Barclays Tournament Faces Being Blown Away

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The first event of the US PGA Tour’s first playoff series is under threat with hurricane Irene set to bear down on the east coast in the next 24 hours.

While not in the direct path of the storm the Barclays tournament in New Jersey can ill afford to cop the heavy downpours expected to come along with the intense low pressure system.

The Plainfield course has already copped nearly 10 inches of rain over just a couple of weeks and the concern is that any water which does fall will have nowhere to go.

This has left players in limbo about what may happen and tournament organisers scratching their heads.

“If we get five or seven inches of rain here, we are probably dead in the water,” the Tour’s vice president of competition Slugger White said.

They have ruled out an idea to reduce the tournament to 54 holes and players have supported calls to ensure 72 holes are played.

That being said if the weather is as bad as expected that may simply not be possible.

Harrison Frazar wins St Judes Classic

Harrison Frazar has share of the lead as hurricane Irene threatens tournament.

This tournament is crucial to the players as only those ranked in the top 100 FedEx Cup standings are eligible to continue to the second round.

Those that miss out also miss out on the opportunity for $10 million dollars for the top ranked player after the four playoff events.

One piece of positive news is that the tournament can be extended to Tuesday should it be approved by PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.

Given that the next tournament isn’t due to start until the following Friday, that’s something that looks plausible, although at the moment it’s a case of ‘wait and see’.

American player Charley Hoffman summed up the mood of both athletes and organisers.

“I don’t think anybody has any clue,” he said.

“I’m pretty sure 100 per cent of us want to play 72 holes out here, and we all know the tournament (next week) doesn’t start until Friday.

“So I’m pretty sure the players will commit to go to Tuesday if possible.

“But if this place gets 10 inches of rain two weeks in a row, I don’t know how playable this golf course is going to be on Tuesday.”

Currently leading the competition are a trio of Americans Harrison Frazar, Matt Kuchar and William McGirt.

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Webb Simpson wins his first and most favorite PGA event at Wyndham Championship on Sunday

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Webb Simpson wins in Greensboro

Webb Simpson wins in Greensboro

Webb Simpson grew up in North Carolina, and his favorite memory of the Wyndham Championship was caddying for Neal Lancaster as a teenager during a pro-am.

That might change now that he’s won the tournament.

Simpson claimed his first PGA Tour title Sunday, shooting a 3-under 67 to win by three strokes.

The 26-year-old Raleigh native finished at 18-under 262 and collected $936,000 in the tournament about a 30-mile drive from the Wake Forest campus where he was a college star.

“I really couldn’t think of a better place to win than here in Greensboro,” Simpson said.

George McNeill (64) was at 15 under, with Tommy Gainey (69) another stroke back in the final event before the PGA Tour playoffs.

Carl Pettersson (69), Vijay Singh (65), Jerry Kelly (65), Kyung-tae Kim (66) and Charles Howell III (67) finished at 13 under at Sedgefield Country Club.

Simpson said his first visit to the Greensboro-based tournament came when he was 16. His father brought him to the event’s former home across town at Forest Oaks Country Club to caddie for Lancaster during the Wednesday pro-am.

“That was probably the most fun 18 holes I’ve ever been a part of,” Simpson said.

His final 18 of this tournament were marked by steady, bogey-free play and a strong finish marked by consecutive birdies on Nos. 15 and 16.

After taking the lead during Round 3 with a late five-hole stretch of four birdies and an eagle, Simpson opened his final round with eight straight pars before moving to 16 under with a birdie on the par-4 ninth.

He stayed there until late in the day. Birdies on the par-5 15th and the par-3 16th gave him a three-shot lead with two holes to go.

“When I made the putt on 15, I asked my caddie for the first time all day, `Where do we stand?’ and he said, `We’re two ahead right now,’” Simpson said. “I knew I needed to play solid golf on the last three holes, and to birdie 16 was so huge. … I knew I had a three-shot lead on 18, and as soon as I hit the ball in play, I knew it was probably over.”

McNeill made a late charge, with the former Florida State player moving to 15 under with a birdie on No. 17, his sixth birdie of the round. But all he could do after that was hope for a few late bogeys from Simpson.

“Honestly, I thought it was going to be a lot lower,” McNeill said of the winning score. “I can only control myself. I can’t control what everybody else does. I’m very happy with the way I hit it, the way I played, the way I putted.”

Several players with strong Atlantic Coast Conference ties played pivotal roles during the fourth round at the country club where the ACC was founded in 1953 — and in a college-centric region where school ties run deep.

Simpson was the ACC’s player of the year for the Demon Deacons in 2008. McNeill was an all-conference player for the Seminoles in the late 1990s.

And Pettersson grew up in Greensboro, played at North Carolina State, serves on this tournament’s board of directors, won it in 2008 and made the daily 70-mile commute from his home in Raleigh.

“I’m disappointed. I’m a competitor,” Pettersson said. “I wanted to win this one badly, but Webb outplayed us all.”

Pettersson turned in perhaps the most remarkable birdie of the tournament on the par-4 first hole. After sending his drive well wide of the fairway and into a flower pot, he wound up chipping in from about 55 feet.

