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PGA Tour commissioner and Woods hope for big 2014 finish

By Larry Fine

PARAMUS New Jersey (Reuters) – Tiger Woods, battling back from a back injury, still drives fan interest and TV ratings and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is as keen as the former world number one himself that he has a big 2014 finish.

Finchem told reporters on Tuesday there would be no medical exemptions made for the elite season-ending FedExCup playoffs, where the starting field is determined by points earned during the regular season.

However, he was not counting Woods out of the PGA Tour finale, even though he languishes 215th on the list with only the top 125 qualifying for the playoffs and time fast running out.

“It’s a year-long competition,” Finchem said at media day for next month’s playoffs opening Barclays tournament at Ridgewood Country Club. “It (an exemption) kind of muddies up the comparative nature of the competition.”

    Woods is a massive 358 points outside the cut line for the four-event playoffs having played only five PGA Tour events this season, but he has two big chances to make up ground at venues where he has had great success.

This week, Woods will tee it up at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational starting on Thursday at Firestone Country Club where he has won eight times.

Then comes the Aug. 7-10 PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky, where Woods won the 2000 PGA crown.

“I’m looking forward to that player that you’re referring to (Woods)…he’s got a couple tournaments coming up where he’s won on both golf courses and one on which he’s won a lot of times,” Finchem said.

“So I’m not one of those who are pessimistic about his immediate or long-term future in the sport.”

RYDER CUP INCLUSION

A win at either tournament would catapult Woods into the FedExCup competition and also cement the American’s case for inclusion on the U.S. Ryder Cup team to take on Europe at Gleneagles in Scotland from Sept. 26-28.

Woods matched Finchem’s optimism at Monday’s media day for the Aug. 29-Sept. 1 Deutsche Bank Championship, the second FedExCup event.

“The speed is developing. The speed is coming back, I continue to get stronger,” said Woods, who missed nearly four months after having back surgery and whose best finish this year was a tie for 25th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March.

“I’ve gotten stronger, but we’re just now introducing explosive training…which is nice. I’m excited about that.”

It has not been all work for Woods, who took some time off after finishing 69th at the British Open to relax ahead of what he hopes will be a strong finish to the 2014 campaign.

“The past week I was with my kids, we were on a little vacation,” Woods said. “And Lindsay (girlfriend Vonn) and myself and the kids, we just had a blast.

“And I was taking them out and we hit some balls. We had a good little time. We toured a little bit and even played a little putt-putt, which I won every single time,” the ever competitive Woods said, drawing laughs from the press corps.

(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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PGA Tour commissioner and Woods hope for big 2014 finish

Woods thinking ‘win’ in return to Firestone

Akron (United States) (AFP) – Rory McIlroy wants his British Open triumph to be a springboard to more success this season while Tiger Woods is seeking to jump start a 2014 campaign hindered by injury.

Former world number one Woods is an eight-time winner at Firestone Country Club, and he sees no reason this week’s World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational can’t see him back in the winner’s circle for the first time since he was sidelined by a March 31 back operation.

“There are certain venues like here, Torrey Pines and Bay Hill where no matter what my form is going into that week, I just somehow feel good,” Woods said on Wednesday. “It does not mean I am going to play well, but I still have that feeling.

“This is only my third event back after back surgery and that’s something that I have had to keep in mind. I’ve been in this situation before and it takes a bit of time.”

Since his return from the back trouble that forced him to miss the Masters and the US Open, Woods has missed the cut at the PGA Tour’s National and delivered his worst ever 72-hole performance as a professional in a major at the British Open.

Woods isn’t giving up on the possibility that he could yet add to his haul of 14 major titles at the PGA Championship next month, nor is surrendering to the idea that he won’t qualify for the US tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs or be selected to the US Ryder Cup team.

“I would like to win these next two weeks and not have to worry about anything — and that’s the plan,” Woods said. “That’s the mindset and the focus.”

However, Woods acknowledged that returning from a back injury was tougher than his previous comeback from knee injury.

“The back injury is way more debilitating than I thought,” he said. “People I have talked to who had the same procedure can’t understand how I am back playing so soon, but I need to get much stronger and more explosive than I am now.”

– Number one a big goal –

McIlroy, meanwhile, goes into the Bridgestone seeking a victory that could let him supplant Australian Adam Scott atop the rankings.

