DALY CITY, Calif. – Poised and unflappable, Lydia Ko birdied the final hole for her third LPGA victory and first as a professional, holding off Stacy Lewis and Jenny Shin on Sunday in the inaugural Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic. It went down to the final shots, and the teen made a 6-foot birdie putt moments before Lewis knocked in a 4-footer of her own to finish one stroke back. ”The 18th hole I knew how loud the claps were and that I needed to get close and give myself a birdie chance,” Ko said. After beginning the day a stroke behind Lewis, Ko birdied three of her final four holes on the front nine on the way to a 3-under 69 and 12-under 276 total at Lake Merced. Ko earned $270,000, celebrating on the 18th green three days after celebrating her 17th birthday at the first tee box with the gallery singing ”Happy Birthday.” Ko will move up two spots to No. 2 in the next world ranking. She won the Canadian Women’s Open as an amateur the last two years and took the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters in December in Thailand in her second start as a professional. She has six victories in pro events, also winning in Australia and New Zealand. Lewis will head to her home state of Texas next week looking to build on a disappointing near miss in which she struggled all day with her short game. ”I knew she wasn’t going away. Lydia played great,” Lewis said. ”Every time I hit a shot in there, she answered.” Shin, still looking for her first tour win after her best finish this year, finished at 10-under 278 with a 68 over the 6,507-yard course. Playing together for the fourth straight day, neither Ko nor Lewis hit any dazzling shots early. Ko’s second of three bogeys came on the 417-yard, par-4 seventh in which her tee shot hit a tree and dropped in the rough. Lewis’ 10-foot birdie putt on No. 9 lipped out. Ko pulled into a first-place tie at 10 under as they made the turn on a picture-perfect spring day. ”The front nine, I did everything I wanted to do, the putts just didn’t go in,” Lewis said. ”I expected her to do exactly what she did today. … She hit every shot she needed to make from 13 on in.” The third-ranked Lewis had her sixth runner-up finish since winning the Women’s British Open in August. Michelle Wie, who won last week in her home state of Hawaii, tied for ninth at 2 under. Second-ranked Suzann Pettersen shot a 70 to finish at 3 over in her first event since last month after missing three tournaments with a back injury. Top-ranked Inbee Park tied for fourth at 6 under. There were two holes-in-one Sunday: Jimin Kang on the 164-yard third and Dewi Claire Schreefel with a 7-iron on the 157-yard 12th hole that earned her a $100,000 prize from China Trust Bank. The weather held for the final day after both fog and rain delays earlier in the tournament. This event was the LPGA’s first in the Bay Area since the 2010 CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge at Blackhawk in Danville.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It’s rare to find a sporting event that’s equally captivating at both ends of the leaderboard, yet that’s exactly what Sunday at TPC Sawgrass promises. The winner gets a trophy, but so do the losers, metaphorically speaking. Forty-nine of them, to be exact. Sunday will be all about establishing position on the priority list for the 2014-15 PGA Tour season. Who’s in? Who’s out? Where does everyone fall on the list? If you can keep up with that, then you deserve a cookie. Everyone else … sit back, relax and enjoy the drama as it unfolds. While technically 50 cards are up for grabs, 25 of them are already spoken for. The top 25 regular-season money earners from the Web.com Tour are all heading to the PGA Tour next season, with their priority ranking determined by their finish here on Sunday. Numbers game: How the priority rankings work The remaining 25 cards will go to the top earners from the month-long Finals series, where Bud Cauley, Adam Hadwin and Justin Thomas won the first three events. “It’s tough. It’s what it is, you’ve got to grind it out, it’s the last tournament of the year, a lot of things can happen and we’re doing the best we can,” Chad Collins machine-gunned a volley of clichéed yet accurate observations. Collins, after an even-par 70 on Day 3, sits 52nd in the projected priority rankings, two spots out of a PGA Tour card. Never mind the lack of names you’re used to pulling for (or against) in final rounds. Sunday is arguably the most pressure-packed day in golf. When Rory or Phil or Tiger have a less-than-stellar final round, they are consoled with a private jet ride home. If Tag Ridings (No. 51) or Vaughn Taylor (No. 53) or Roberto Castro (No. 50) don’t bring their best stuff on Sunday, it means another year of not reaching their ultimate goal. Another year of – another cliché alert – “every shot counts.” Those guys that go by one name, they get as many shots as they want. These guys tomorrow are playing for their livelihood. “It turns your hair gray, you lose some hair,” said Ridings, who is just one spot out of the final Tour card through 54 holes. At the other end of the spectrum – you know, at the top of the leaderboard, where you’re used to looking – we have players playing for more than a Tour card. Derek Fathauer, who leads by one shot through 54 holes, and some others are playing for a real chance to excel on the PGA Tour next year. The higher you can climb on the priority list, the more events you can ultimately play. Thanks to Carlos Ortiz’s missed cut, Hadwin has a chance to finish first in the priority rankings, guaranteeing a fully exempt Tour card next season and a spot in the 2015 Players Championship. “I really haven’t worried about it, these playoffs. I’ve just tried to go out and have some fun and tried to enjoy myself and just pick targets and fire at pins when I feel the need to,” said Hadwin, who’s four off the lead after a 3-under 67 and projected to finish No. 1 in the priority rankings. Whether you’re watching the top or the bottom of the leaderboard Sunday, at the end of the day, there will be 50 men leaving TPC Sawgrass with their 2014-15 PGA Tour cards, a harsh reality that some will take better than others. “Hopefully I can play well tomorrow and slip in there in [the] top 50 and get my card back, but if not, I’m looking forward to deer season the rest of the year and hanging the clubs up until January and then start back up again,” said Collins. Let’s hope there are some other hunters playing Sunday, or at least some guys with hobbies besides golf. Because there’s a good chance one shot will be the difference between someone realizing their dream, and someone taking solace in “there’s always next year.”
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – This record may stand for some time. No, not Jordan Spieth’s performance last week at the Masters, where he set or tied 36-, 54- and 72-hole scoring records on his way to a four-stroke victory. What’s truly impressive is the 21-year-old’s 25 interviews in 25 hours during a whirlwind media tour of New York City. Over the last two days golf’s new headliner did interviews with ESPN Radio, “NBC Nightly News”, Fox, “The Late Show with David Letterman”, “CBS This Morning”, NBC’s “Today”, CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive”. It was all part of an odyssey that began when he putted out on the 18th hole on Sunday at Augusta National and included an early flight on Monday to the Big Apple and ended at about 10 p.m. ET Tuesday when he finally arrived at his rented house for the week in Hilton Head. “[Tuesday] my energy level was maybe a two (on a scale of 1-10),” said Spieth, who tees off in Round 1 at the RBC Heritage at 12:40 p.m. “Today I’m back up to about a six. I should be at a nine tomorrow.” Spieth’s presence at an event that has struggled in recent years to attract a marquee field in unquantifiable. “Any time you have the Masters champion is unbelievable. He’s such a class act and to honor his commitment … he has no idea how important that is to the community,” said Steve Wilmot, the RBC Heritage tournament director. It will likely take some time, but chances are good Spieth will remember his decision to play this week’s event as an equally important next step in his evolving career. Spieth becomes the first Masters champion to play the Heritage since Zach Johnson in 2007, and even the most jaded arm-chair pundits would have been challenged to criticize him if he’d decided to politely pass on a tee time at Harbour Town. This is Spieth’s fifth start in six weeks, a run that included two victories and two runner-up showings. But as the world is learning, Spieth’s maturity extends well beyond his 21 years. “I was asked Friday or Saturday when I was in the lead, ‘Hey, if you were to win Sunday are you thinking about maybe not going?’” said Spieth, who was offered a sponsor exemption into the Heritage in 2013 but ended up not needing it after quickly securing his PGA Tour card. “From the get-go I was always planning on coming here. This tournament has been very good to me. I love it here.” Johnson and Spieth spoke briefly on Wednesday at Harbour Town and although he didn’t offer any advice he could certainly relate to what the younger player is going through. “It’s a whirlwind. I just actually sat down with Jordan for 30 