Posted on: March 4, 2012 4:53 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 5:00 pm
 

Tiger Woods reminds us he's still here

Tiger Woods swings in the final round of the Honda Classic. (Getty Images)

By Shane Bacon

There is golf, and then there is golf that involves Tiger Woods. On Sunday at the Honda Classic, it seemed we’d get the first one, a big golf tournament with a super talented field and the guy trying to take away what is Tiger’s and run with it. People were excited. The week had been great. It was Rory McIlroy’s chance to shine. 

But a funny thing happened internally for Tiger Woods. He decided to be competitive again. And no, I’m not suggesting that Tiger hasn’t wanted to win or hasn’t wanted to get better and hasn’t wanted to be the golfer he once was. His closing finish on Friday showed us that he is still a fiery guy who hates losing and wants to pull off every shot possible, no matter the circumstances.

But after his remarks about McIlroy on Saturday and his Ben Crenshaw-esque reminder that “you never know” when asked about his chances on Sunday, it seemed that something was bothering Tiger and it was time to change it. 

Let us be clear here; one round isn’t going to remake a career. The final round 62 Tiger posted on Sunday was absolutely remarkable for a number of reasons, but it really just reminded us that Tiger Golf, the events that have him in the mix, just feel different. He’s a needle-mover if there has ever been one in professional sports, and when a guy like that goes on a tear like he did at the Champions Course it forces everyone to drop what they’re doing and just stare in awe. My dad called me after Tiger’s putt dropped for eagle on 18, resulting in a double fist-pump by Woods that, frankly, has been missed by golf fans. My sister sent me a text message. I saw messages on Twitter from sports writers that I didn’t even know could spell “golf” before Sunday. 

Tiger Golf is special. It’s fun. It’s energizing. And to think, he did all this with the New Tiger, Mr. McIlroy, in total control of the tournament? Incredible. 

A lot of things happened on Sunday that were different. Tiger started a round and finished it. He made the putts he needed to make, and they weren’t just curling in putts, they were slammed in the back of the hole. He got excited. He was in the round. He was as focused as I’d seen him in ages. 

No, this 62 won’t mean much in a few months if he doesn’t win. Rory is in charge and it will be a special moment in golf for the boy wonder to land the official ranking that we’ve all been unofficially giving him for a couple of years. 

But the fact that it happened was as important to the game as one round could be. Tiger Woods played 18 holes like we all know he can, and it ended in (and I haven’t been able to use this phrase in a long time) typical Tiger fashion. 

Great stuff, Mr. Woods. Great stuff.

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Posted on: March 4, 2012 10:30 am
Edited on: March 4, 2012 1:10 pm
 

McIlroy, Honda stalled by thunderstorms

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The golf deities seem to be smiling down on Rory McIlroy, who is poised to take over the No. 1 ranking Sunday if he can hang on to the lead and win the Honda Classic.

The weather gods, not so much.

Even with tee times moved up 3½ hours Sunday because of a bad weather forecast, play was delayed for close to two hours because of thunderstorms caused by a fast-moving cold front.

Play was halted after 70 minutes and only 34 players had completed at least one hole. The winds were expected to gust at around 40 mph during the afternoon, which could make the day a dicey proposition for those chasing McIlroy, who started the final round with a two-shot lead. The leaders eventually went off at about 12:20 p.m.

The tees on the infamous Bear Trap holes, Nos. 15-17, after being moved generously up Saturday, are back at full bore for the final round. The two par-3 holes will play 179 and 186 yards, both over water. 

Play was halted at 9:36 a.m. ET, and after a fairly tame week, conditions were already difficult. Of the 34 players on the course, only two of them are under par for the round.

McIlroy, 22, has won twice in the five instances in which he has started the final round with at least a share of the lead in European and PGA tour competition.

Category: Golf
Posted on: March 3, 2012 4:44 pm
 

Past major winners making noise at the Honda

By Shane Bacon

Leave it to one of the harder golf courses on tour to bring out some of the best from some of the best. Not only is Rory McIlroy attempting to become number one in the world with a win this week, but some of the guys we hoped would have great seasons are making this a statement week.  

You’d first have to look at Keegan Bradley, who seems to really pump his game up when the field is impressive. Keegan, who lives in the area, has been magnificant this week, and year, and has shown that 2011 isn’t going to be some fluke. 

But the two names you have to be impressed with are past major winners in Charl Schwartzel and Graeme McDowell. Schwartzel was a double-bogey on No. 11 away from posting a tournament-shifting round on Saturday, but still managed a 3-under 67 to get himself in the mix come Sunday. 

Then you have Graeme McDowell. Before there was Rory on our minds, McDowell was the stud out of Northern Ireland who won an incredible U.S. Open. McDowell had one of those special seasons in 2010, but has really struggled since the Chevron that year and has been looking to bounce back. After his 64-69 Friday and Saturday, Graeme is in the top-10 and if he keeps the momentum, might land in the top-five before the week ends. 