Gainey, a South Carolina native known as “Tommy Two Gloves” because he wears them on both hands, led or shared the lead after each of the first two rounds. After falling off the pace with two bogeys and a double bogey midway through the round, he reeled off four consecutive birdies on Nos. 12-15 to climb back in it.

The focus this week wasn’t solely on the leaders, but on the names moving up and down the FedEx Cup points list.

The Wyndham annually marks the last chance for players to claim spots in the playoffs, and some big names came to Greensboro hoping to play their way in.

Padraig Harrington, who called off a family vacation so he could try to escape the playoff bubble, finished at 6 under and jumped from No. 130 to No. 124. The top 125 qualify for The Barclays later this week in New Jersey.

Ernie Els, who entered at No. 126, made it into the playoff field despite shooting a final-round 72. His 8 under finish pushed him to 118th.

“You don’t know in these playoffs,” Els said. “I’ve got to play good golf though. I played really good the first two days. I’d like to get that back.”

Among those who didn’t make it: Justin Leonard missed a 13-foot putt on the 18th, and that left him at No. 126.

“To try and wait until this week to make it through is just — you know,” Leonard said. “I mean, come on. I had 25 other weeks to play like this.”

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Quinney and Gainey share lead at the Wyndham Championship

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Jeff Quinney share lead

Jeff Quinney share lead

If Jeff Quinney keeps this up, he might soon have a new PGA Tour card — and a spot in the FedExCup playoffs.

Quinney and Tommy Gainey shot 7-under 63s on Thursday to share the lead after one round in the Wyndham Championship.

Quinney had eight birdies, including five in a row early in his round, to start strong in his last chance to qualify for golf’s postseason.

Gainey had five birdies and an eagle in matching his career-best round. Both players are chasing their first PGA Tour victory.

Stuart Appleby had a 64. Ten players — Paul Casey, Carl Pettersson, Ernie Els, Jason Bohn, Jimmy Walker, Tim Herron, Lee Janzen, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and George McNeill — shot 65s during another low-scoring day at Sedgefield Country Club.

Quinney arrived in 215th place in the FedExCup standings. A win — and the 500 points that accompany it — would put him in The Barclays.

“The only chance I get in the playoffs is probably winning this week, and coming with the attitude of `all-in,’” Quinney said. “Basically, just push all your chips in, and this is what I got.”

A year ago, a close-but-not-enough finish on this course left Quinney outside the playoff field. He wound up in 126th place, falling short of the postseason by three points.

He spent most of the first day of his return to the par-70 Sedgefield layout near the top of the leaderboard after his early flurry of birdies.

Starting on the back nine, Quinney birdied Nos. 12-16 to move to 5 under. After a bogey on No. 18, he added three more birdies on his final nine holes and closed by sticking his 140-yard approach shot within 3 feet and sinking that putt for his eighth birdie.

“It’s my last chance, and don’t hold back, try to get out of my own way,” Quinney said.

Quinney, who has conditional status on the tour, is playing just his 11th tournament of the year.

“Once you do get in, you put a little pressure on yourself,” Quinney said. “It’s been frustrating. This is my first year I’ve been non-exempt for five years, and so I think you just expect it to be somewhere else, and it’s a struggle mentally to fight that. I still got the game. I just need the opportunities and not to get in your own way and try to force things.”

Gainey caught him during the afternoon, with four birdies and the eagle coming during the South Carolina native’s front nine. He moved to 7 under with a birdie on the par-4 13th, but ran into trouble on No. 15 when he sent his tee shot into a creek and closed his round with five pars.

“I hit it terrible off the tee, hit my irons really good, made a lot of putts, but I left quite a few shots out there, so I’ve got to definitely work on the tee ball here, because it’s starting to really frustrate me,” Gainey said. “Any time you play and shoot 63 … when you have no blemishes on a golf course like this — or any golf course, for that matter — it’s a good day.”

Gainey — who’s at No. 40 on the points list — is safely in the playoff field.

Some others here this week aren’t quite that secure.

Once again, the prevailing storyline was the list of players who came in search of a push into the playoffs. The Wyndham annually marks the final chance to crack the top 125 on the points list and qualify for the postseason, which starts next week in New Jersey.

Els, who arrived at No. 126, was part of a morning threesome of bubble players that also included No. 124 Cameron Beckman and No. 125 Camilo Villegas.

“I said to the guys, `My playoffs started this week. If I don’t play well this week, I’m not advancing,’” Els said. “Most of the other guys have four playoff events. I have five. I feel like I need to do well (to go to) The Barclays and keep going. It’s hard not to think about it. There’s quite a bit of pressure on us guys lower down the field. We need to perform well.”

Fabian Gomez delivered the shot of the day — a double eagle on the par-5 No. 15. His 5-wood shot from 250 yards out went into the hole on the fly for the tour’s third albatross of the year.

And Furyk had two eagles in a span of four holes, his second multi-eagle round this year.

Indeed, low scores once again were the norm at the Donald Ross-designed course. Since the tournament moved back here in 2008, two of the three winners have finished at 20 under or better.

“My caddie said 5 under every day is sort of the goal,” Casey said.

