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11:05AM

RealClearSports.com: Tiger Has Us Believing for Him, Anything Is Possible



By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


CHASKA, Minn. -- This is what greatness is, a young man with a swoosh on his shirt and purpose in his thoughts. A young man who has us believing that on a golf course anything is possible, because truth tell for him, anything is possible.

He's not even allowing for suspense this time. Not even needing to produce a comeback.
Tiger Woods went out Thursday and snatched the first-round lead in the PGA Championship, and in effect ended the competition after 18 holes, although there remain 54 left to play.

Woods, who usually starts slowly in a major, this time started quicker than anyone else. Woods, who usually is chasing -- and more often than not, overtaking -- this time is being chased.

He's gone through '09 without a victory in a major, even missing the cut in the British Open, but he's not going past Sunday, the PGA's final round, without one. Not the way he's performing.

You can rewrite the axiom. There is something else definite besides death and taxes: Tiger Woods with a lead in a major.

"I feel pretty comfortable if I'm playing well," said Woods. He's playing well, believe me. He's playing spectacularly. He's playing like Tiger Woods.

Tiger has five victories already this year. And he didn't even enter a tournament until February, inactive for eight months while recovering from the ACL surgery on his left knee in June 2008.

Not long ago, May, even June, impatient with his lack of progress, we were wondering what was wrong with Tiger, wondering if he'd make it back to where he was, towering over golf. We have our answers. Tiger again has his game.

He won two weeks ago at the Buick. He won last weekend, if in a controversial ending, at the Bridgestone Invitational. And almost certainly he'll win this weekend, adding a 15th major to a total, which at age 33 will put him only three behind the career-record 18 of Jack Nicklaus.

Bad weather is coming. That was the forecast. A big wind, a sweep across the prairie, across the rolling country that used to be farmland. Could it be any more forceful than Tiger Woods crushing a golf ball, crushing the opposition?

When Woods and the other two in his threesome, Padraig Harrington, the defending champ and a shot behind Tiger, and Rich Beem, were on the green of the par-five 606-yard second hole, a ball came bouncing toward their feet. It was hit by the Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, his second shot.

"He apologized," said Tiger. "Nothing to apologize for...to hit it that far is phenomenal. I used to be able to move the ball (like that). Not anymore. I just plod my way around, shoot 67."

Tiger, the guy who walks with his head down, who almost never acknowledges a congratulatory yell or a friendly wave, was having fun. The confidence is nearly palpable. He can toy with the opposition. He can jest with the media.

Whatever happens -- and the thought is something good will happen, as it usually does when Tiger is in full flight -- Woods has a new perspective. A year ago, he still was recovering.

"I was just trying to walk without a brace," he recalled. "I wasn't very good at it but trying to get a bit of flexion at the time. And walking in a pool and all those things. But I couldn't do much of anything."

He can do virtually anything he wants now. On Thursday he got around a course listed at a ridiculous 7,674 yards but in actuality probably set up 150 to 200 yards shorter, without a bogey.

"Yeah," he conceded, "I played really well. I hit a bunch of good shots, and this round could really have been low. I missed a bunch of putts."

No sympathy will be extended. Golfers always talk about what might have been. But for us there's no need. We reflect on what was. For Tiger that would be excellence, if not quite perfection.

He's not the only player on Tour, although sometimes the television ratings contradict that idea. There are other superb players: Harrington, who has three wins in majors; Phil Mickelson, although he struggled Thursday to a 2-over 74; Vijay Singh; Angel Cabrera; British Open champion Stewart Cink.

It's just that Tiger is in a league of his own. Years ago, when Jack Nicklaus set a ridiculously low scoring record at the Masters, the late Bobby Jones said of Jack, "He plays a game I'm not familiar with."

We're familiar with Tiger Woods' game. It's remarkable and dominant. But it's not good enough for Tiger. He may be the best, but he keeps trying to be better.