While this week is always going to be about Rory’s chance at number one and Tiger Woods trying to bounce back at a course near his home, some of the players making noise are the guys the tour needs to come back to raise the interest level, and so far, they’ve done their jobs. 

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Posted on: March 3, 2012 3:57 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2012 4:21 pm
 

No rallies as Woods in neutral at Honda

Tiger Woods during his third round at the Honda Classic. (Getty Images)

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Tiger Woods got a welcome surprise as he walked toward the fourth tee at PGA National on Saturday and spotted a familiar face, peeking up at him from under a pink golf cap.

Stationed along the ropes was his eldest child, Sam, who turns five in June.

"Daddy," she yelled, getting a grin and nod in return.

The rest of the course confines at the Honda Classic weren't nearly so friendly as Woods failed to muster a rally with a 1-under 69, failing to close ranks on the leaders, who were seven strokes ahead and still on the course as he finished.

Woods didn’t have a birdie after the seventh hole and for the week has birdied one of the six par-5 holes he has played. Yet it was his best round of the week in terms of consistency, and he even cranked a few putts into the hole, an overdue development.

He made five putts of seven feet or longer, and unlike Friday, didn’t whack any fans in the head with foul balls off the tee.

"Close to hitting a good one today," Woods said. "I hit it good. I putted good. Boy, it was really close to being a really low round today."

Well, we wouldn’t go quite that far, though it was a step forward from the rest of the week. He hit 11 fairways and 11 greens in regulation.

Woods said the breezier conditions precluded him going on a kamikaze charge. Just as well -- he missed two greens from inside 125 yards on the back nine.

"On a golf course like this, I feel I have to be patient," he said. "I can't get out there and get ahead of myself and fire at every flag."

With thunderstorms in the forecast, and the winds expected to shift, Woods was hardly prepared to mentally call it a week and head down to Doral.

"The finishing holes here, the wind is supposed to switch directions tomorrow, so anything can happen around this place," he said. "You just need to be around the lead and hopefully tomorrow, if I can get off to a good start, get myself somewhere up there, you just never know."

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Posted on: March 2, 2012 6:13 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 6:14 pm
 

One back, Rory still dressed to kill at Honda

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- They might have carried it a shade too far.

A couple of 20-something fans donned wigs with faux brown, curly hair on Friday and headed to the Honda Classic to back their favorite player, Rory McIlroy.

I asked one a question about when McIlroy was set to start his second round at PGA National, and one guy responded, "I tee off at 12:20."

The front of their shirts read, "Kiss Me, I'm Rory."

McIlroy himself certainly wasn't dressed as anybody other than a future world slayer, shooting a 3-under 67 to remain very much in the picture as the next player to assume the world's No. 1 ranking.

McIlroy, 22, is 7 under through 36 holes and one stroke behind co-leaders Justin Rose and Tom Gillis. With a victory, he will climb to No. 1 next week, which was apparently the message his two fans wrote on the back of their shirts.

"It had next Monday morning's world rankings -- their prediction," McIlroy laughed, describing what he'd read on their backs.

McIlroy meandered around for much of the day, missing a few chances early and then taking a long ride on the par train, before making birdies on three of the last five holes.

"You don't need to make tons of birdies, but you need to keep big numbers off your card," McIlroy said. "I know I don't have to make all of them, just a few of them."

Others seemed to make nearly everything, which compolicates the weekend task considerably for McIlroy, who joined the PGA Tour this year. Three players shot 64 to tie the Champion Course record, then lefty rookie Brian Harman shot 61 to obliterate the course mark.

Harman, 25, moved up more than 100 spots on the leaderboard. More charges from the rear guard could be in the offing unless the weather stiffens.

"A 61 around here is very, very impressive," McIlroy said.

With the projected cut at 1 over as McIlroy finished, there were more than 70 players within nine strokes of the lead on a course that, because the trademark winds have largely laid down, isn't nearly as toothy as in years past.

Category: Golf
Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:48 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 4:14 pm
 

Fans downright neighborly to Woods at Honda

Tiger Woods tees off at the Honda Classic on Friday. (Getty)

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Tiger Woods took some time to meet his new neighbors on Friday morning.

Maybe a few too many at once.

After starting the second round of the Honda Classic a bit too close to the projected cutline, Woods birdied the last two holes for a 2-under 68 and survived to play the weekend at his new hometown event.

Thanks to the help of some friends.

Playing for the first time in the tournament since relocating to the area, Woods has drawn the area's biggest throngs since host Jackie Gleason and Jack Nicklaus were wowing 'em at Inverrary. They used to call Gleason the Great One, sort of like with Woods himself. 

Well, on Friday, Woods definitely kept 'em entertained, particularly on the back nine, when he was repeatedly getting up close and personal with the Palm Beach denizens and snowbirds. Slogging along and doing next to nothing at a snooze-inducing even-par overall, Woods pulled out his new 2-iron and tried to carve one into the fairway from the fourth tee, his 13th of the day.

