Wild and Windy day of golf at the PODS Championship

Stewart Cink played the last of his 28 holes Saturday in near darkness, eager to finish a long day in the toughest conditions the PGA Tour has seen this year.

Even after his lone bogey in the third round for a 2-under 69, he couldn’t wait to get started Sunday.

Playing in 50 kph wind at the PODS Championship for the better part of 12 hours, Cink’s fortunes turned quickly when he ran of three straight birdies and went from four shots down to a two-shot lead that likely puts him in the final group for the third time this year.

He was at 5-under 208, two shots ahead of former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy.

Calgary’s Stephen Ames was 1-over par after seven holes when play was halted. He finished with a 74 on Saturday for a 145 total. Jon Mills of Oshawa, Ont., shot a 78 on Friday for a 7-over par, 149 total.

 

Brandt Snedeker, who had a four-shot lead until his momentum changed on a three-putt from 12 feet, was at 3 under and had three holes to play.Billy Mayfair also was at 3 under playing the 16th hole when darkness suspended the third round.

Only nine players remained under par. The tournament is still up for grabs.

”I’ve got to keep pushing,” Cink said. ”My goal is to give no one a chance tomorrow.”

That sounds like the M.O. from Tiger Woods, and Cink knows that all too well. He was in the last group at Torrey Pines with Woods, albeit eight shots behind. And Cink was in the final at the Accenture Match Play Championship, which Woods won by a record margin for the final match, 8 and 7.

”I’ve seen him do that,” Cink said, ”and it looks like it’s a lot of fun.”

Even better? Woods has the week off.

”When the cat’s away ..” Cink said.

He rarely sets goals for himself, but decided this year to aim for getting into contention more often. This will be his second good chance at winning in five events, so he’s off to a good start.

”That’s a step in the right direction,” said Cink, who hasn’t won since Firestone in 2004.

Cink had no problem with fatigue. He played 32 holes on Saturday of the Match Play (winning twice), and played 29 holes in the final match against Woods. But neither of those days featured such a vicious wind on an Innisbrook course that requires so much thought.

He had to think twice about his wedge from pampas grass on the 10th, playing left of the flag because it presented the best opening. It came out perfectly to 30 feet, and he holed the putt for the first of three straight birdies.

The next leaderboard he saw was on the 14th hole, and he wasn’t surprised.

”One gust can mean two shots. It’s as simple as that,” Cink said.

In Snedeker’s case, three putts meant a total loss of momentum.

He was at 7 under, leading by four, and had a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth. But he three-putted for bogey, hit into the trees on the right at No. 9 for another bogey, three-putted the 13th, and suddenly was two shots behind.

”I’m disappointed with two three-putts on the par 3s. They were both stupid, boneheaded mistakes, but those are going to happen,” Snedeker said. ”You’ve got to be patient. I’m still right there.”

Sean O’Hair and Tom Pernice Jr. each shot 71 and were at 2-under 211. The nine players under par included defending champion Mark Calcavecchia, who was 1 under with two holes to play.

Cink had to play 28 holes Saturday, none of them easy.

The wind was raging at dawn and never let until the final minutes of daylight, so strong that players who were hitting a 9-iron into the 18th green in the opening round were pulling 3-iron or more on Saturday. The average score for the second round was 74.5. Once the cut was made – the first cut, anyway – the field average for the third round was headed for about 74.

Seventy-nine players made the cut, activating the week-old amendment to the PGA Tour’s cut policy. Because more than 78 players made the cut, a second cut to the top 70 and ties was to be made after third round.

That knocked out eight players, who will receive official, last-place money. And some might be glad to be leaving. Kevin Streelman made only seven pars in his round of 84. Jason Gore and Charles Warren each shot 81.

”It played hard – I played hard,” Kevin Sutherland said after a hard-earned 70 left him in a tie for seventh, only four shots behind.

The cut was at 3-over 145, the highest ever at Innisbrook.

The highest 54-hole lead until this week was 9-under 204, a mark that will be shattered.