“World number one is a big goal of mine and I’ve never won a World Golf Championship,” said McIlroy, who hasn’t topped the rankings since March of 2013. “That’s another thing I’d like to knock off the list.”

He admitted that in the days since his Open victory at Hoylake he has been enjoying his possession of the famed Claret Jug — taking photos of it beside his television and even on top of the toilet.

It’s with him in Akron, but McIlroy said he wouldn’t be going into this week’s tournament thinking about past success.

“There’s a lot of big tournaments left this year, a lot of golf left to play, and a lot of things I still want to achieve,” he said. “I want to move on and start by playing well again this week.”

McIlroy has finished in the top six in two of the past three years at Firestone Country Club, and he believes the course sets up well for him.

“It’s a long golf course and it’s playing just a bit longer with all the rain they’ve had,” he said. “It’s a course I’ve done pretty well on before and I feel comfortable on.”

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Woods thinking ‘win’ in return to Firestone

Firestone a perfect place for Tiger to salvage season

(Reuters) – Tiger Woods, still tournament rusty after spending much of this year recovering from back surgery, could not have picked a better venue as he strives to turn his season around at this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Woods has won the elite World Golf Championships (WGC) crown a record eight times at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio and would dearly love to add a ninth in his bid to qualify for the PGA Tour’s lucrative season-ending FedExCup playoffs.

The former world number one has just three events remaining to advance from his lowly 215th spot in the FedExCup points list and book his place among the top 125 who will tee off in the playoff opener, The Barclays tournament from Aug. 21-24.

“I am excited to be back,” Woods, who won last year’s Bridgestone Invitational title by a commanding seven shots, told reporters on Wednesday while preparing for Thursday’s opening round. “I have had some pretty good memories here.

“I’ve had some great rounds and certainly some great moments on this property, so any time I come back here, it’s always a good, solid feeling. I am looking forward to this week.”

Asked whether Firestone would be a perfect test of how his game was progressing, Woods replied: “Not necessarily, because I have come into this event not playing great and I’ve come into this event playing great.

“But there are certain golf courses – here, Torrey (Pines), Bay Hill, even Augusta (National) – no matter what my form is going into that week at those particular venues, I just somehow feel good.

“It doesn’t mean I am going to play well but I still have that feeling. Unfortunately one year, I didn’t play very well here, I finished second to last, but over the years I have finished first eight times. That’s a pretty good stat.”

Since undergoing back surgery in late March, Woods has competed in just two PGA Tour events – missing the cut at last month’s Quicken Loans National and finishing 69th at the British Open 10 days ago.

SHOWING FORM

Needing to show form if he is to qualify for the playoffs and persuade U.S. captain Tom Watson to select him for the Sept. 26-28 Ryder Cup in Scotland, Woods has set his sights on victories at Firestone and next week at the PGA Championship.

“I would like to win these two events and not have to worry about anything,” said the 14-times major champion. “That’s the plan, that’s the mindset, that’s the focus and we’ll see how it falls after these few weeks.

“I am so far out of it (FedExCup and Ryder Cup points) right now that I need to play well to get myself there, get myself into the playoffs and hopefully play all four weeks (of the playoffs.”

Asked to pinpoint the components of his game which most urgently needed improvement, Woods smiled in reply: “Everything. Everything needs to get a little bit better.

“I just need to be a bit more efficient in what I am doing. My good shots are still really good, my bad shots need to be in positions where I know I should miss (greens with) the golf ball instead of places where I have been missing it.

“I just need to keep progressing. This is only my third tournament back since back surgery … it takes a little bit of time. I still need to get much stronger than I am now, and I still need to get much more explosive than I am now.”

Woods, who has not triumphed on the PGA Tour since his victory at Firestone last year capped a five-win season, is scheduled to tee off in Thursday’s opening round with U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer of Germany.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Firestone a perfect place for Tiger to salvage season

Thai Kiradech eager to be big hit at PGA Championship again

(Reuters) – Kiradech Aphibarnrat still remembers the cheers each time he reached for his driver at last year’s PGA Championship and the big-hitting Thai has no plans to curb his aggressive style after earning a return invitation for the year’s final major.