Instead, he fanned it into the gallery, where it hit Brad Merriman of West Palm Beach directly on top of the noggin on the fly, leaving a small welt. Merriman, apparently a pretty tough guy, never went down, and the ball actually caromed another 30 yards toward the green, as though it had landed on a cart path.

"You should have heard the sound," said a man standing next to Merriman along the ropes.

Sorta like a coconut falling out of a tree? Woods autographed a glove and slipped it to Merriman, then laced a shot from the rough to within 6 feet for birdie. But the wild stretch was just getting started.

Instead of using the positive bounce as a springboard, Woods yanked his next shot on the par-3 fifth into the water and made a double bogey, then shoved his tee shot on the sixth into the trees, not far from where his mother, Tida, was stationed with his youngest child, Charlie, who was attending his first tournament.

Well, peeking out from under a Pebble Beach, the kid got to see his old man hard at work, for sure.

Woods got up and down to save par at No. 6 as a man fainted along the gallery ropes, perhaps 30 feet away, sending security scrambling for a few anxious moments. Right about then, coincidentally or not, Woods finally seemed to get his swing grooved.

"After that tee shot on 6, I was wondering, 'Why was I doing what I was doing?'" he said. "Unfortunately, it took me about 14 warm-up holes to figure it out and then I got it going at the end."

Woods, who had another middling day on the greens, three-jacking from the fringe on the third hole for a par, wrestled in birdies from 6 and 11 feet on the last two holes to establish some momentum heading to the weekend.

Well, maybe. He was seven shots off the lead as the leaders played their second rounds Friday afternoon.

"It was a grind," he said. "I didn't really have it today, but I scored. That's something I can take out of the round. I know I putted a lot better today. Finally got putts to the hole, and that was kind of the goal today was not to leave one putt short.

"I wasn't quite successful at it, but that was certainly what I was trying to do."

As is usually the case whenever Woods plays someplace where fans have never before seen him live, he's been cheered at every turn by his new neighbors.

"I mean, this is incredible to play in front of my new hometown," he said. "The people have been absolutely fantastic, so supportive, and really nice, positive things out there."

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 7:03 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 7:04 pm
 

Compton hopes weekend takes turn for better

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Playing in the last group, the sun had already bid sayonara to PGA National as Erik Compton and his two playing partners finished on Thursday night.

For those hearty few who stayed and were paying attention, it was worth the wait. Compton, arguably the most inspiring story in the history of the sport, shot a 3-under 67 in his backyard and moved into a tie for 10th after the first round of the Honda Classic.

Though he is a rookie, the Miami native has played in the event before and received another sponsor exemption this year.

"This is my home game," Compton said as darkness fell.

The two-time heart transplant recipient has played in five events tis year after earning his PGA Tour card by playing well on the Nationwide last season, though his best finish is T42. Poor weekend, he said, have plagued him.

The 32-year-old seems to run out of energy, interest, or a little of both.

"I have had a hard time finishing on the wekend," Compton said. "There's a lot of stress in playing the tour, and on this golf course. I think if I had a good solid weekend, it would give me a lot of confidence."

Compton plays in the morning wave on Friday, where the wind is usually less active, so he's in a good spot, based on the typical weather patterns. But then he needs to take care of business after making the cut.

"I've got to get better at controlling my emotions," he said. "I think the talent is there, but there's more to this game than just talent."

Category: Golf
Posted on: March 1, 2012 6:57 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 9:49 am
 

Tiger's opening 71 seemed just about right

Tiger holds onto his Nike golf glove during first round play. (Getty Images)

By Shane Bacon

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- On Thursday at the Honda Classic, the afternoon buzz was astir because a certain someone was playing in the event for the first time. A fan remarked to his buddy, “It seems like there are a lot more people here than last year,” something that was obvious when the tournament sold 30,000 tickets overnight the day Tiger Woods announced he would be in the field. 

Parents and kids made shirts. A fan next to me erupted in approval and sprinted to the 11th tee after Tiger stuffed his second shot to just a couple of feet for his third birdie of the day. 

And amongst all the buzz, there was a guy that played a very vanilla round of golf on a tough track. Tiger, playing in the windier afternoon, posted a 1-over 71, with the best thing being that it could have been worse. 

Yes, Tiger still missed short putts and seemed downright puzzled when shots would come up short or fly long, but for the most part, he played the golf course average at best, and the best news is he isn’t completely out of the tournament (Davis Love III, for all his great play on Thursday, isn’t exactly expected to post a similar low round on Friday). 

Woods’ golf game is simply Woods’ golf game right now. He hits some good shots and some bad ones. He makes the occasional birdie and drops back with the occasional bogey. All too often he has 30 feet on holes that it seemed he might hit it close, and the putts that almost always dropped in the past are almost expected to miss (And do) these days. 

The problem with explaining Tiger’s rounds these days is that there aren’t a ton of things to expound upon. He is tied for 68th right now and might move up a few spots one way or the other on Friday, but it just doesn’t seem he has a really low round in him right now. 

That might change, but it doesn’t look like Woods has found the magic elixir he so desperately needs just yet, and it could be a while before he uncovers it. 

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com