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Padraig Harrington just one of high powered field to play for FedEx Cup position

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Padraig Harrington will play the Wyndham Championship

Padraig Harrington will play the Wyndham Championship

The Wyndham Championship has attracted one of its best fields, partly out of desperation from some players.

The final tournament before the start of the PGA Tour’s playoffs offers one last chance for players to climb the FedExCup rankings and claim a spot in The Barclays.

Several could use a big week in North Carolina. Ernie Els, who enters at No. 126, wrote on his official website that this is “last-chance saloon.” Padraig Harrington is No. 130, five slots behind No. 125 Camillo Villegas in the race to make golf’s postseason.

“I hope that I’ll be the fairy tale story, but any of us guys who are slightly outside the FedExCup at the moment, if we qualify, we can go on and win” the playoffs, Harrington said Wednesday. “That’s the whole idea … that anybody who is in the top 125 has a chance of winning it outright and being the best player of the year. So, if myself or Ernie or any of the guys actually make it in, and we hit our A-games for four weeks, all of a sudden, we can be the FedExCup champion.”

Meanwhile, No. 106 Retief Goosen and reigning playoff champion Jim Furyk want to solidify their spots in the standings.

They’re all a big part of what Tournament Director Mark Brazil has called the event’s best field in 20 years.

The playoffs “are obviously playing a role in the fields of tournaments, and this is a perfect example,” Bill Haas said. “I think it’s great to see. It shows the competitive nature of all the players out here. Everybody wants to play in these playoff events, and give themselves a shot, because anything can happen.”

Harrington will tee off Thursday morning as part of one of the tournament’s more intriguing groups. He’ll be joined by two other big names who also are looking to play their way into the postseason — No. 142 Justin Leonard and No. 147 Paul Casey. The threesome has combined to win four majors.

Harrington had a family vacation in the Bahamas scheduled, but when he wound up on the playoff bubble, his wife urged him to sign up for Greensboro.

“If I do qualify, I’m really looking forward to the fact that I can be the underdog and come through and win it outright,” Harrington said. “I suppose that’s what the FedExCup was designed for.”

Jason Dufner certainly could use a strong showing at the par-70 Sedgefield Country Club to move forward after his late five-shot lead evaporated at the PGA Championship last week and Keegan Bradley beat him in a three-hole playoff.

“I think it’ll make me a better player,” said Dufner, who at No. 25 doesn’t have to worry about making the playoff field. “I feel like there’s been more guys who have lost leads or lost tournaments in that situation and then have had greater finishes in the future than guys that have lost leads and you never heard of again.”

Two local favorites — Haas and Webb Simpson, who played their college golf at nearby Wake Forest — are safely in the playoff field. Simpson enters 12th on the points list with Haas three spots behind him.

“It’s about the time of year when the FedExCup playoff buzz starts going, and I think we’ve got a bunch of good names here because of it,” Simpson said. “I think I’m in a position where I can make a nice run at the playoffs and try to win. This week, I don’t think I can really hurt myself. I can definitely help myself with a good week.”

For Haas, no trip to Greensboro is complete without a return to his college town. The 29-year-old said he’ll make the 30-minute drive to Winston-Salem at least once to take a spin around campus “and just feel like I’m younger.”

“It was the best time of my life, without question,” Haas added. “I would trade everything I’ve done on tour to go back to college for four more years.”

One player in the field can return to school in the fall after he makes some PGA Tour history.

Olafur Loftsson, a rising senior at Charlotte, won the Cardinal Amateur across town to earn a sponsor’s exemption into the Wyndham. That will make him the first player from Iceland to play a tour event.

“People over there are very pleased to see me have some success,” Loftsson said. “Very excited to be able to represent Iceland here and kind of show the world that we do play golf in Iceland and we can be pretty darn good.”

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Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner just a couple of the new names at top of PGA Championship leader board

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Brendan Steele in 3rd round of PGA

Brendan Steele in 3rd round of PGA

Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner at least can make a name for themselves in the PGA Championship. Until that big trophy is handed out Sunday, however, this major remains very much a mystery.

How will they handle the pressure of the final round?

Can they safely navigate through the four-hole finish, considered among the most brutal of any course?

And just who are these guys, anyway?

Rarely has a major championship contained so much inexperience at the top going into the final round. Steele is believed to be the first rookie since John Daly in the 1991 PGA Championship to play in the final group of a major.

Steele, already a winner this year on the PGA Tour and No. 121 in the world, showed remarkable poise Saturday by overcoming a double bogey on the seventh hole. He ran off four birdies over his next seven holes, and not even a safe bogey on the 18th could take away from a 4-under 66 to give him a share of the lead.

He is tied with Jason Dufner, who, at 34, is still looking for his first PGA Tour win. Dufner, stoic as ever with a chunk of tobacco jutting out from his bottom lip, atoned for a pair of three-putt bogeys on the back nine with back-to-back birdies. He only missed one green in the third round and shot 68.

They were at 7-under 203, one shot clear of Keegan Bradley, a 25-year-old rookie who also won earlier this year. Bradley, playing in the final group, opened with a double bogey, which might have been expected given his inexperience. He also bounced back with remarkable resiliency, playing bogey-free on the back nine and rallying for a 69.

Now comes the hard part.

