Team player: Tiger back and things have changed


SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – For the first time in six years, Tiger Woods arrived at the Ryder Cup with his golf clubs.

No more earpieces.

No more two-way radios.

No more golf carts.

No longer relegated to the vice-captain position because of injury, Woods returns to his usual role this week as the most important American player.

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So much has changed since Woods’ last Ryder Cup appearance in 2012. His body has betrayed him. He’s endured humiliating performances on the course. He’s pondered a life without golf. But during all of that downtime, Woods has dedicated himself to an unexpected cause: team competitions. Criticized in the past for prioritizing individual over collective success, he’s played an integral role in blowing up the U.S. selection process as a member of the task force, then the Ryder Cup committee and finally as an assistant captain, in ’16.

“It was neat to be a part of the team, to be a part of helping the guys in any way I possibly could to make them feel comfortable,” Woods said, “but as a player, you focus on your playing partner you’re playing with and earning your point.”

As much as Rory McIlroy tried to downplay Woods’ influence by saying that he’s merely one of 12 here at Le Golf National, we all know better. Woods can only earn a maximum of five points for his team, but he’s worth so much more than that – capable of powering the U.S. to new heights with wins, while providing a boost to the Europeans if he falters.

This week will be a particularly intriguing moment in Woods’ career. No three players are as synonymous with U.S. futility in the Ryder Cup as Woods, Phil Mickelson and this year’s captain, Jim Furyk. Yet here they all stand, together, with a chance to end a quarter-century of misery on foreign soil. It’d be the perfect coda to Woods’ unimaginably resurgent season.

“Not having won as a player since 1999,” Woods said, “is something that hopefully we can change.”

It’ll start with Woods’ performance in the team sessions. Though his singles record is strong (4-1-2), he’s yet to find much success with a partner, going an abysmal 9-16-1 in fourballs and foursomes.

Gone is his usual match-play partner, Steve Stricker. In his place is a pair of 20-something dynamos, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau, who are sure to be wound tight while playing alongside their childhood idol.

Fortunately for them, Woods is playing his best golf in years. Last week at the Tour Championship, he not only won for the first time in five-plus years, but on Sunday he broke the spirit of Europe’s best players, leaving both Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose in the dust.

“It’s a nice boost for everyone, and I think for Tiger in general, it’s cool,” Furyk said. “But being a guy with his status and that number of wins, he can flip the page and turn his attention to this week. He’s trying to help this team as much as he can.”

There’s no reason to believe that his stellar play won’t continue here, as Le Golf National would seem an ideal fit for his revamped game. The tight, hazard-filled course will require few drivers off the tee, leaving Woods and everyone else to attack from virtually the same spots in the fairway. That plays exactly into Woods’ hands – he’s once again the best iron player on the planet.

What remains to be seen is how many matches Furyk will employ Woods. At 42 with a rebuilt body, Woods is no longer a lock to play all five matches, as he was in his prime. In seven career Ryder Cups, he’s played all but one of the team sessions – the only one he missed was at Medinah in 2012, when he said his back issues first started to surface.

But Woods’ improved health and brilliant play creates an interesting dilemma for Furyk: Can you really keep Woods on the bench for a team session if he’s one of the Americans’ best chances for a point? Or do you risk sending him out for all five matches, knowing that he’ll probably grow fatigued?

Of course, few could have envisioned this debate two years ago, as Woods zipped around in a golf cart, fetching sandwiches and extra towels for the players in his pod, his competitive future uncertain.

That’s not the case anymore.

He’s swapped out his walkie-talkie for a wedge.

With a new perspective and partner, maybe he’s ready for his best Ryder Cup performance ever.

Brooks Koepka wins third Wanamaker Trophy, fifth major title at PGA Championship


Brooks Koepka promised Sunday at Oak Hill would not be a reprise of Sunday at Augusta National.

Koepka held true to his word, shooting 3-under 67 to win the PGA Championship, finishing at 9 under, two in front of Scottie Scheffler (65) and Viktor Hovland (68).

Koepka and Hovland, playing together in the final pairing, were separated by one stroke at the par-4 16th, when Hovland hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker on the right. The previous day, leader Corey Conners was in the same spot and drilled his approach into the face of the bunker. He had to take an unplayable lie and made double bogey, losing the lead for good.

Incredibly, Hovland did the same thing on Sunday, losing any chance he had at his first major title.

Koepka, for his part, birdied the 16th and led by four shots with two to play. He closed with an innocuous bogey at the 17th and a par at the 18th.

This was Kopeka’s fifth major championship win and his third Wanamaker Trophy (2018, ’19). He joined James Braid, John Henry Taylor, Byron Nelson, Peter Thomson and Seve Ballesteros at 15th on the all-time major-victory list.

It marked his ninth career PGA Tour title and first since February 2021.

It was in that same month, a year later, that Koepka made clear his intention to remain on the PGA Tour, saying of the fledgling Saudi-led rival league, “They’ll get their guys. Somebody will sell out and go to it.”

Four months later, Koepka was one of those guys.

Koepka claimed his first of two LIV titles in October and the second in April, the week before the Masters Tournament. It was in the season’s first major where Koepka led by two shots entering the final round (after completing a delayed Round 3 early that Sunday) but closed in 75 to finish T-2 behind Jon Rahm.

This Saturday, once again with a lead through 54 holes of a major, Koepka was confident – though, coy with his reasons why – that this championship would end differently.