Ogilvy was asked to go over his birdies, bogeys and any good par saves he made. That brought a wry smile to the Australian.

”Every hole you make par is a great save,” he said.

Wind this strong exposes the slightest mistake, and it was hard to find anything wrong with Snedeker. When he returned Saturday morning to complete the second round, he hit six straight greens to move up the leaderboard, and when he finally missed the ninth green to the left, he chipped in for birdie and a 68 to take the lead.

Then, he was even better in the afternoon.

As just about everyone else was dropping shots around him, Snedeker birdied the par-5 fifth from 6 feet, then holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the seventh to build a four-shot lead. The margin looked as though it might get even larger on the next hole, the par-3 eighth, when he hit his tee shot into 12 feet.

Three putts later, everything changed.

”Two bad bogeys in a row, and I started to lose momentum,” he said.

Ogilvy took a while to shake off rust from staying home after the Jan. 7 birth of his son, but he is finding his groove. He birdie putts inside 10 feet on four straight holes, making two of them, and wound up with a great chance Sunday.

”You know the rust is coming off when it’s tough and you play,” he said.

honda classic at Palm Beach Gardens Fla.

Dudley Hart spent some of Friday afternoon poised to turn The Honda Classic into a runaway. Later in the day, it was Brian Davis’ turn to take what seemed like a huge lead.

But PGA National eventually caught up with them.

And by nightfall, the Honda leaderboard was muddled again.

Davis shot a 3-under 67 to finish the day at 8 under, one shot better than Matt Jones (67) and two shots ahead of Hart – a former South Florida resident whose last victory was at the 2000 Honda, and who peeled off six straight birdies in a 66.

“Around this course, I think you’d need about a 20-shot lead with one round to go,” Davis said. “You know around here, it’s going to come down to the last nine holes, just the way the course is set up. I can’t see anybody getting a six-shot lead out there tomorrow.”


 

He almost had one Friday.

After a bogey-free opening round, Davis started his second round just as precisely, getting to 10 under at one point and four shots clear of the field.

Then this diabolical course – as it typically does – began to fight back.

Davis made a double bogey at the par-3 seventh, his 16th of the day, then missed the green to the right and slid a 10-foot par try just past the cup on his final hole.

“I’m sure every player’s got a few hiccups around here,” Davis said.

Some fewer than others, though.

John Mallinger (67) and Ben Crane (66) were tied for fourth, three shots off the lead. Ernie Els shot a 70 and was in a group of six players, including Mark Calcavecchia and Robert Allenby, five shots back of Davis.

First-round leader Luke Donald shot a 74, including a quadruple bogey on the 14th, to fall six shots back.

Mike Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ont., fired a second-round 73 to miss the cut by two shots. Jon Mills of Oshawa, Ont., also went home early following a 77.

Hart played in the afternoon, when the wind picked up and the course, theoretically, was significantly harder than in the morning session. But he went out in 29, and only a double bogey at the par-3 17th kept him from finishing the day with a share of the lead.

“You don’t birdie six in a row very often,” Hart said. “You know, everybody out here has gone through stretches where they have done that. It’s just hard to describe, really. Just things are clicking right, and the putts are falling, and good things are happening.”

Most players at PGA National didn’t have the same sentiment.

Defending champion Mark Wilson shot his second straight 73 and missed the cut, along with other notables Weir, Chris DiMarco. Rich Beem and Fred Funk. Tadd Fujikawa, the 17-year-old from Honolulu, still hasn’t made the cut as a pro after missing by 10 shots, and David Duval missed by six.

The cut was 4-over 144, and 77 players made it – meaning the tour’s new “second cut” policy won’t come into play after Saturday’s round. If more than 78 advanced Friday, the tour would have trimmed again to the low 70 and ties following the third round, under an amended plan newly installed this week.

Duval, like Hart, has a major medical exemption this year because of health problems endured by his wife in 2007. Hart – whose wife fell seriously ill last year but is now healthy – is only about US$150,000 shy of what he needed to make this year, yet says he isn’t spending much time thinking about it.