Never mind that only one of the top 10 players in the world is within four shots — Steve Stricker, who shot 69 and was three behind. Or that Tiger Woods, defending champion Martin Kaymer and British Open champion Darren Clarke all missed the cut. Or that U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy blew up in a round of 74 and was out of contention.

Atlanta Athletic Club is the kind of course that can take shots away without notice. Jim Furyk discovered that by putting three balls into the water on the last four holes for a pair of double bogeys.

“Wishy-washy play is not going to get it done,” Steele said.

Right behind them is plenty of experience.

Scott Verplank, who at 47 can become the second-oldest major champion, rattled in a 50-foot putt across the 17th green for a most unlikely birdie, then laid up on the par-4 18th and escaped with par by making an 18-foot putt for a 69. He was only two shots behind.

Stricker, at No. 5 the highest-ranked American in the world ranking, took only 10 putts on the front nine when his round could have gone south quickly. He steadied himself with a solid up-and-down for par on the final hole.

“Everybody is going to be dealing with their nerves and the pressure of trying to win,” Stricker said. “I think it’s who can keep it together the best and be patient and play some good golf.”

That might be to the newcomers’ advantage. Plus, the golf course is proving to be difficult enough to get their attention.

“It could be a good thing. Might maybe make me a little more relaxed knowing that everybody is kind of in the same boat struggling with those emotions and thoughts and the mentality of trying to win a major,” Dufner said. “I just feel like if you’re playing good, you should be confident. And obviously, I’ve been playing really well for these three rounds.”

Dufner is playing his best at the end. Through three rounds, he has played the last four holes in 3 under — with no bogeys. Compared with the field average, that’s the equivalent of picking up seven shots on the field.

Besides, there’s not much major championship experience behind them.

Only two players among the top 12 on the leaderboard have won majors — Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and David Toms, who won the PGA Championship on this course 10 years ago. They were at 2-under 208, five shots behind.

Also in that group was Adam Scott, coming off a win at Firestone last week. He struggled to a 70, but has not lost hope.

“You can make up six shots in the last four holes,” said Scott, who was six behind when he finished. “So yeah, I think you can make up six shots in the last round.”

The final round is so much up in the air that even Lee Westwood, desperate to finally add a major to an otherwise stellar career, remains in the mix despite one bad hole that spoiled his afternoon. A tee shot that just climbed into a bunker in the 14th fairway led to a three-putt double bogey on the 14th. He still managed a 70 and was six shots behind.

Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world who also is without a major, got to within one shot of the lead only to find the water on the 18th hole and close with a double bogey, leaving him seven shots behind.

“It does offer some birdie opportunities, and you can get it under par,” Donald said. “But there are some tough holes out there that you’ve got to weather, and the champion at the end of the week is probably going to have played those tough ones the best.”

The last player to win a major in his first try was Ben Curtis in the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George’s. The last American to make a major his first PGA Tour win was Shaun Micheel at the PGA Championship in 2003 at Oak Hill.

“It’s a great week for me just to be in the field,” said Steele, won the Texas Open a week after the Masters. “To have a chance to actually win in my first major is really something special.”

Bradley, the nephew of LPGA Tour great Pat Bradley, won the HP Byron Nelson Championship in May and contended last week in Firestone. When he started with a double bogey, he didn’t panic.

“It really did not faze me that much,” Bradley said. “My goal was to under-react to everything that happened out there today, good or bad. And you know, I took it pretty well. I knew that it was a very important time for me to stay calm and stay patient, or else it could have got away from me. And I did, which was good.”

Saturday was the kind of day when it could have gotten away from a lot of players. Despite more muggy temperatures, the rookies managed to keep their composure.

Anders Hansen of Denmark, who has never seriously contended in a major, also kept it together with a 70 and was at 3-under 207, along with Pebble Beach winner D.A. Points, who went nine holes without making a par but still shot 71.

The toughest part about Sunday might be killing time until the late afternoon tee time. That shouldn’t be a problem for Steele, who spent the first three months getting the last tee time on tour because of his rookie status.

Then again, that was another reminder of how far he has come already.

Bradley thought back to the Nationwide Tour last year when he and Steele were in contention at a tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“There was nobody around. We were just out there playing,” Bradley said. “If we would have said we’d be in a couple of the final groups on Sunday at the PGA, I think we both would have kind of laughed at each other.”

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After missing the cut, where will Tiger show his stripes next…?

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Tiger misses cut

Tiger misses cut

Bears go into hibernation and now a Tiger will, too. Only this time it won’t be by choice.

Tiger Woods missed the cut in a major championship for just the third time as a professional and fourth time overall Friday, shooting a 3-over-par 73 to finish his week 10 over.

His next stop will be Jupiter (Florida, that is) after he hit some otherworldly shots at Atlanta Athletic Club, where he arrived 129th in the FedExCup standings and left out of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup following five double bogeys over two days.

That, by the way, was the first time the two-time FedExCup champion has put up such ghastly numbers.

It also means it will be the last time we will see him until Novemeber when he is scheduled to play in the JBWere Masters in Australia and possibly The Presidents Cup — should captain Fred Couples select him.

Woods needs the tournament reps, but he needs first to go back to the range to do the work he’s been unable to do because of his health or lack thereof after a knee and Achilles injury sidelined the 14-time major champion for three months.