seconds. It’s a good whirlwind,” Johnson said. “Every opportunity that comes through you want to say, ‘yes’ but you can’t. That’s hard.” Spieth didn’t appear to tell anyone “no” since slipping into his coveted green jacket. On top of the parade of press interviews he estimated he’s received something close to 200 text messages and e-mails congratulating him for his victory. And the coronation didn’t stop when he arrived at Harbour Town just before lunch on Wednesday. As he made his way through the club’s new locker room he was stopped every few feet by a fellow Tour player. “Since I’ve been here each player, as expected, congratulated me because these are great guys, guys that I try and learn from on Tour,” Spieth said. “Everyone has come up and said, ‘Congrats man, it was fun to watch.’ Someone said, ‘I wasn’t planning on watching because I wasn’t there, but I really wanted to watch that. It was awesome.’” Tour officials excused Spieth from Wednesday’s pro-am at the Heritage and he won’t see the golf course until he sets out Thursday afternoon from the first tee, but as Johnson learned in ’07 getting back to work brings its own version of solace after so much time in the spotlight. “The best thing for me, looking back on it, I was exhausted and I’m sure Jordan is as well, was getting back inside the ropes,” said Johnson, who made a similar media tour in New York City after his victory. “That was a sense of normalcy. It was therapeutic.” It also turned out to be a competitively productive week for Johnson, who finished in sixth place at the ’07 Heritage and was paired with eventual champion Boo Weekley on Sunday. Given Spieth’s performance in his last four starts there’s another record he may be eyeing at Harbour Town. In 1985, Bernhard Langer is the only player to follow a victory at Augusta National with another the next week in Hilton Head.
UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – While swirling rumors of his competitive demise have been greatly exaggerated, if we’ve learned anything from two crispy and curious days at Chambers Bay it is that Tiger Woods is not nearly as close to an ascent back to greatness as he seems to think. For the second consecutive tournament Woods signed for a card in the 80s all the while smiling his approval of the path he and “swing consultant” Chris Como have chosen. Regardless of what you may think of Como and his philosophies, with opinions ranging from confusion to outright contempt, the tandem are now just a half dozen PGA Tour starts into the experiment and it’s a tad early in the process to start cleaning house. But what is just as clear is there is no sign Woods has bottomed out, which many believed was the case when he went around Muirfield Village earlier this month in 85 strokes. Friday was better with Woods turning in 2 over par but on the closing nine it was more of the same on his way to a second-round 76, but let’s face it after Thursday’s 80 there was plenty of room for improvement. For his part, Woods is adhering to a strict diet of “been here, done that” when it comes to his current woes. “Sometimes you have to make a shift, and I did. And short-term suffering for long-term gain,” Woods said on Tuesday at Chambers Bay. “I’ve done this before when I’ve made changes in the past I’ve struggled through it. I’ve come out on the good side.” Full-field scores: 115th U.S. Open While that premise certainly holds true if you examine the flow chart of Woods’ career, there does seem to be a measure of revisionist history when it comes to his previous makeovers. When he began working with Hank Haney in March 2004, Woods went 16 starts before his next Tour victory and played four majors before winning the 2005 Masters. It was a similar transition when he made the move to Sean Foley in August 2010, with Woods going 18 starts before getting back on the board with a Tour victory, and he did go 0-for-13 at the majors during their tenure together. While neither of those previous transitions was without a degree of discomfort, Woods missed just one cut before working out the kinks with Haney and Foley … that’s one cut combined. By comparison, he’s already doubled that number this season with Como and his best finish was a tie for 17th at the Masters. Put another way, softening the rough edges with Haney and Foley was like having a cavity filled compared to the root canal treatment that the current transition has become. It also doesn’t help that Woods’ schedule includes only the most difficult golf courses, like Chambers Bay, which only compounds the degree of difficulty and magnify the inherent dangers of a swing change. “On a golf course like this you get exposed