Aphibarnrat will join Anirban Lahiri of India, compatriot Thongchai Jaidee as well as South Koreans K.J. Choi, Y.E. Yang and Noh Seung-yul of Korea in the Asian contingent at the Aug. 7-10 tournament at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky.

The burly Thai, the reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, finished tied for 25th place last year in his PGA Championship debut.

“It was fun. I remember the fans cheering me on at the tee boxes and they liked to see me use my driver,” the 25-year-old told the Asian Tour website (www.asiantour.com).

Fans at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York really took to the Thai last year, with some holding up placards supporting ‘Team Kiradech’.

“I love it when they asked about Team Kiradech. I’m really pleased as they are all part of my team too,” he added.

Kiradech struggled with his short game at this month’s British Open, where he missed the cut, and was aware that he had to be better on the greens in Kentucky.

“The course will be challenging for sure and I’ve to improve on my putting game. But I’m confident in my driving and irons and hopefully it’ll all work out next week,” Kiradech, currently ranked 114th in the world, said.

“I love playing in the United States as the course conditions there really suit my game.

“It’s tough but I’ve learnt how to play on it. I always feel that I have a good chance each time I play in the States.”

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Peter Rutherford)

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Thai Kiradech eager to be big hit at PGA Championship again

Golf-Thai Kiradech eager to be big hit at PGA Championship again

July 30 (Reuters) – Kiradech Aphibarnrat still remembers the cheers each time he reached for his driver at last year’s PGA Championship and the big-hitting Thai has no plans to curb his aggressive style after earning a return invitation for the year’s final major.

Aphibarnrat will join Anirban Lahiri of India, compatriot Thongchai Jaidee as well as South Koreans K.J. Choi, Y.E. Yang and Noh Seung-yul of Korea in the Asian contingent at the Aug. 7-10 tournament at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky.

The burly Thai, the reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, finished tied for 25th place last year in his PGA Championship debut.

“It was fun. I remember the fans cheering me on at the tee boxes and they liked to see me use my driver,” the 25-year-old told the Asian Tour website (www.asiantour.com).

Fans at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York really took to the Thai last year, with some holding up placards supporting ‘Team Kiradech’.

“I love it when they asked about Team Kiradech. I’m really pleased as they are all part of my team too,” he added.

Kiradech struggled with his short game at this month’s British Open, where he missed the cut, and was aware that he had to be better on the greens in Kentucky.

“The course will be challenging for sure and I’ve to improve on my putting game. But I’m confident in my driving and irons and hopefully it’ll all work out next week,” Kiradech, currently ranked 114th in the world, said.

“I love playing in the United States as the course conditions there really suit my game.

“It’s tough but I’ve learnt how to play on it. I always feel that I have a good chance each time I play in the States.” (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Peter Rutherford)

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Golf-Thai Kiradech eager to be big hit at PGA Championship again

Golf-Heavyweight trio say Langer, 56, merits Ryder consideration

By Tom Hayward

LONDON, July 28 (Reuters) – Tom Watson, Colin Montgomerie and Tony Jacklin have called for the 56-year-old Bernhard Langer to be considered for Ryder Cup selection after his emphatic 13-stroke victory in the Senior British Open at the weekend.

British bookmakers Ladbrokes rate the German veteran a 20-1 shot to be chosen by European captain Paul McGinley for the biennial match against United States at Gleneagles in Scotland in September.

If Langer is picked he would become the oldest player in the history of the competition, surpassing American Ray Floyd who was 51 when he appeared in the team event in 1993.

“I’d certainly be saying to Paul that this guy is playing so well he might be worth a pick,” U.S. Ryder Cup skipper Watson told reporters after finishing tied 10th in the senior event at Royal Porthcawl in Wales on Sunday.

“The way he is hitting it just now Gleneagles is a course that could be played by Bernhard.”

Former European Ryder Cup captain Montgomerie, who finished a distant second on Sunday, said world number two and new British Open champion Rory McIlroy would have found it tough to keep up with Langer at Porthcawl.

“Bernhard Langer’s performance is one of the golfing performances of all time,” said eight-times European number one Montgomerie of the German’s 18-under-par effort on the Welsh links.

The margin of victory was the second biggest in the history of senior major championships.