“I showed signs that I can hit the ball exactly how I know I can,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, I just didn’t do it enough times.”

Time is exactly what Woods needs now, maybe now more than ever, to do the things Sean Foley has tried to impart but has been unable to because of Woods’ battered body and mind.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but Foley has his work cut out with a soon-to-be 36-year-old Tiger.

“Now I have nothing to do but work on my game,” said Woods, a four-time winner of the PGA Championship who missed the cut in the event for the first time in his career. “That’s going to be good.”

Woods was anything but good this week, except for maybe his distance off the tee.

“I’m hitting the ball farther,” he said.

Farther into the woods maybe. That’s what Woods did on the par-5 12th Friday, for example, when he hit a low snap hook with a fairway wood on his way to one of those five double bogeys.

Woods said the week was a step backwards in that he didn’t make the cut and therefore didn’t contend in the tournament.

Well, it wasn’t a step forward, either, so it could only be backwards. If you’re not doing one, you’re doing the other.

Earlier this year, Woods returned too soon from the injuries he sustained at the Masters only to pull out of THE PLAYERS Championship following just nine holes.

Nothing was right then and not much is better now. But maybe all this in a weird way will do Woods some good.

He can go back to spending all his waking hours working on his game — driving, ball-striking, chipping, putting — and get away from the spotlight, scrutiny and everything else that goes with being him out here.

Besides, half the reason he put his face on golf’s Mount Rushmore was because he outworked everybody else.

Woods is ultracompetitive, like all the great ones always are, and he came to the PGA Championship with the same expectations he’s always had.

“A ‘W’,” Woods said. “A nice ‘W.’”

Instead, he left with another set of letters next to his name: MC.

And in the long term, it might just do him some good.

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Now that Tiger Woods not the favorite, picking a winner is like throwing darts at a board

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Adam Scott

Adam Scott

Picking a favorite before a major championship has always been like throwing darts at a board, only in previous years one target was a little bigger than the others. Not anymore. While some of the best players in the game stand a better chance this week than others, the post-Tiger era, especially in major championships, is both wide open and strangely disquieting.

There have been six consecutive first-time major winners going all the way back to Graeme McDowell at last year’s U.S. Open, and nine of the last 10 going all the way back to Lucas Glover’s Open win at Bethpage Black. The only two repeat major winners in the last three years are Angel Cabrera and Phil Mickelson, while the No.1 and No.2 players in the world, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, are major-less. In fact, the top five players in the World Golf Rankings own exactly one major title between them: Martin Kaymer’s win at last year’s PGA Championship.

This is strange place for a game that is used to having a top dog. For 14 years, Tiger Woods elevated the public consciousness of golf and escalated the level of play on all tours. More people watched when Tiger played well, and the professional game improved in an attempt to keep up with him.

Prior to Tiger, Greg Norman set the bar. Before that, it was Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, and before that, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson. Sure, there were other great players in all those eras, but the game has seemingly always had a standard bearer. Now that Tiger had become what legendary football coach Bill Parcells calls “a JAG” (just another guy), the question going into this PGA Championship becomes: is golf better off with or without one dominant player?

“It’s a pretty good question, that,” said Darren Clarke, the most recent major champion who is looking to become the first player since Padraig Harrington to follow a British Open win with the victory in the PGA Championship. “Tiger was the best player for a very long time and he raised the bar in terms of what everybody else did and everybody else’s preparation and the way they went about tournaments. So in one way, it’s good.

“In another way, you have guys challenging all the time, different players; the likes of Adam Scott, who played sensationally well last week in Akron. It was great to see that for him.”

Scott, a soft-spoken Australian, would never be so brash as to name himself the likely successor to Tiger. But he did say he thinks “the state of the game is in a really interesting place right now. We’ve seen a lot of great stories with some really high-quality young players who are living up to their potential quickly, like Rory (McIlroy) and Ryo (Ishikawa) and Matteo Manassero winning as teenagers. The competition is strong at the moment. Luke Donald has played amazing; Lee Westwood is playing amazing. I think it’s a very interesting place for golf. It’s exciting to watch.”

But will the public continue to watch if the game fails to produce one or two players who separate themselves from the pack, particularly in majors?

“I think the fans always enjoy the hero, the one player that does dominate, who they can cheer for, and I think Tiger was that person, obviously,” said World No. 1 Donald. “But there are obviously people out there who enjoy also like seeing a bit more variance and variety; that other people have a chance to win. That’s been the case the last two or three years. There’s been a lot of shuffling around in the World Golf Rankings, and I’m sure that’s good for the sport as well.

“I’m not sure which is better. I’d probably sway with (having) one person dominating. I think it brings more to the sport.”

Lee Westwood, who would like to become that dominant player, thinks the game is just fine either way. “I think it’s exciting when there’s a lot of different winners and I think it’s exciting when there’s a dominant player,” Westwood said. “You can’t say that when Tiger was winning lots of majors it was boring or dull; it was exciting to watch and see what he would do next. I think it’s healthy for the game both ways. I think depending on who you are and what your idea is, some people are not going to like it when there’s not somebody dominant and others are not going to like it when it’s predictable.”