and you have to be precise and dialed in,” he said before bolting the Pacific Northwest. “Obviously I didn’t have that. Obviously I need to get a little better for the British Open and I’ll keep working at it.” Never before, however, has that work been so scrutinized, with Woods’ celebrity creating an alarming level of hyperbole. For all the cries that he must return to the knowing embrace of former swing coach Butch Harmon – an option Harmon has all but dismissed – no one is clamoring for the former world No. 1 to bring former caddie Stevie Williams back into the fold. Woods has never had much interest in nostalgia and backtracking simply isn’t in his DNA. Nor do observers have much interest in Como’s entire body of work. On the same day Tiger’s picturesque sky was falling and a second-round 76 sent him packing after two days for just the second time in his U.S. Open career, another of Como’s players, Jamie Lovemark, was climbing the leaderboard with a 2-under 68. Although Woods is certainly closer to his golden years than his golden child halcyon days, the mind, if not the body, certainly seems willing. For Woods, optimism springs eternal. “I hit a little bit better today. But, again, I made nothing today. I didn’t make any putts the first two days; I hit it better today,” Woods said in a surprisingly upbeat assessment considering he has more rounds in the 80s this season (three) than in the 60s (two). “Hitting some spots where I could hit some putts; I made nothing.” The reality is legends rarely fade away without a fight, it’s a byproduct of the same ego that made them great. Michael Jordan should have never slipped into a Washington Wizards jersey, Joe Montana lingered two years too long in Kansas City and Babe Ruth inexplicably wrapped up his career playing for the Boston Braves. Whatever point along the “base-line shift,” which was this week’s talking point when he was asked about his evolving swing, he may be Woods is far from finished, but he’s certainly further from finding the tipping point than he cares to admit.
Five – that’s how many times Jason Day referred to the No. 1 ranking during his winner’s news conference in February at the Farmers Insurance Open. At the time, it was easy to laugh off one of his career goals. Day had just won on the PGA Tour for only the third time in eight years. He was less than a year removed from injuries to his thumb and back. And he was a distant No. 4 in the rankings, behind alpha dog Rory McIlroy as well as Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson. “I’m very motivated to get to No. 1,” Day said that night, after a hard-fought victory at Torrey Pines, “but I just want to give it 100 percent every day.” Day’s prospects have always come with a qualifier – if he’s healthy. The 28-year-old Australian has the physical tools and drive to be one of the best players in the world, but it was just a matter of whether he could stay upright for a full Tour season. Save for his scary collapse at Chambers Bay, that’s exactly what Day did in 2015, and it translated to by far his best year as a pro – five wins, six other top 10s, his first major and, yes, a brief stay at world No. 1. Tired of underachieving, tired of injuries torpedoing a promising season, tired of lagging behind the other under-30 stars, Day was more motivated this year than ever before. “I wanted to kick butt,” he said, but no one, not even Day, could have imagined the epic run that he’d enjoy this summer. Top 10 Newsmakers of 2015: The full list And to think, it all began with another major disappointment. Just weeks after sharing the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open, Day found himself squarely in the hunt once again at St. Andrews. He surged into the lead on the front nine, but then made 12 consecutive pars to close, none more excruciating than the 20-footer that he left short on the last. Day and Jordan Spieth, both one shot out of the playoff, consoled each other on the 18th green. Six days later, in Canada, Day faced a similar-length putt to win on the final hole, only this time he steadied himself with one thought: Make sure you get this one to the hole. When the birdie putt dropped, Day unleashed a torrent of fist pumps and raised his putter in triumph. Afterward, he spoke of a newfound serenity on the course, and it showed when he went on a tear for the next two months. At the PGA, he shot a record-setting 72-hole score and outplayed world No. 1 Spieth down the stretch to win his first major. At the Barclays, he lapped the field with a 63-62 weekend. At the BMW, he nearly opened with 59, stormed out to a huge lead and relished the victory lap that lifted him to No. 1 