Selection for the 12-man European Ryder Cup team will be made up of nine automatic qualifiers and three wildcard picks.

“We’ve been talking about it for a number of years now because I’ve been playing some really good golf the last six or seven years,” Langer said. “But I’m not sure I’m on the radar screen of Paul McGinley.

“It’s up to the captain. I certainly feel my golf is worthy of playing in the Ryder Cup.”

Jacklin, Europe’s most successful captain of all time, said he would be considering Langer for a wildcard pick if he was in charge.

“Bernhard’s a great team man…and I’d be thinking very seriously indeed if I was Paul McGinley because even if the young guys had been here they wouldn’t have beaten his score,” said Jacklin who was working as a TV commentator at Porthcawl.

“It was a fantastic performance from him.” (Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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Golf-Heavyweight trio say Langer, 56, merits Ryder consideration

McGinley pulls out of U.S. PGA with shoulder injury

(Reuters) – European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley has pulled out of next week’s U.S. PGA Championship with a shoulder injury, the Irishman said on Monday.

The 47-year-old McGinley has suffered from bursitis in his left shoulder, an affliction which forced him to miss the French Open at the start of July.

“The scan showed that I really needed to rest my shoulder for a couple of months if I am to address the injury properly and so, because of that, I have regrettably had to withdraw from the U.S. PGA Championship,” McGinley, who was set to compete after an invitation from the PGA of America, said.

“It’s a pity because I would have loved to have teed up at Valhalla but I assessed the situation over the past couple of weeks during my family holiday and I think this is the sensible decision.”

The U.S. PGA, the fourth and final major of the year, tees off at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky on Aug. 7, while the Ryder Cup between Europe and the U.S. begins at Scotland’s Gleneagles on September 26.

(Reporting by Josh Reich; Editing by John O’Brien)

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McGinley pulls out of U.S. PGA with shoulder injury

South African Tim Clark wins Canadian Open

(Reuters) – South African Tim Clark clinched his second PGA Tour title when he sank a six-foot par putt to beat American Jim Furyk by one stroke at the Canadian Open on Sunday.

Clark knocked his clutch putt in dead centre to edge Furyk in a battle between two players who badly needed a victory to shed the bridesmaid tag.

Clark has finished second 12 times on tour and had major elbow surgery in 2011, so he exuded a mixture of excitement and relief as he greeted his Canadian wife and two young children next to the 18th green at Royal Montreal.

“Any national Open to me is special and it’s an honour for me to be the Open champion,” Clark told reporters after storming home in 30 strokes with five back-nine birdies, one-putting eight holes in a row on his way to a five-under-par 65.

He finished at 17-under 263, while Furyk shot a 69 for second place on 16-under.

Furyk has won 16 times on tour but is winless in his last seven attempts when leading (or co-leading) into the final round. This was his sixth runner-up finish since his most recent tour victory nearly four years ago, and the latest near-miss clearly stung.

He had a 15-foot birdie chance at the last to force, at the very least, a playoff, but read too much break and missed on the high side.

That took some pressure off Clark, whose long first putt had come up well short, and he pounced on the opportunity.

Earlier, Clark was four strokes behind after bogeying the first hole but the slow start perhaps eased some of the pressure.

“The front nine I was a little out of sorts but making the turn I was only three back,” he said. “At that point there’s nothing to lose and suddenly I got hot with the putter.

“To stand over that (winning) putt and feel confident was very nice.”

Clark notched four birdies in five holes from the 11th to take the sole lead with three holes to play, and preserved his advantage when he matched Furyk’s birdie at the par-three 17th.

Clark, 38, is the third South African to win the Canadian Open, and he earned $1.026 million as well as a spot in the PGA Championship in two weeks.

Meanwhile, the home drought will stretch on after Canadian Graham DeLaet finished seven shots behind in a tie for seventh.

Pat Fletcher was the most recent Canadian winner in 1954.

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South African Tim Clark wins Canadian Open

Spanish champion women hope to inspire like Seve

Baltimore (AFP) – Having been inspired by legendary countryman Seve Ballesteros, Spain’s LPGA stars hope their victory Sunday at the International Crown team matches sparks a new generation of Spanish women golfers.

Azahara Munoz, Beatriz Recari, Carlota Ciganda and Belen Mozo swept four singles matches to capture the title and global bragging rights for Spain in the eight-team showdown at Caves Valley.