“I came out this year and I just said, you know, I’m going to try to work hard, play well and if I make the money and do it, then great,” said Hart, who made more than $300,000 with a third-place finish at Pebble Beach. “But if I don’t, it’s not going to kill me. I have three kids, a healthy wife at home and a lot of good things going on there.”

Duval hasn’t bounced back so well.

He was over par on eight of his 18 holes Friday, including three double bogeys. Duval hasn’t earned a penny this year in five starts, meaning he has 15 chances left to make the $713,235 he needs to reach what would have been 125th on last year’s money list.

Davis is on pace to make that, and plenty more, this weekend.

With seven first-time champions in the past 12 years, the Honda – which pays $990,000 to the winner – is a haven for those seeking a breakthrough victory, a fact not lost on Davis.

He’s 0-for-98 on tour. He’s never had such a good chance to change that, either.

“It’s a welcome return to form,” Davis said. “And it’s where you want to be.”

Notes: Scott Hoch, who entered the Honda after two straight wins on the Champions Tour, made the cut on the number. .. Tim Petrovic withdrew because of a neck injury after completing eight holes, the last two resulting in double bogeys. .. Carl Petterson holed a 30-yarder for eagle at the par-5 third hole, highlighting his round of 66 that got him within six shots of the lead. .. Tag Ridings, who didn’t have a bogey in his first 22 holes, finished with seven Friday – but still squeaked into the weekend on the cut line.

Can Tiger Woods win all the tournaments that he is entered in?

He won every major championship he played in 1953, and every official tournament he entered except for the Seminole Pro-Am Invitational, where he tied for second. Then again, Hogan only played six times that year because of battered legs from a bus accident.

Tiger Woods will play no more than 17 events on the PGA Tour this year, so a 2-0 start might be a little early for anyone to get excited.

Even so, expectations were as high as the desert sun at noon when Woods left Arizona with yet another victory. It was his fourth in a row on tour since early September, all done in record fashion.

He set a 72-hole scoring record at Cog Hill outside Chicago and won by eight shots at the Tour Championship and the Buick Invitational, both record margins. On Sunday, he smoked Stewart Cink 8 and 7 in the Accenture Match Play Championship, the biggest blowout in the final in 10 years of a tournament that Woods considers the toughest to win this side of a major.

“I think this certainly is the best stretch I’ve ever played,” Woods said.

Strong words – downright scary – considering that Woods won nine times, including three straight majors, in 2000 and that he won six consecutive PGA Tour events at the end of 2006, a streak that reached seven until losing in the Match Play the following year.

Woods, who also won in Dubai earlier this month, has never before started a season with three straight victories, and it is hard not to speculate how long he can keep winning given his history at some of the tournaments coming up.

Next is the Arnold Palmer Invitational March 13-16 at Bay Hill, where Woods won four straight times from 2000 to 2003. The week after that is the CA Championship at Doral, where he has won the last three years.

Then the Masters April 10-13.

“He just morphs his game into the courses,” Cink said. “So I don’t think there’s a course that’s going to present him with a real obstacle as far as him not being a favourite.”

Woods did little to squash the notion of a perfect season when someone asked him if winning them all was within reason.

“That’s my intent. That’s why you play,” Woods said after collecting his 63rd career tour victory and his 15th title in the World Golf Championships. “If you don’t believe you can win an event, don’t show up.”

But it also is his intent to make every putt and hit every shot just how he wants. No one does that, of course. No one wins every tournament. Byron Nelson holds the record with 11 straight victories during a year in which he won 18 times in 30 events. That means he lost 12 times that year.

A perfect season in golf?

“I do find that laughable,” Hal Sutton said Monday. “Anybody who knows golf knows that ain’t going to happen. You can only own this game for a certain period of time. Even if your name is Tiger Woods, you don’t own it forever.”

Sutton was among those who beat Woods during a time when the world’s No. 1 player looked unbeatable, going head-to-head with him at The Players Championship in 2000 and winning by one shot.

He watched part of the championship match Sunday “until I got bored.”

“Tiger is definitely more dominating,” Sutton said.