Then, in a moment that summed up the state of game as well as any, Westwood concluded by saying: “It’s something you can’t control. What you get is what you get.”

This week, what we’re going to get is far from predictable. And that is a good thing.

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Adam Scott wins WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Championship

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Adam Scott wins

Adam Scott wins

The chants and cheers began as Adam Scott walked toward the 18th green to complete a command performance Sunday in the Bridgestone Invitational and win his first World Golf Championship.

But in a surreal scene at Firestone, they weren’t for him.

They were for his caddie.

“Stev-ie Will-iams,” they shouted as the guy carrying the bag for Scott broke into a big smile.

The celebration made it clear that Steve Williams felt vindicated after being fired last month by Tiger Woods. The interview after it was over — yes, he gave interviews — made it sound as if it was Williams who shot the 5-under 65. At one point, Williams described himself as a “good front-runner when I’m caddying.”

“I’ve caddied for 33 years — 145 wins now — and that’s the best win I’ve ever had,” Williams told CBS Sports on the 18th green. This from a guy whose 12 years working for Woods featured 13 majors and 16 world titles among 72 wins worldwide. That includes the 2001 Masters, when Woods won an unprecedented fourth straight major.

Clearly, Williams is still angry over how — and when — Woods cut him loose. He even disputed Woods’ version of how it happened, saying Woods told him over the phone, not in person.

Scott didn’t seem to mind that his caddie was getting most of the attention.

“I can talk about Steve now and not Tiger,” Scott said to laughter, alluding to the countless times he and other players have been asked about Woods. “I’m sure there are a lot of other golfers who wouldn’t mind that, either.”

The latest chapter in the endless saga involving Woods took away from a premier performance by Scott, who didn’t make a bogey over his last 26 holes and couldn’t afford to with 19-year-old Ryo Ishikawa giving him all he could handle.

They were never separated by more than one shot until Scott chipped in from the side of the 12th green, then rolled in a birdie putt from just inside 30 feet on the 14th to build a three-shot lead. Ishikawa three-putted the 15th, and Scott had no trouble closing this one out.

He wound up winning by four shots over world No. 1 Luke Donald, who shot 66; and Rickie Fowler, who played a final round worthy of a winner with a bogey-free 66, only to run into an affable Australian who couldn’t be beat.

Ishikawa made a bogey on the last hole to tie for fourth with Jason Day. They both shot 69. For the Japanese star, it was his highest finish in America.

Scott finished at 17-under 263, the lowest score to win at Firestone since Woods had 259 in 2000 in an 11-shot win.

With a three-shot lead, Scott thought about playing it safe on the 18th. Williams told him to take 6-iron at the flag, and Scott obliged with a shot that rolled past the cup and settled 5 feet away. When they got to the green, one fan shouted out, “How do you like him now, Tiger?”

By then, Woods was long gone.

After missing three months with a leg injury, he finished a tournament for the first time since the Masters on April 10 and closed with a 70 to tie for 37th, 18 shots behind.

“I had it in spurts this week,” Woods said.

Scott became the third Australian to win a World Golf Championship, joining Geoff Ogilvy and Craig Parry. He won for the 18th time in his career and moved back into the top 10 in the world ranking.

While his old boss was on the mend, Williams agreed to caddie for Scott at the U.S. Open. Williams said he was led to believe that Woods was going to play practice rounds at Congressional, but only after the New Zealand caddie arrived in America was he told that Woods was not healthy enough for the U.S. Open.

That’s when Williams decided to work for Scott, and he worked for Scott again at the AT&T National, the tournament that benefits Woods’ foundation. Woods said he fired him after the final round that week, and they kept it quiet until Williams was done working for Scott at the British Open.

Woods said he told him face-to-face. Williams said Sunday that Woods fired him over the phone.

“I was told on the phone that we need to take a break, and in caddie lingo, that means you’re fired, simple as that,” Williams said.

“I was absolutely shocked that I got the boot, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’ve been incredibly loyal to the guy, and I got short-shrifted. Very disappointed.”

The theatrics took away from Scott’s biggest win since the Players Championship in 2004. He played so well he could have gone even lower except for missing two birdie putts inside 12 feet on the 16th and 17th holes.

“Today, I was on,” Scott said. “To win here at this place, a World Golf Championship, it’s huge.”

It didn’t hurt having Williams at his side. Along with his experience working for Woods, along with major champions Greg Norman and Raymond Floyd, Williams was on the bag for all seven of Woods’ victories at Firestone.

“He has such a great knowledge of this golf course and the greens,” Scott said. “He’s seen a guy play incredible golf, the best golf anyone has ever played around here, so many times. He really guided me around the course nicely. … So he was, no doubt, a help.”

When told that Williams called this his greatest win as a caddie, Scott winced.

“He’s obviously really happy to get a win,” he said.

The biggest threat to Scott came from Ishikawa, although Fowler and Day remained in the mix, and Donald emerged late. Ishikawa, trying to become the youngest winner in America in 100 years, couldn’t keep up when Scott made two birdies on the back nine to build a three-shot lead.

Ishikawa three-putted the 15th when he was running out of time.