As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www1.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/08/14/tiger_has_us_believing_for_him_anything_is_possible_96449.html
© RealClearSports 2009
10:58AM

Newsday: Tiger eyes gold after golf gets Olympic boost

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday


Tiger Woods has plenty of gold already. But he now might be in line for a gold medal.

The International Olympic Committee executive board, meeting in Berlin Thursday, recommended golf and rugby be added to the sports for the 2016 Games. The full IOC will vote on the final decision Oct. 9 at Copenhagen.

"I would love to play for the rugby team,'' joked Tiger, after shooting a 5-under par 67 for the first-day lead of the 91st PGA Championship. "No, I think it's great for golf. We're long overdue to have it in the Olympics. Our sport is a global sport.''

Woods would be 40 at the time of the 2016 Games but said unless he retires, he likely would play. His support was credited with giving golf the boost it needed to make the cut over sports such as baseball and softball.

"I can't overstate the importance of that,'' said Ty Votaw, a PGA Tour official and executive director of the International Golf Federation's Olympic bid committee.

"Tiger being involved . . . is very important,'' said Votaw, "as is the support of the top players.''

Padraig Harrington, the defending PGA champion who played with Tiger and finished a shot behind him Thursday, said if golf is included it should be stroke play, 72 holes, like a major.

"I think,'' contended Harrington, the Irishman who also has won two British Opens, "in 100 years time the Olympics could be the fifth major . . . It's only once every four years, So in time it could become the premier event in golf.

"I believe the best players will turn up. It's not too many players, even a dominant one, who are going to get to play more than once or twice because of the time frame. So 72-hole stroke would bring out a true winner.''

If golf is accepted, adjustments would have to be made to the global schedule, possibly revising dates for either the Ryder Cup or PGA Championship.

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http://www.newsday.com/sports/golf/tiger-eyes-gold-after-golf-gets-olympic-boost-1.1368873
Copyright © 2009 Newsday. All rights reserved.
9:31AM

Newsday: Tiger stays in the groove and leads PGA by one

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday


The questions are different now for Tiger Woods. Nobody asks what's wrong. They only wonder if he's playing better than he ever has and the man -- The Man -- appears to be doing exactly that.

A winner the last two weeks, Tiger hasn't lost any momentum. He'll never lose his fixation for success.

"If you don't think you can win,'' Woods has said again and again, "then why enter?''

At the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National in the suburbs ofMinneapolis, Woods has once again entered the zone.

Woods didn't win any of the three previous majors this year, and missed the cut in last month's British Open, but that problem should be corrected shortly.

Tiger on Day 1 shot a 5-under par 67 and is a shot in front of one of his playing partners and the defending champion,Padraig Harrington, whom he overtook Sunday in the controversial ending of the Bridgestone Invitational.

Six golfers are tied for third at 3-under 69 -- Robert Allenby, Mathew Goggin, Hunter Mahan, Alvaro Quiros and two who like Woods and Harrington have won PGA Championships, Vijay Singh and David Toms.

U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover is at 71, British Open winner Stewart Cink 73, Phil Mickelson 74 and Masters winner Angel Cabrera 76.

The day belonged to Woods, and there's no reason to think the tournament also won't belong to Woods.


"It's always nice to get off to a quick start,'' understated Tiger, who hasn't done that of late, averaging 71.8 in the opening rounds of his last five majors, and winning only one, the 2008 U.S. Open.

"I feel pretty comfortable if I'm playing well,'' Woods said. "There are times I've put it together and had some pretty good margins of victory.''

His game Thursday -- five birdies, no bogeys, only 29 putts -- is evidence this may be one of those times.

"Tiger looks like he's playing well,'' agreed Harrington after his second straight round with Woods in two different tournaments. "If he's moving away, I want to make sure I'm moving with him.''

On Sunday, in the Bridgestone in Akron, Ohio, Harrington, going head-to-head with Woods, got flustered when the two were put on the clock because of slow play. He took a triple-bogey 8 on the 16th hole, and surrendered the lead and the tournament to Tiger.