Curtis Strange is among those who played in the prime years of Woods and Jack Nicklaus, and he said it is pointless to compare generations. But he also found speculation of a perfect season to be “a little over the top.”

“He is by far and away the best player,” Strange said. “We’ve never had a player this much better than the second-best player. He’s unbelievable, really. But he’s not unbeatable. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just because he beat Stewart Cink 8 and 7.”

As usual, the best comparisons are to Woods himself.

Most consider his best golf to be from late 1999 through the 2001 Masters, when he won 16 of 32 times on the PGA Tour and four consecutive majors. Dating to the 2006 British Open, Woods has won 15 of his last 24 events, a 63 per cent clip.

“He just has this strong sense of belief in himself that he’s just never out of it,” Cink said. “He’s never going to mess up. He’s just always in control. He never loses his composure.”

The more he talked, the more Cink made Woods out to be a machine.

“I think maybe we ought to slice him open to see what’s inside there,” Cink said. “Maybe nuts and bolts.”

Not many thought Woods could ever produce better results than 2000, the benchmark of greatness in his era. Woods, however, has been saying all along that his plan was to get better. And with each victory, what seemed impossible is not unthinkable.

Woods knows he was fortunate to win the Match Play. In the first round, he rallied from three down with five holes to play against J.B. Holmes by winning four straight holes with three birdies and a 35-foot eagle. In the third round, Aaron Baddeley twice stood over putts inside 12 feet to win the match before Woods prevailed on the 20th hole.

“I played 117 holes this week,” Woods said. “I could have easily played 16 and then been home. That’s the fickleness of match play.”

And such is the fickle nature of golf.

Odds are, Woods won’t win them all.

But if he were to even win three of his next six on the PGA Tour, that would give him 18 wins in his last 30 starts, essentially matching Nelson’s golden year in 1945.

And even that might not be enough to satisfy him.

“You can always get better,” Woods said. “You can always keep improving.”

Tiger move on to the next match with Aaron Baddeley

MARANA, Ariz. – Tiger Woods barely broke a sweat. Steve Stricker went into overtime for the second straight day. They had only one thing in common Thursday in the Accenture Match Play Championship, which ultimately was all that mattered.

Both are still playing.

One day after a stunning comeback to survive the opening round, Woods built a quick lead against Arron Oberholser and never gave him much hope in a 3-and-2 victory. Oberholser advanced to the second round with a victory over Bright’s Grove, Ont., nativeMike Weir on Wednesday.

The thrills belonged to Steve Stricker, who made a Steve Stricker on the 19th hole to extend the match, then beat Presidents Cup teammate Hunter Mahan with a birdie putt just inside 50 feet. It was the second straight day Stricker won in 20 holes.

And it was the second consecutive year that Phil Mickelson was given a long weekend off.


 

Fresh of a victory at Riviera, he couldn’t make enough birdies to keep up with Stuart Appleby, who couldn’t miss. Appleby’s ninth birdie came on the 17th hole, and it was enough to send Lefty packing with a 2-and-1 loss.

“It was a good match, but unfortunately, I just didn’t shoot low enough,” said Mickelson, who has never made it past the quarter-final in this tournament. “I wanted a chance on 18, but unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”

David Toms didn’t have any chance at all.

His back flared up late in his first-round victory over Masters champion Zach Johnson, and the pain was such that he had to withdraw before facing Aaron Baddeley, giving the Australian a day off.

Next up for Baddeley is a third-round date with Woods.

Phil Mickelson leads at the Northern Trust

LOS ANGELES – Phil Mickelson learned as a junior golfer to never underestimate anyone, no matter the size of his lead or the pedigree of his opponent.

And while the odds of Lefty finally winning in L.A. looked good as ever Saturday at the Northern Trust, where he shot a 1-under 70 for a one-shot lead overJeff Quinney, two holes showed how much work remains to add Riviera to his West Coast collection of trophies.