for the first time. It’s a testament to Day’s remarkable year that Spieth became the youngest player since 1922 to win back-to-back majors and still wasn’t a lock for Player of the Year honors entering the season finale. “I felt like it was my time,” Day said. The Aussie may have shifted his narrative from career underachiever to major champion, but his gutsy performance at Chambers Bay was a reminder that Day still has more red flags than the rest of the world’s elite players. Cruising along through 35 holes, Day collapsed while approaching the green on his final hole of the day Friday at the U.S. Open. It was a frightening scene – a 36-hole contender, on his back, hands covering his face – and his health became a focal point over the weekend. Grimacing and leaning on his club for support, his third-round 68 propelled him into a share of the lead. He eventually tied for ninth. Later, Day’s fall was linked to a viral ear infection and he was treated with medication. He didn’t show any ill effects for the rest of the year, but his history of vertigo, litany of injuries and violent swing makes him more susceptible to the DL. A shame, too, because when Day is right, he proved this year that his top gear is just as breathtaking as McIlroy’s or Spieth’s, with booming drives, towering irons and a soft touch around the greens. One of the breakout stars of 2015, Day helped launch a new Big 3 in golf, a trio of dynamic, eminently likable stars that approach and play the game differently. And so now, after briefly reaching the summit, Day trails only Spieth in the world rankings, and by a slim margin. Fortunately for us, this battle should continue for the foreseeable future – well, as long as Day remains healthy.
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – Unfazed by an earthquake just before she teed off, top-ranked Lydia Ko won the New Zealand Women’s Open for the third time in four years Sunday. The magnitude 5.7 quake rattled the area about 10 minutes before Ko began play. She started the round on time and play wasn’t interrupted by the quake. ”It was interesting, I’ve never been on a golf course where there is an earthquake,” Ko said. ”It was lucky I wasn’t out there playing because I wouldn’t want to be in the middle of my swing and the ball moves somewhere else.” Ko closed with a 2-under 70 for a two-stroke victory. The 18-year-old South Korean-born New Zealander finished at 10-under 206 at Clearwater Golf Club. She also won the national championship in 2013 and 2015. England’s Felicity Johnson, South Korean amateur Hye Jin Choi and Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen tied for second. Johnson shot 67, Choi 69, and Madsen 70. The event was sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour and Australian Ladies PGA. The earthquake came a week before the fifth anniversary of a 6.3 magnitude quake that killed 185 people in Christchurch and area. Ko birdied her second hole but gave it back with the only bogey of her round at the par-5 fifth, three-putting from 10 feet. She briefly dropped behind Amelia Lewis, but the American bogeyed the 16th, leaving Ko among five players tied at 8 under. Lewis finished with a 69 to tie for sixth at 6 under. Ko birdied Nos. 10 and 11 to take a two-shot lead and she held that advantage to become the first player to successfully defend the title. ”I could feel some tears coming after the 18th hole,” Ko said. ”It’s been a long week, a lot of emotion and a lot of people to share this amazing victory with. Especially given how much New Zealand golf has been a support to me and my career.”
Jon Rahm doesn’t want to be throwing clubs. He doesn’t want to hide his emotions, either. Rahm was caught on video going through a tirade at the U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills. He tried to keep his emotions in check at Shinnecock Hills, and he’s not sure that brings out his best golf. ”Because of what happened last year in the U.S. Open, I went with the mindset of I’m going to try to behave perfectly, which means having a smile on my face the whole time,” Rahm said Tuesday from the French Open. ”And it’s hard to go against who you are, to be honest. What I mean to play better is just letting myself feel my emotions, letting the emotions flow through me rather than trying to hold myself. ”I was more focused on trying to control myself rather than playing golf.” Rahm is renowned for his passion, which comes across as a nasty temper at times. He burns inwardly at mistakes, though at times he has harnessed those emotions into making birdies. ”It is the last time I’m ever going to make the mistake of trying to be somebody who I’m not,” he said.