“I was able to play well to be at least on top for a moment in the first half of the game today,” Ishikawa said through a translator. “I think the 14th and 15th hole separated everything.”

Fowler, dressed in his bright Sunday orange, is still looking for his first win. He didn’t do much wrong Sunday, playing bogey-free, but it wasn’t enough to catch Scott.

“It’s definitely the best I’ve played going into a major,” Fowler said.

Woods opened strongly with two birdies on the opening five holes before he “absolutely lost it” with his game, dropping five shots and not hitting a fairway on seven straight tee shots. He made three straight birdies late for a 70.

Next up is the PGA Championship, where Woods told the PGA of America that he wanted to push his interview back one day to Wednesday. He did not give a reason.

Woods will play the first two rounds with Padraig Harrington and Davis Love III. The way Williams reacted to Scott’s win, a pairing of Woods-Scott in the near future would be the closest thing golf has had to a heavyweight clash.

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Tiger Woods has pretty decent return to the Tour with first round at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

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Tiger returns to Tour

Tiger returns to Tour

Tiger Woods appeared to face a big test Thursday in his return to golf.

It was a 3-wood around the trees on the 658-yard 16th hole at Firestone that required him to go at it hard, cut short his back swing to produce the sharp fade, then let the momentum of his motion carry his body forward with an awkward step.

Only it didn’t feel like that big of a deal to Woods.

“I was just trying to hit a cut,” he said. “I didn’t feel any problem with that.”

His only concern in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was that he hit the ball too flush and too far. He still managed three birdies, including a 30-foot putt on the 16th hole, that carried him to a 2-under 68 and sent a strong statement that his leg was as healthy as he thought.

His game wasn’t half bad, either.

“It feels great,” Woods said. “As anybody who’s been off and who’s been injured, first time back it’s a little nervous to see what happens. But my practice sessions were good, so there’s no reason why I should be worried out there. I went out there and let it go, let it rip and see what happens.”

His ex-caddie saw some familiar golf at Firestone, too.

Steve Williams, now working permanently for Adam Scott after Woods fired him a month ago, watched the Australian play flawless in matching his career-low round on the PGA Tour with a 62 that gave Scott a one-shot lead over Jason Day.

Williams was on the bag for all seven of Woods’ wins at Firestone, including his 11-shot win in 2000 when Woods had a 61 in the second round and set the tournament record at 259.

“He didn’t think it was a big deal to shoot 62,” Scott said with a grin. “It was normal.”

Despite all the interest about Woods’ return, there was nothing special about his score, even if it was his lowest opening round this year.

The conditions were so soft and calm that 39 players in the 78-man field broke par, a record number for any round in the 12 years this World Golf Championship has been played on Firestone South.

The scoring average was 69.63, the lowest since the opening round in 2001. Scott, who birdied four of his last six holes, had the lowest opening round ever at Firestone.

Day, who tied for second with Scott at the Masters, shot a 63 in the morning. Nick Watney, a World Golf Championship winner at Doral this year, bogeyed the last hole and still had a 65.

“Probably not what we’re used to seeing around this course, so it was good to take advantage of that,” Scott said.

Even so, this day was primarily about one score, and one player.

The attention on Woods was so great that when he stepped onto the first tee, the gallery lined the entire right side of the 401-yard opening hole and wrapped around the green. Phil Mickelson was wrapping up his round of 67 at No. 9, and when the fans around the green and in the grandstands had their backs turned to watch Woods tee off.

Playing in soft spikes for the first time, and going back to the putter that he used in 13 of his major championships, Woods avoided a poor start by making an 18-foot par putt on the third, and he saved his round toward the end of the front nine by getting up-and-down from a bunker on the eighth, and making a 20-foot par putt on the ninth.

Then came his approach on the 10th, that spun out of the back fringe and settled about 4 feet away for birdie — not only his first of the day, but his first since he two-putted for birdie from 4 feet on the 15th hole at the Masters on April 10.

Woods injured a knee ligament and his Achilles’ tendon in that tournament, and then said he returned too early at The Players Championship. He aggravated the injuries on the first hole at the TPC Sawgrass and quit after nine holes at 6-over par. He said he would not play again until he was fully healthy, and that much showed at Firestone.

There was one moment on the 17th tee when a reporter thought he saw Woods lift his left leg in a peculiar fashion.

“The marker was right in my way,” Woods said with a grin.

Perhaps more telling is that Woods said he stopped putting ice on his leg and taking inflammatory medicine “a while ago,” and held nothing back in his first competitive round in 84 days.

“I hadn’t really gone at it yet until today,” he said. “Just kind of plodding away, just kind of hitting shots. Today was just, ‘Let’s go, let’s go play, just put everything else aside and let’s go give it a go and try to post a low number.”

His lone bogey came on the 14th hole, when he tried to hit a perfect bunker shot from a slightly downhill lie with the green running away from him. He came inches short of pulling it off, leaning back in disbelief. He two-putted from the collar for bogey, and then came back two holes later with a shot on the 16th that showed he might already be at full strength.

The only problem he had was controlling his distance, and Woods had a reason for that, too.

“I’m hitting it just so much more flush, and I’m just not used to that,” he said. Does that mean he was hitting it badly before?