One came at the fabled par-3 sixth, where Quinney hit a seven-iron that he thought was headed for the bunker in the middle of the green, only to land just to the right and roll back into the cup for an ace. The other came at the end of the third round when Quinney holed a 35-foot birdie putt to close the margin to one stroke.

“If the guy is good enough to be in the last group, he’s obviously playing well enough to win,” Mickelson said. “I know that I won’t be handed anything tomorrow. I know how well Jeff is playing. And I know that there are guys that are right there and can shoot a low round tomorrow. It’s my job to go out and hit solid shots.”

Mickelson was at 11-under 202, and Quinney might be the only guy he has to worry about.


 

John Rollins lost momentum with consecutive bogeys and shot 69, leaving him five shots behind. Scott Verplank overcame a four-putt from 30 feet on the fringe at the par-5 first for a 71 that put him at 208, along with Stuart Appleby (69) and Vaughn Taylor (71).

A year ago, Mickelson had a one-shot lead over Padraig Harrington with five experienced players separated by only three shots. He wound up losing in a playoff to Charles Howell III.

“I like it better this time,” Mickelson said.

And well he should.

Mickelson has 32 career victories, 15 of those coming in every West Coast Swing city but Los Angeles. He is 18-7 when he has at least a share of the lead going into the final round.

“Other than Tiger, he’s probably the next best front-runner,” Verplank said. “He’s awful good.”

Quinney, a former U.S. Amateur champion who took five years to reach the PGA Tour, has held the 54-hole lead only once, last year in Phoenix, and bogeyed the last two holes to finish third.

“He’s going to bring a lot to the table,” Quinney said. “I have to bring my best to the table.”

Quinney did not sound the least bit concerned about a four-shot deficit to Mickelson, saying after his second round that Riviera is not the type of course where one has to shoot 64 to make up ground.

Then, he looked as though he might do just that.

Quinney birdied the first hole with a long chip across the green on the par 5, then gained another shot when Lefty three-putted for bogey on No. 4. Quinney then holed a 20-foot birdie putt to reduce the lead to one-shot going into the sixth hole.

Then came an ace that he heard, but never really saw.

With a seven-iron from 163 yards, the ball landed to the edge of the bunker and trickled down toward the cup. Quinney couldn’t see because of the haze, but figured he was in decent safe and walked away from the tee. He looked over his left shoulder one last time, and his eyes grew wide when he heard an enormous cheer from the hill around the green.

He ran toward his caddie, unsure whether to hug or high-five, and it turned out to be a clumsy celebration.

“We need to get that organized,” he said.

That gave him the lead, but only for as long as Mickelson hit eight-iron to five feet and made birdie, putting both at 10 under.

“I thought that was as good of a response as I could have expected,” Mickelson said. “I thought that was a big 2 for me.”

They matched birdies at No. 10 – Quinney with a wedge to two feet, Mickelson by driving to the front of the green – and neither showed signs of backing down. But everything changed with one swing.

Mickelson was on the par-5 11th green in two, Quinney just short of the bunker. Quinney caught two much ball, however, and it sailed over the green. He chipped back to 15 feet and did well to escape with bogey.

But it was a two-shot swing after Mickelson two-putted for birdie, and Quinney spent the rest of the back nine trying to catch up. Mickelson saved par with a 10-foot putt on No. 15, then made par from about 6 feet on the final hole to keep his lead.

It wasn’t a big lead, not nearly as big as Mickelson wanted. But it was good enough for him.

“Tomorrow we’ll go head-to-head, and if I can just tie him, tie goes to me,” Mickelson said. “So that’s the nice thing about having a shot in hand.”

Extra Hole Win for J.B Holmes, over Phil Mickelson

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – J.B. Holmes failed to birdie the 18th hole in the first three rounds of the FBR Open. Then he did it twice Sunday, coming back from the brink of defeat to steal a victory from one of the biggest names in golf.

Holmes’ 13-foot birdie putt forced a playoff with Phil Mickelson, then moments later he sank an 8-footer after a monster, 359-yard drive to win the tournament for the second time in three years.

”I can play under pressure, I guess,” he said.