Tiger Woods is the toughest hombre in all of sport today. Don’t tell mixed martial artist Jon “Bones” Jones, the NHL’s Ryan Reaves or the NFL’s Aaron Donald, but nobody compares in a true measure of competitive toughness. As much as Woods was known for his dominance, this is an upset, that a professional golfer is the real tough guy in sport. The irony in that will be on display this week, with John Daly tooling around Bethpage Black in a golf cart during the PGA Championship. Daly will evoke more complaints that golf isn’t a real sport, that tour pros who can win with beer bellies and cigarettes dangling from their mouths can’t be real athletes. Golf fans can point to Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson as the new wave of athletes in golf, but they can thank Woods for that, and they can point to Woods as the source of respect other athletes have for golf. With his victory at the Masters last month, Woods is breaking the mold in the sport again. Whether he wins his 16th major at the PGA Championship, whether he escalates the assault on Jack Nicklaus and the Holy Grail of golf records, Woods has already established himself as the most resilient, persevering and indestructible spirit in athletics today. That’s the triple crown of toughness. He’s in a Legend’s Division that way. Your browser does not support iframes. PGA Championship: Tee times | Full coverage OK, nobody may rank with Jackie Robinson as the first face on the Mount Rushmore of toughness in sport. He won that distinction breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, enduring bigotry and hatred in the daily challenge so unique to that sport. There was toughness in the exemplary way he excelled while tolerating all of that. You could carve the face of Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus up there with Robinson, and Formula One driver Niki Lauda, too. Ben Hogan’s a worthy candidate, the way he came back to win six majors after he was nearly killed when his car was struck head on by a Greyhound bus back in 1949. Babe Didrikson Zaharias is worthy, too. She won the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open while wearing a colostomy bag after undergoing surgery for colon cancer. Monica Seles is also in the conversation. She was No. 1 in the world when a spectator rushed the court during a match in Germany in 1993 and stabbed her in the back with a knife during a changeover. She left the sport for two years before rejoining the game and winning her fourth Australian Open. For Woods, his toughness is pioneering in nature. It’s in how he navigated through all the land mines of today’s hyper-intensive media landscape, with social media multiplying pressure a hundredfold. No champion in history has faced the level of intense and unrelenting public scrutiny for personal failure that Woods has faced and overcome it. Yes, there was toughness in his overcoming all those back surgeries, in overcoming knee and neck pain, but the redemption won repairing his reputation with a young family in tow is a real marvel. He rebuilt the life he sabotaged with his scandals, in a sport where shame preys on the mind in ways other sports don’t. The video of his DUI arrest went viral, as did so many reports of his sexual escapades. He was the butt of jokes in monologues on so many nightly television shows for weeks at a time. There’s real might in the redemption he gained, in the good will won back with fans, fellow tour pros and with still scrutinizing media. “He remembers all the good stuff, which is really important, not the bad,” President Donald Trump said when presenting Woods with the Presidential Medal of Freedom last week. No, the president got it wrong. It’s all that bad stuff he overcame that makes him today’s toughest hombre. It’s in the strength shown not collapsing under the kind of pressure few athletes in the history of the game have ever known. Whether you are among those who won’t forgive him for his transgressions, you can’t deny the rare might he exercised rebuilding himself on a public stage the way he did. There’s a toughness to admire in his journey back atop the game for anyone who has fallen from grace.