“Yeah,” he said. “My swing was more of a wipey swing … so I wasn’t getting a full transfer of energy. Now I’m swinging easier. I’m not even hitting it hard yet, and that’s what’s fun. I’m hitting it farther without any more effort.”

It took great effort to get atop the leaderboard.

Day went out early and posted a bogey-free round of 63, making birdie on the last hole. No one else from the morning group was better than a 66. And then it was Scott’s turn in the afternoon. He thought 63 was a pretty low score for this South course, but then figured it was there for the taking with so many other scores in the 60s.

“I just feel like I need to get myself in these things from Thursday, show up and go, not show up and see how you get on the first nine,” Scott said. “I feel like that’s a good way for me to go because I’m hitting the ball well, and I feel really confident on the greens. It was green light and just attack.”

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World takes note as Tiger Woods returns to Tour at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

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Tiger at the WGC- Bridgestone Invitational

Tiger at the WGC- Bridgestone Invitational

Add another list of numbers to show how much has changed in the world of Tiger Woods.

Geoff Ogilvy ran across a bookmaker’s odds for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when he noticed Woods at 20-to-1. This would only be startling because Woods hasn’t competed in three months while letting injuries to his left leg fully heal. In this case, however, Ogilvy considered that Woods has won a record seven times at Firestone, and until last year and never finished worse than fifth.

“Did you think you could ever get Tiger at Firestone at 20-1? Ever?” Ogilvy said to one of the caddies. “He was on 2-to-1 for a while.”

Then he paused on the putting green, which was filled with players getting ready for a World Golf Championship that starts on Thursday.

“It’s been an odd year,” Ogilvy said.

The goal for Woods is to restore some normalcy, at least to his own game. He is coming up on the two-year anniversary of his last win on American soil. The last time he faced any competition inside the ropes, it lasted no more than nine holes at the Players Championship until he withdrew because of leg injuries.

Now, he claims he is as healthy as he has been in years — he wouldn’t say how many years, just “plural.” He has looked solid in a nine-hole practice round alone on Tuesday, and with Hunter Mahan and Arjun Atwal on Wednesday. Then again, practice rounds haven’t always been a good indicator for Woods, except at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews in the summer of 2000.

What to expect Thursday? Not even Woods knows.

“I still haven’t been in a competitive environment yet, so that’s a totally different atmosphere,” he said.

The Bridgestone Invitational features a 76-man field, which includes only four past champions in the 11-year history of this WGC event at Firestone — one win each for defending champion Mahan, Stewart Cink and Darren Clarke, and seven titles for Woods.

But that was the old Woods, the guy who won at least one World Championship every year since 1999.

The recovering Woods?

He said his expectation was to win, just like always. Some of his peers, who have seen his action over 20 winless months and haven’t seen him the past three months, aren’t so sure.

“No one expects him to come out and play well,” U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy said. “I’m sure he expects himself to come out and play and compete, but given the length of layoff and considering that he’s only been able to hit full shots for the last two weeks or whatever, it would be an unbelievable effort if he was to come back and compete. But I think just get through 72 holes and maybe finish top 20 would be a really good effort.”

After playing the back nine under gray clouds, Mahan said this about Woods on Twitter: “The swing looks great and the knee looks even better.”

Then again, Mahan is slightly biased because both employ Sean Foley as a swing coach.

Whatever the expectations, the level of curiosity about Woods is close to what it was when he returned from his sex scandal at the 2010 Masters. There was something about the way he left the Players Championship on May 12 that made it look as though he would never be the same, that the four surgeries on his left knee would keep him from dominating the way he once did.

Three months later, there was a confidence with Woods when he spoke about his health, and being patient to let his legs heal properly.

“I think for some of the young guys, they’ve never seen Tiger Woods play Tiger Woods golf,” Mahan said. “They’ve never even come close to seeing it. I don’t think he has to prove anything, but I think he’s one of those guys, kind of like (Michael) Jordan, he takes every single thing that someone says and he’s going to turn it into this massive gas on a fire that he’s got burning right now. I think he’s ready, man.

“A motivated Tiger and someone who has a challenge in front of him is a good thing for him.”

Woods tees off at 1:40 p.m. with Clarke, a longtime friend who last month captured his first major at the British Open. Two groups behind them will be Adam Scott, noteworthy only because Scott now uses Steve Williams, whom Woods fired as a caddie a month ago. Woods is using Bryon Bell, a childhood friend who last worked for him six years ago at Disney.

Another reunion occurred during his practice round when he put his old Scotty Cameron putter — the one he used in 13 major wins — back in his bag. Whether it stays there won’t be known until he tees off.

The field is comprised of the last Ryder Cup team members from both sides, selected winners on six tours around the world and the top 50 in the world ranking. Firestone South looks strong as ever, with rough framing the tree-lined fairways and greens that are as pure as ever.

It’s a World Golf Championship, with an even greater prize waiting next week in Atlanta for the PGA Championship.

This week could go a long way in determining whether Woods can be a factor, there, too. Once a sure thing at Firestone, he now is an unknown.

“It would be maybe a little intimidating if you knew for sure that he was going to come back and play the way he did in 2000 or 2001,” McIlroy said. “But who knows for sure what way the game is going to go?”

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