the Sawgrass practice range, they ought to charge him rent.

"He has definitely logged some hours around here," Watney said.

Watney had eight birdies and holed a sand shot for an eagle on his 11th hole. The double-bogey he made on his fifth hole could have seriously dented the three-birdie start he fashioned out of the chute, but this week, it didn't.

"It's a rewarding feeling because I didn't let it affect the rest of my day," Watney said.

Watney has 12 previous rounds at Sawgrass, none better than 68.

Category: Golf
Posted on: May 12, 2011 9:20 am
Edited on: May 12, 2011 10:58 am

Woods withdraws after fast Sawgrass splashdown

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla . -- Tiger Woods stood behind the ninth green on Thursday and wondered aloud at what had just transpired.

On a day in which good shots were few and far between, not to mention few and far afield, he has just bombed his second shot on the par-5 hole over the green on the fly and into an oak tree behind the green. It was a towering shot that was seemingly in the air forever.

He handed the club back to caddie Steve Williams and said, "I just hit it 290 with a 5-wood?"

Even the rare good shots turned out porrly for the fading, former world No. 1 in the first round of the Players Championship, and he finished with a bogey before withdrawing for the second consecutive year.

A moment latrer, he handed his golf glove to Williams and his scorecard to playing partner Martin Kaymer and told them he was punching out after nine holes.

"I am having a hard time walking," Woods said.
Not to mention a difficult time scoring. He shot 6-over 42 on the front nine and was tied for last when he decided to head to the TPC Sawgrass locker room, visibly limping.

It was downhill from the start for Woods, who pulled up lame after hitting is first tee shot of the day, a draw that missed the fairway. Woods said that as he pushed into the 3-wood, his knee began to throb. His second shot was no better. He was forced to stand in the pine straw to make his second swing of the day. That's the same type of lie he faced that landed him in his current predicament -- Woods injured a knee and Achilles hitting a ball out of the pine straw in the final round four weeks ago at Augusta National.

This time, Woods lost traction on his downswing and instantly muttered, "freaking foot slipped," as he hit the shot fat and the ball came up well short of the green. He made bogey and the early tone was set.

"The pine straw didn't help because the foot slipped," he said afterward.

After muffing a flop shot on the easy second hole and settling for a par, Woods hit two balls in the water on the fourth, where the green is fronted by a pond, including ann awful wedge shot from 45 yards in a closely mowed drop zone that caromed off the wooden bulkhead surrounding the green clanged into the middle of the hazard.

The knee was not the issue. That was pure rust and poor execution. He chunked three wedges in nine holes, including on the ninth.

"The pitch shots weren't [because of the injury]," he said. "Those were just bad shots. Awful." 

Woods eventually found the green and made an 18-footer for a triple bogey at the fourth. Moments later, he grimaced in apparent pain after he badly missed the fifth green, from 160 yards out and the middle of the fairway, and made another bogey, dropping to 5 over through five holes and into dead last among those in the morning wave in 72nd place.

After his tee shot found the fairway at the sixth, his approach from 123 yards plopped into a greenside bunker, though he managed to save par. On one of the trickiest short-game tracks on the PGA Tour, Woods only found one of the first six greens in regulation.

In 13 career starts, Woods had never missed the cut at Sawgrass or posted a score higher than 75. He withdrew after seven holes on Sunday last year with a neck issue.

Because of the leg injuries, Woods didn't practice or play for four weeks heading into this week's event, and only played nine holes at Sawgrass on Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation. He has played 16 competitive stroke-play rounds in the States all season.

Woods dropped to No. 8 in the world ranking this week, his lowest position since before he won his first Masters title in April, 1997.

As though Woods didn't look lost enough, his playing partners, Matt Kuchar and Martin Kaymer, are two of the steadiest players on the planet and were both 2 under through the first six holes, seven shots better than Woods.


Category: Golf
Posted on: May 12, 2011 8:01 am

Sawgrass starts: Bring your sunscreen

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla . -- The PGA Tour staff must be loving this.

The forecast for the first round of the tour's signature event should be just about perfect, with wisps of wind and scalding sun.

In other words, they ought to have the infamously tricky TPC Sawgrass track dialed in to perfection for the $9.5 million Players Championship, because there's been no rain to muck up the works.

There are only trace chances of rain Thursday and winds are expected to be minimal off the Atlantic Ocean at 12 m.p.h., which should barely affect play and might keep the temperatures -- expected to reach 90 degrees in the sunshine -- from causing anybody to faint.

As for the three top fan draws. Tiger Woods tees off at 8:08 a.m., Phil Mickelson plays in the afternoon wave at 1:18 p.m. and Rickie Fowler starts at 2:10.

Bring your sunscreen.

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