That was Woods' 70th PGA Tour victory, third all-time to Sam Snead's 82 and Jack Nicklaus' 73. That was Woods' affirmation that somehow, some way he will win.

Unless, of course, he misses the cut as at Turnberry, which he has turned into an asset.

"I had that nice little rest there after the British,'' he quipped, "I have plenty of energy.''

Seven years ago Tiger finished second in the last PGA held at Hazeltine, a shot behind Rich Beem who yesterday, in the threesome with Woods and Harrington, had a 1-under 71. It was presumed Tiger would play well this time, if not as well as he played.

"It's something I've always believed in,'' Woods said. "The first round, just keep yourself around. You don't have to be eight under. Just got to keep plodding along.''

His plodding looks more like sprinting.

When Woods, Harrington and Beem were on the green of the 606-yard, par-5 11th hole, a ball bounced up. It was hit by Quiros, the Spaniard. His second shot, a driver off the deck.

"He apologized,'' Woods said. "Nothing to apologize for. I mean that's stupid long, isn't it? It's just absolutely phenomenal. I used to be able to move the ball like that. Not anymore. Just plod my way around and shoot 67.''

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http://www.newsday.com/sports/golf/tiger-stays-in-the-groove-and-leads-pga-by-one-1.1368897
Copyright © 2009 Newsday. All rights reserved.
11:00AM

SF Examiner: Untainted Tiger truly a positive sports hero

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner


You want a positive force in sports? Someone who makes headlines for reasons other than being accused? Someone who keeps himself at the front and keeps the rest of us in his thrall?

That man is The Man, arguably the most successful athlete on the planet at the moment and unquestionably the best golfer in history, Tiger Woods.

Tiger has his flaws, mostly a potty mouth. He can swear a blue streak, and it’s not in private. “Unfortunately, I do make mistakes,” he agreed, “and I hit bad shots and I say bad things at times. I don’t mean to. It just comes out.”

But that’s it. No shooting himself in the leg. No torturing animals. No performance enhancing drugs. Just a temper which at times is not under control. As we know, there’s a lot worse.

This is the final chance for Tiger in ’09, the PGA Championship. He’s 0-for-3 in the Masters, U.S. Open at British Open. He’s had a spectacular year, five wins, two of those the last two weeks. But without a major, can it be a spectacular year for Tiger Woods?

“It’s been a great year either way,” Woods said Tuesday. “For me to come back and play as well as I’ve done and actually win golf events, to say at the beginning of the year, when I was feeling the way I was, I don’t think any of us would have thought I could have won this many events this year.”

He was in the media tent at Hazeltine National Golf Club, some 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis, where the 91st PGA starts Thursday. He was in a good mood. And why not?

A year ago, Woods was on crutches, recovering from that ACL surgery on his left knee. A year ago, his career if not in doubt was full of questions.

Now it’s full of anticipation. Whatever he’s done, 70 wins overall, third most in PGA Tour history behind Sam Snead’s 82 and Jack Nicklaus’ 73; whatever he’s accomplished, victories in 14 majors; Tiger is not satisfied. He wants more.

The way Joe Montana wanted more Super Bowl victories. The way Michael Jordan wanted more NBA titles. Which is understandable.

Greed not only is acceptable in sports, it is demanded. An athlete must be driven, as is Tiger Woods.

In 2000, Woods won nine tournaments, three of them majors. A few years later he was reworking his swing, making changes which he believed would make improvements. Yesterday didn’t mean as much as tomorrow.

If the Tiger of nine years ago played a hypothetical match against the Tiger of the present, someone asked, who would come out on top?

“I would win now,” meaning the Tiger of ’09. “I know how to manage my game a hell of a lot better than I did then.”

It will be interesting to see how he manages at Hazeltine where in the 2002 PGA he finished second by a shot.

“Oh, man,” said Woods, “the course is in phenomenal shape.”

