With dramatic win at the Memorial, is Tiger back?

783166.jpg

With dramatic win at the Memorial, is Tiger back?

From Comcast SportsNet
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) -- For those who thought Tiger Woods' run as the world's best golfer was over, the 747-sized roar that emanated from the 16th green at Muirfield Village likely shocked them to their senses. With one flick of his wrists, Woods reminded everyone of who he was and what he has done. Woods slid a 60-degree sand wedge under a ball hidden by tall grass behind the 16th green, popped the ball straight up into the air where it seemed to hang for an instant, and then watched as it rolled ever so slowly toward the cup before dropping in for a 50-foot birdie that tied him for the lead at the Memorial Tournament on Sunday. If that birdie served notice, then another on a sneaky-fast 10-foot downhill putt at the 18th assured him of his fifth victory at the tournament that Jack Nicklaus built. So, Tiger was asked, do you think you're back? "I won," he joked with a wide smile. "I'm sure by Tuesday I'll be retired and done, and then by the time I tee it up at the U.S. Open (at Olympic Club in San Francisco in 11 days) it might be something different. But I'll let you guys figure that out." Adding to the weight of the moment, the win tied Woods with Nicklaus -- the tournament founder and host who handed him the crystal trophy on the 18th green -- with 73 tour wins for second behind Sam Snead's record 82. Woods said it was "awfully special" to tie Nicklaus at the Golden Bear's own tournament. "Well, he had to rub it in my face right here, didn't he?" Nicklaus cracked. Then he added, "The last time he won here three years ago, he came here struggling a little bit and just absolutely blitzed it. And he did it again this week." Woods, four shots back and in fourth place at the start of the final round, closed with a 67 to match the best round of the day. He also saved his best for last, birdieing three of the final four holes under pressure conditions to make up a two-shot deficit as he teed off on the 15th hole. After a big drive, he hit a 3-iron second shot on the par-5 15th to 40 feet past the flag. He two-putted for birdie. At the 16th, he hit an 8-iron that rode the wind and bounced off the green and about 15 feet into deep grass. A little too soft a shot and he would be left with a treacherous, twisting putt for par. Catch it a little thin and the ball could easily run all the way through the green and into a pond. The sonic boom that erupted when the ball fell shook the whole course. The rest of the field, those who didn't already know anyway, were reminded that Woods still can summon the thunder. "Well, obviously, I knew something was going on up in front," said Rory Sabbatini, who held a one-shot lead until Woods' chip-in. Rickie Fowler, one of the game's most popular young players, was paired with Woods in a grouping that drew thousands of spectators. Fowler suffered through a miserable day that would end with him shooting a career-worst 84. But at the 16th, he knew he was witnessing some magic he'd seen before from Woods. "It came out perfect," Fowler said of the shot. "It landed right on the crown of that ridge there -- and the rest is history." Nicklaus called it a shot for the ages. "I've seen a lot of shots in golf," he said during the presentation ceremony. "I don't think I've ever seen a better one." Woods sounded as if even he didn't expect it to fall. "The shot was obviously difficult, but it wouldn't have been so bad if I had a good lie," Woods said. "The lie was just a little marginal where it brought the water into play. That's the reason I took such a big cut at it. I went for it, I pulled it off and for it to land as soft as it did was kind of a surprise." Still, he was only tied. While he was parring the 17th hole, Sabbatini bogeyed the 16th. Woods striped a 3 wood off the tee at the testy, uphill, par-4 closing hole. Then he carved an iron to the back of the green and watched it follow the contour of the green back to almost pin high. He slid the ball in on the high side for a 9-under 279. Andres Romero also had a 67 to pull into a tie with Sabbatini (72) for second, two shots back. Daniel Summerhays shot a 69 and was tied for fourth at 283 with 54-hole leader Spencer Levin. Levin, just as he had in losing a six-stroke lead heading into the final round at Phoenix, closed with a disappointing 75. Woods hadn't won a full-field event since 2009 before taking the Arnold Palmer Invitational in late March. He had missed a cut and finished tied for 40th in his only two tournaments after that, including the Masters. The whispers about his professional demise were growing louder. But then came the shot at 16, with Woods orchestrating the cheers with several of his trademark fist pumps. After he had accepted the trophy from Nicklaus and the 1.1 million that went with it, and after he had moved to No. 4 in the world rankings, Woods was asked if at 36 he still has enough to play at the same level of excellence from his earlier days. "Uh-huh," he said. What he had just done did all the speaking for him.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”