Or, similarly, to that of Bellerive and Bethpage Black.

It appeared that the 105th edition of the PGA was over 45 minutes after the final group teed off in the final round.

Koepka birdied three of his first four holes and led by three shots.

He was perfection personified, expertly positioning his tee shots and precisely hitting his irons. But a sliced drive off the sixth tee led to bogey and he made another at the seventh. By the turn, he was at 7 under par, one clear of Hovland with Scheffler at 4 under through 11 holes.

Scheffler managed to reach 7 under par for the championship, but never got closer than within two strokes.

It was ultimately a battle between the final two men on the course, with Koepka consistently managed to stay out front. He went birdie-bogey-birdie to start the inward half as Hovland strung together a trio of pars. The Norwegian birdied the par-5 13th and could have drawn even, but Koepka converted a slick, downhill, 10-footer for par to remain one up.

Both men made birdie at the drivable, 320-yard, par-4 14th and both men parred 15.

Then came the 16th, where Hovland thinned his second shot from the fairway sand into the bottom portion of the bunker lip. His ball embedded, Hovland took a penalty stroke and a drop. His double bogey, combined with Koepka’s birdie, ended all of the drama.

But Oak Hill was not devoid of cheers Sunday evening. Club pro Michael Block, playing alongside Rory McIlroy, had a slam-dunk hole-in-one at the par-3 15th and then made an incredible par save from well left of the 18th green. His closing 1-over 71 placed him in a tie for 15th and earned him a spot in next year’s field at Valhalla.

The last time the Louisville, Kentucky course hosted a PGA, McIlroy claimed his second Wanamaker Trophy and his fourth – and most recent – major. The Northern Irishman energized the western New York crowd this Sunday by sticking his approach shot at the first hole to a foot. The birdie got him within four of the lead, but he short-sided himself – from the fairway – at No. 2 and immediately gave the shot back. McIlroy shot 1-under 69 and tied for seventh.

While his major wait will extend to Los Angeles Country Club in June, Koepka will arrive looking for a third U.S. Open title.

And after his performances in the first two majors of the season, he will likely be the favorite.

Rahm wins his first Masters, second major

Michael Madrid / USA TODAY NETWORK

By Golf Channel’s Mercer Baggs

In the end, there was sun. The storms and the suspensions, the muck and the mud, the wind and the chill, it all gave way to a glorious Easter afternoon in Augusta, Georgia.

Basking in that fading daylight was Jon Rahm.

Rahm won the 87th Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, completing 30 holes on Sunday for his second major title.

The 28-year-old Spaniard, who won the 2021 U.S. Open, added a green jacket to his collection, closing in 3-under 69. He finished four shots clear of three-time champ Phil Mickelson, who, at 52, became the oldest player in Masters history to record a top-5.

Also in second place was Brooks Koepka, the man who started an elongated Sunday with a four-shot lead. The four-time major champion played his final 30 holes in 5 over par, closing with a 75.

This is Rahm’s fourth win of the year and the 11th of his PGA Tour career. Once again, he’s world No. 1.

Golf is analogous to boxing – in ways both trite and appropriate – when individuals go head-to-head, and for the better part of two weekend days, this Masters felt like a heavyweight tilt with two of its heaviest hitters.

Only, no big punches landed for nearly a round and a half.

Rahm and Koepka began their Sunday wrapping up the seventh hole of the third round. Koepka missed an 11-foot par putt and Rahm made a 9-foot birdie putt. Koepka’s overnight advantage was cut in half, to two.

They both birdied the par-5 eighth, but neither man made a birdie over the second nine, both playing it in 2-over 38. The margin was still two entering the final round, in which one continued to fail in pulling away from the other.

That inability offered opportunity.

Some, like defending champion Scottie Scheffler and ’18 winner Patrick Reed, made cameo appearances. Others offered a more serious threat. Jordan Spieth, the 2015 champ, was within two before a pulled tee shot on 18 led to bogey.

His playing competitor, Mickelson, birdied the last – one of five birdies over his final seven holes – to shoot a 65 that was more brilliant than it was surprising. Even without a seventh major title, Mickelson triumphantly walked off the 18th green just as the final twosome was entering the second nine.

Ultimately, this was Koepka vs. Rahm. Not LIV vs. PGA Tour. Not Evil vs. Good. Just two men, playing for themselves and their legacies.

For Rahm, a chance to join Seve, Ollie and Sergio to put the red and yellow into green. For Koepka, a chance to be a claret jug away from immortality.

But after 13 birdies and an eagle in his first 44 holes, Koepka couldn’t buy one over an agonizing stretch of the next 22.

His dropped shot at the par-3 sixth cost him a share of the lead and he fell two back when Rahm birdied the par-5 eighth. Koepka never got closer. A sloppy bogey at the par-3 12th dropped him three back and, despite finally getting a red number at the par-5 13th, Rahm did the same.

The knockout blow – to revive the pugilist parallel – came one hole later, where Rahm hit a stinging cut from the pine straw to 4 feet. He made birdie while Koepka made bogey.

From there it was just a matter of not messing up and, despite a wayward tee shot on the 72nd hole, Rahm obliged. He parred his final four holes and, with a four-shot lead and safely on the green at 18, was able to enjoy the walk up the last. His family, his friends and his countryman, two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, embraced the champion of the 87th Masters before he headed to Butler Cabin to receive his green jacket.