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Gary Woodland has always been one tough hombre. There was the time in high school basketball when he took a charge, absorbed a knee to the throat and suffered a collapsed trachea. He was stretched out and taken to the hospital. Three days later, unfazed, he dropped 20 points on his next opponent. And there was the time in college when, before his team’s big game against No. 1-ranked Kansas, he broke a finger in practice. Rather than sit out against his dream school, Woodland instead taped two fingers together, continued to scrap for loose balls and tried to give future NBA player Kirk Hinrich hell. “He’s played through every injury ever,” said his mother, Linda. “He never quits.” But there were real-world examples, too, the kind that tested his mettle and shook his foundation and eventually shaped him as a man. Like the time in March 2017, when Woodland revealed that his wife, Gabby, who was carrying twins, had lost one of the babies, a girl, because of complications. His son, Jaxson, arrived 10 weeks premature and, weighing just three pounds, required a 40-day stay in the intensive-care unit before he could go home. Healthy and happy, Jaxson turns 2 next Sunday. “They had to be strong for him,” Linda said, “and they were.” Toughness has long defined Woodland’s life and professional career, and so after all of the contenders and the shots and the adversity he faced here Sunday at the 119th United States Open, of course he stood tall. Because he always has. He dusted his U.S. Open-winning playing partner, Justin Rose. He denied Brooks Koepka’s historic pursuit of a three-peat. And on a cool, raw day here at Pebble Beach, Woodland accessed that trademark grit and struck the clutch shots: hacking out the cabbage to save par on the 11th hole; hammering a 264-yard 3-wood over the front bunker on 14; and on the 71st hole, with a narrow lead, perfectly nipping a 64-degree wedge off the tight Poa annua green with Stillwater Cove looming. When it was all over, when Woodland won by three and broke through for his first major, one of the first to congratulate him was his father, Dan, who had helped guide him through the pain of the past two years. “Happy Father’s Day,” Woodland said, going in for a hug. “I love you,” Dan replied. “You earned it.” Keeping tabs at home in Delray Beach, Florida, was Gabby, now 29 weeks pregnant with identical twin girls. (She’s due the first week of August.) Shortly before 11 p.m. ET, in a police escort on his way to the winner’s news conference, Woodland FaceTimed his wife. She usually heads to bed by 8 but stayed up until the end, all the way until Woodland rolled in his closing 30-footer for birdie and raised his arms in triumph. “I told her it was more surprising that she was awake than it was that I won,” he said with a laugh. At lunch on Sunday, Linda had noticed a newfound calmness. Sure, Woodland, 35, had always had a presence about him – his thick shoulders and square jaw and jock swagger making him a sort of kinder, gentler, less cutthroat Koepka – but there was something different in the last few hours before the final round. “He just seemed so mature all of a sudden,” she said. “I just think he’s at that point in his life that he’s ready to be at the top and be a dad. He’s just a good man.” A good man whose family has been challenged in ways that only those who have gone through a miscarriage can relate. In the weeks and months after the heartbreaking announcement, Woodland received dozens of texts and emails from people sharing their condolences and support and experiences. It made him feel like he wasn’t alone. “They really spiraled for a little while,” Linda said, “but their love and devotion together, they pulled through it.” The golf course wasn’t much of a refuge that year, as Woodland grappled with the emotions of not only losing his firstborn child but also the guilt of playing on the PGA Tour while Jaxson stayed in the ICU for more than two months. Professionally, too, Woodland had reached a crossroads. For years he was viewed as an extravagantly talented tease, as an athlete who had all of the raw power but none of the finesse required to win golf’s biggest events. To wit: He failed to record a top-10 in his first 27 major starts. “It’s not something that you’re proud of,” he said. Your browser does not support iframes. U.S. Open: Full-field scores | Full coverage But the late bloomer’s work progressed with swing coach Butch Harmon. He sharpened his short game with coach-to-the-European-stars Pete Cowen. He hooked up with putting guru Phil Kenyon. Then came the drought-busting win at the 2018 Phoenix Open, where after tapping in Woodland pointed to the sky – a tribute to Gabby and the daughter they lost – and then held Jaxson during the interview on the 18th green. “He’s a miracle,” he said then. “It puts it all in perspective.” Much