“I don’t think I can come up with words that come close to what it means,” Recari said. “We feel the flag. Our blood boils when we hear the anthem and see the flag. We’re just so stoked we did it.”

Recari said the 20-something Spaniards, friends since junior days at ages 10 and 11, hope to boost Spanish women’s golf the way Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sergio Garcia have done on the men’s side.

“We had a great lead in Spanish golf with Seve, Jose, Miguel and then Sergio so it was always men that were referenced,” Recari said.

“I hope with what we did that more girls are going to watch and say, ‘OK, I want to be there. I want to be with them and raising this trophy.’ It’s only going to help.”

Ciganda went 3-0 in her first Solheim Cup last year while Recari was 3-1-1 in her debut as Europe routed the host US women 18-10 and Munoz, whose lone LPGA win came in the 2012 Sybase Match Play event, is 4-3-1 in two Solheim stints.

“Seve was unbelievable so I watched him a lot,” Ciganda said.

“All the Spanish golfers, we love match play and we like to support each other so playing as a team is good for us.”

The bonds built over years helped Spain overcome two disheartening four-ball losses Friday to the United States by winning every possible point in the last two days.

“Sometimes when you want it so bad it just doesn’t go your way,” Munoz said. “Every time we made a mistake it looked like the world was ending. You just can’t play golf like that.

“We learned from it. It was a wake-up call for us. It worked out after that so I wouldn’t change it.”

Mozo, who sank the winning eight-foot birdie putt at 16 in a 3-and-2 victory over Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn that clinched the title, was inspired by the Friday setback.

“I woke up the next day and I was still pissed. I was very grumpy,” Mozo said. “I was able to bring it back, to come more positive, to play my best game.”

Mozo hopes this is the start of bigger things, including a place on next year’s European Solheim Cup team.

“This is just one little step toward my dreams and who I want to become,” she said. “I just think this is only the beginning. I’m young and I cannot wait to get up there with Europe and be with these girls. It’s going to be a dream.”

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Spanish champion women hope to inspire like Seve

Clark powers past Furyk for Canadian Open win

Montreal (AFP) – South Africa’s Tim Clark birdied five of his last eight holes on Sunday to power past Jim Furyk and win the US PGA Tour’s Canadian Open.

Clark, who won the prestigious Players Championship in 2010 for his only prior PGA Tour title, posted a final round five-under par 65 on Royal Montreal’s Blue Course for a 17-under total of 263 and a one-stroke victory over Furyk.

Furyk, 44, took a three-stroke lead into the final round and seemed poised to claim a third career Canadian Open title, and end his own victory drought stretching back to his 2010 Tour Championship triumph.

Like Clark, the American had just one bogey and one birdie on the front nine, but he couldn’t find the birdies he needed to hold off the hard-charging South African coming in, signing for a one-under 69 for 264.

Even for the day through nine holes, Clark caught fire with back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12. He added another brace at 14 and 15 to move ahead of Furyk — calmly sinking a 10-footer at 15 in the wake of a 25-minute rain delay.

Furyk, who balanced a bogey at the fourth with a birdie at seven, then made nine straight pars before matching Clark’s birdie at the par-three 17th to head to the last one adrift.

Furyk was unable to convert a 12-foot birdie attempt at 18 to force a playoff, his attempt sliding wide after Clark left a long birdie putt six feet short.

Clark made his par attempt to seal the win.

“I didn’t really want to play 18 again in a playoff,” said Clark. “It was huge for me to get it finished right there. I just got hot with the putter on that back nine.”

Furyk, coming off a fourth-place finish at the British Open at Hoylake last week, has now failed to convert his last seven 54-hole leads to victories.

“I’ve got no one to blame but myself,” said Furyk who didn’t make a putt from outside four feet on the back nine.

“I played definitely good enough to win the golf tournament, but I only made two birdies and I’ve got to make more putts.”

Clark’s 17-under 263 total tied the 72-hole Canadian Open record set by Johnny Palmer in 1952 and Scott Piercy in 2012.

Graham DeLaet was the top Canadian with a tie for seventh. No Canadian golfer has won their home open since Pat Fletcher in 1954.

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Clark powers past Furyk for Canadian Open win

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