So, it appears, is Tiger Woods, the untainted sporting hero.

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http://www.sfexaminer.com/sports/Spander-Untainted-Tiger-truly-a-positive-sports-hero-53006307.html
Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company
9:17AM

RealClearSports: Tiger Controversy Is What Golf Needs



By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com

CHASKA, Minn. --This is what golf needs, a good controversy that involves the unquestioned best player in the game.

Maybe the people who dote on scandal and debate will decide indeed there is more to the sport than handshakes and kind words.
These are times of action, and about the only action in golf is bending over to pick a ball from the cup. Golf then must do it with reaction.

Like the reaction of Tiger Woods to being charged, along with playing partner Padraig Harrington, with slow play in Sunday's final round of the Bridgestone Invitational over at Akron.

Tiger's in a bigger event this week, the 91st PGA Championship, which starts Thursday at Hazeltine National some 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis. He's trying to win his first major of the year. He's also still trying to defend his criticism of a rules official at the Bridgestone.

Tiger's the big dog. When Tiger barks, everybody hears. Tiger barked loudly after winning the Bridgestone.

He and Harrington, coming down the stretch, separated by a shot, were put on the clock by John Paramor, a European official working the tournament because it was a World Golf Association event. In a timeless game, Tiger and Padraig were being timed, threatened by a fine and a penalty stroke.

Harrington apparently rushed his chip shot from behind the green on 16 and the ball bounced into a pond. He ended with a triple-bogey 8, losing four shots to Woods, the lead and finally the tournament. Padraig stayed silent. Woods did not.

"The way I understood it,'' Woods said Tuesday, "we were the only two in contention. We had separated ourselves. The winner was not going to come from the groups ahead. It was going to come from our group, and we were having a great battle.''

Forty-eight hours earlier, Woods stated, "I'm sorry John (Paramor) got in the way of a great battle, but that happened.''

In his defense, Paramor said the twosome was 17 minutes behind the preceding group on the 16th tee, and the warning was deserved.

On Monday, a day later, there was a story that the PGA Tour, in its speak-no-evil ways, had fined Woods for his remarks. But Tuesday Tiger said he was not fined. Neither was he fine.

"I thought they could have used better judgment,'' Woods said of being put on the clock. "It certainly influenced us in how we played and influenced the outcome of the tournament, and that's not how you want to have a tournament come to an end.''

Harrington, the defending PGA champion, was less critical than Tiger but hardly less displeased.

"As regards to what he said,'' explained Harrington, "I think it's easier for having won the tournament to take the moral high ground and say what he wants. Having lost the tournament, I'm going to take it on the chin and say it was my mistake.''

Which, literally, it was. Hassled or not, flustered or not, a player as good as Harrington, who has two British Open wins along with his PGA, is not supposed to lose control.

The people in charge of golf shudder at this stuff. They deem golf a gentleman's game and attempt to cover up any misfortune or disagreement.

At the Masters, there's a booklet with a quote from the late Bobby Jones warning fans not to cheer a player's errors. The Tour last winter refused to confirm that John Daly had been suspended, even though he had been.

But golf is better off with controversy. Baseball, football, basketball, and even tennis thrive on it. All of a sudden, you have Tiger Woods talking like a low-key Ozzie Guillen -- standing up for what he thinks is right and getting as much attention as for his marvelous play.

Woods has won five tournaments in '09, a year that begin with him still rehabilitating the June 2008 anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his left knee. Two of those victories have come in the last two weeks. However, none of those victories has been in a major.

"For me to come back and play as well as I have,'' said Woods when asked if this still would be a top year without a major win, "and actually win golf events, to say at the very beginning of the year, I don't think any of us could have thought I would win this many events.''

Told that previously he wouldn't have thought it was a good year without a win in a major, something that hasn't happened since 2004, Woods answered, "I've said that in the past, but I didn't have ACL reconstruction either.''

He had it. He's back. And he's letting golf know, with his game and his comments.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.