Holmes, whose victory as a rookie at the FBR in 2006 is his only other PGA Tour win, had blown a four-stroke lead and was one shot behind going in to the 18th. The far more seasoned Mickelson seemed destined for his third victory in the tournament and 33rd of his career.

But the 25-year-old Kentuckian smashed a 350-yard drive that landed near a fence far left of the fairway. He was given a drop, then hit his second shot out of the rough 13 feet from the pin to set up the putt that put him at 14-under 270 and forced the playoff with Mickelson.


 
 

Holmes’ playoff tee shot went straight and deep down the fairway. He walked away from the drive like Barry Bonds after a home run.

”I smoked it,” Holmes said. ”I thought it went farther than it did.”

Holmes second shot came to rest just 8 feet from victory.

”Starting the day, I would have gladly taken getting into a playoff,” Mickelson said, ”but I’ve got to give J.B. a lot of credit for birdieing the last hole and birdieing again to get in the playoff. That’s pretty impressive golf.”

Holmes was not intimidated going into a playoff against the second-ranked player in the world.

”I felt like I had the advantage,” he said. ”I could hit it over the bunker. He’d been sitting in the clubhouse. I was loose. I was ready. The hole favours me, no reason I didn’t win.”

Mickelson, who birdied three of the final six holes of regulation, just missed a 28-foot birdie putt before Holmes made the winner. The victory was worth $1.08 million.

Holmes shot a final round of even-par 71.

”I didn’t have my best stuff today,” he said, ”and I came through and won. I didn’t give up. I played hard, and when I needed to make it, I did.”

Jon Mills of Oshawa, Ont., shot a 70 to finish tied for 34th, while Mike Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ont., struggled to a 72 and wound up in a tie for 43rd.

It was the tournament’s 13th playoff in its 73-year history and first since Mickelson beat Justin Leonard in a three-hole playoff in 1996. That, coincidentally, was the other weekend that the Super Bowl was held in Arizona.

On the third tee, Mickelson gave away Super Bowl tickets to John Fockler and his young son, Drew.

”I cherish the time I have with each one of my kids,” Mickelson said, ”and I just thought it would be a cool experience for them.”

It was Mickelson’s 21st runner-up finish to go with his 32 tour victories.

With the Super Bowl being staged some 30 miles down the highway Sunday, attendance dropped to 71,805 on a chilly, overcast day. That’s nearly 100,000 fewer than the record 170,802 who came Saturday for the biggest party day of the boisterous event.

Still, overall attendance for the event was a record 538,356.

Charles Warren finished third, one shot back at 13 under. Five tied at 12 under.

Holmes had gone 23 holes without a bogey when things began to unravel. He bogeyed the seventh, eighth and 10th to fall to 13 under, one shot ahead of four competitors, including Mickelson, who missed a 12-footer for eagle on the par-5 13th but tapped in for birdie to go to 12 under.

On the 15th, Holmes hit his second shot into the water en route to a bogey that put Mickelson into the lead.

”I thought I had a one-shot lead at the time there,” Holmes said. ”Hindsight is 20-20, but maybe laying up would have been a better option there.”

Holmes ran away from the competition in the final round two years ago to win by seven strokes, and he appeared to be doing the same early on Sunday. He fell back, though, and knew somewhere up ahead Mickelson was gaining on him because of roars from the big gallery following the former Scottsdale resident and Arizona State alum.

When Holmes lost the lead, he said, the word ”choke” occurred to him.

”It always pops into your mind, but I fought through it,” Holmes said. ”I hit some bad shots, but it’s golf.”

Tiger Woods Does it Again

Tiger Woods joined the King Arnold Palmer at 62 wins on the PGA golf tour, and left everyone else at the Buick Invitational feeling like paupers. In his most dominant start to a season, Woods built an 11-shot lead Sunday until his game and the fickle weather turned cold on the back nine. A birdie on the last hole gave him a 1-under 71 and an eight-shot victory, the 62nd of his career on the PGA Tour. “I’m sure that there are many, many more coming in the future,” Palmer said. “There isn’t any question about that.”