of last year, they tried unsuccessfully to add to their family. “We lost a couple last year, as well,” he said Sunday night. “It was tough. We thought we were done.” And then the surprise news, late last fall: They were expecting identical twin girls. Again. “And when these two little girls get here,” Dan said, grinning, “he’s not gonna have a clue.” Woodland’s parents have already seen how fatherhood has changed him. “I think he matured 10 years when he had a child,” Linda said. He’s more focused. Able to prioritize his life. “For so many years it was just about golf with him.” Now it’s about tossing Jaxson in the air and wrestling with him on the ground and watching Disney movies with him until they both crash. When he’s on the road, Woodland watches and re-watches the videos Gabby sends from home. On Sunday, they received a clip of Jaxson terrorizing the house, taking every pot and pan out of the cabinet. “We call him F-5,” Linda said. “The little F-5 tornado.” Woodland, of course, left his own path of destruction here at Pebble Beach, winning with the second lowest score (13-under 271) in U.S. Open history. It’ll be years before Jaxson fully understands the magnitude of this moment. Dan Woodland needed no reminding. He stood off to the side of the 18th green, wearing a white Wilson hat and a dazed look. Sure, it was a thrill for Pops to watch Woodland conquer the toughest test in golf. But it was also rewarding to see the man his boy had become. “He handled it a lot better than I probably would have,” Dan said, blinking back tears as Gary posed for pictures with the U.S. Open trophy. “I struggle with it. But I think that right now, that little girl is up there in the sky, looking down, saying, ‘Hey, that’s my Daddy.’”
MEDINAH, Ill. – Tiger Woods made five birdies Friday, and he gave four of them back. A second consecutive 1-under 71 at the BMW Championship leaves Woods with a lot of work to do (maybe too much left) to make it back to East Lake. • There were two main takeaways from Round 2 at Medinah: He squandered almost all of the progress he made, and he got demonstrably worse as he got closer to the hole. Let’s address those in order. • Tiger birdied 5. He bogeyed 6. He birdied 7. He bogeyed 8. He made back-to-back birdies, at 14 and 15. He followed with back-to-back bogeys, at 16 and 17. And it was those last two that really hurt his Tour Championship cause. Woods was 3 under on the back nine and 4 under for the week through 15 holes, and he was suddenly looking like a threat to regain some of the ground he lost on Thursday. Three pars coming in – or even one more birdie – would have at least left him within striking distance. But by the end of his round, the only circle he didn’t square was his birdie from 11. Whatever the opposite of the bounceback statistic is, Woods probably led the way Friday. BMW Championship: Full-field tee scores | Full coverage | FedExCup standings • He also led the way for much of the round in strokes gained: off the tee. He found 11 of 14 fairways and was mashing the ball with both his driver and his fairway woods. Unfortunately, he was more accurate with the big sticks than he was with the scoring clubs. When he walked off the course, he was second in strokes gained: off the tee, 28th in approach, 51st around the green, and 50th in putting. He got worse the closer he got to the hole and dropped four shots scrambling, going 1 for 5. • That assessment “would be about right,” he agreed. “[I’m] trying to get a feel for the trajectory and shapes of shots, and my feel has not been where I want it. … I certainly haven’t made as many putts. Putt well and I’ll shoot good scores. I haven’t done that. … I left quite a few shots out there.” • Even if he manages to clean up some of the mistakes from the first two days over the weekend, it seems like a big ask to make it back to East Lake at this juncture. Medinah is continuing to yield low scores, so back-to-back rounds of 71 feel a lot more like 2 or 3 over than 1 under. He’s losing ground. He entered the week 38th in the FedExCup standings, and as of this writing – the standings are obviously volatile – he’s projected 45th. • “I’m going to have to have a great weekend and make a lot of birdies this week and post some rounds in the mid-60s to give myself a chance at it,” he said. Tiger’s best round this season was a 65 in the third round at Riviera. So just to give himself a chance, he needs to go as low as he has all year, and he has to do it twice. He’ll get back at it fairly early Saturday morning.