Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - June 27, 2014

A title, a debut, a return

Stanford in spotlight as Wie wins, Rodgers turns pro, Tiger back

by Keith Peters

It has been quite a week for one former Stanford student and one All-American, and the interest level gets turned up even higher this week as the biggest name in Cardinal men's golf history returns to the game.

Coming on the heels of 2012 Stanford grad Michelle Wie winning the U.S. Women's Open and Patrick Rodgers making his professional debut, Tiger Woods will attempt to shake off the rust from a three-month layoff following back surgery.

Woods is making his highly anticipated return at the 2014 Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. The four-day tourney got under way Thursday, with an obviously rusty Woods opening with a 3-over 74.

"The score is not really indicative of how I played," said Woods. "I played better than that."

Woods closed with three birdies in his last six holes and, more importantly for him over the course of the next few months and years, no pain in his back.

"Back is great," said Woods. "I had no issues at all . . . I feel fantastic. I think the hard part was getting into the rhythm of playing again competitively. Unfortunately it took a while."

The 2014 Quicken Loans National raises funds and awareness for the Tiger Woods Foundation and local charities, while paying tribute to our armed forces. All will be playing for a purse of $6.5 million, including a top prize of $1,170,000.

Woods, who also serves as host of the event, last played in early March at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Shortly afterward, he underwent surgery for a pinched nerve in his back and began a slow and often tedious rehabilitation.

"It's been an interesting road," Woods said Tuesday during a pre-tournament press conference. "We had a game plan for how we were going to do it, and we did it."

Woods, winner of 79 PGA Tour titles and 14 major championships, said he was in constant pain before the surgery and wasn't sure if he would ever play professional golf again.

"I wasn't able to function," he said. "I couldn't get out of bed."

Through diligent rehab, Woods recovered quicker than expected. He was going to delay his return, but having this tournament benefit his charity work made a difference.

"If this wasn't the foundation and our impact that we can have with kids, I probably would not have played," he told reporters. "Overall, I'm going to get stronger as time goes on. The risk is minimal."

The world's former No. 1 player will be in a field that includes the world's top-ranked amateur golfer. That would be Rodgers, who gave up his senior year at Stanford and turned pro. He made his debut last week in the PGA Tour's Traveler's Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn.

Rodgers made the cut and shot rounds of 66-69-71-70 for a 276 total. That left him tied for 46th at 4-under par. Rodgers earned $17,186 while winner Kevin Streelman took home $1,116,000 for his 15-under effort.

"I have a lot of confidence that I can compete with the best players in the world," Rogers told reporters before the tourney began. "That's why I'm a professional this week. That's why I decided to leave Stanford. I feel like I'm ready."

Rodgers' resume at Stanford certainly confirmed that. The three-time All-American matched Woods' school record by winning 11 college tournaments. He chopped nearly a stroke off Woods' record with a 70.33 career stroke average and averaged 69.4 this season.

Rodgers played three years at Stanford, Woods two.

Rodgers also swept the 2014 Hogan, Nicklaus and Haskins awards as college golf's consensus premiere player.

And, like Woods, Rodgers signed a multiyear contract with Nike Golf.

Rodgers, 21, has secured at least six of the maximum seven sponsors exemptions he is allowed as a tour non-member. He's using one of those exemptions this week.

His hope is to play well enough to earn special temporary status that would enable him to play an unlimited number of PGA events or to finish in the top 200 in FedExCup points, which would earn him a spot in the Web.com Tour Finals, where he would compete for a PGA Tour card for the 2014-15 season.

Qualifying for events is something that Wie no longer has to worry about. Nor is she carrying the baggage of unrealized expectations.

On Sunday, Wie let the golf world that all the hype that was heaped upon her as a teenager finally has been realized after the 24-year-old captured the 2014 U.S. Women's Open golf championship.

Wie shot rounds of 68-68-72-70 for a 2-under 278, becoming the only player to beat par at Pinehurst No. 2 course. She earned $720,000.

''Oh my God, I can't believe this is happening,'' said Wie, who received a shower of champagne from her fellow competitors after sinking her par putt on the 18th.

"I don't think this will ever get old," Wie said. "This is a dream come true for me right now."

Wie bounced back from a late mistake, a double-bogey six at the 16th, and buried a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to win her first major championship with a two-shot victory over Stacy Lewis. Wie had no three putts during the week.

"I'm proud that Michelle didn't limp in and barely win it," Lewis said of Wie's birdie at the 17th. She really went out and won it. I think this is great for women's golf. I'm very happy for Michelle."

Lewis, the No. 1 player in women's golf, made Wie work for her first USGA title since 2003. She made eight birdies to match the best score of the tournament with a 66. She helped give Wie her champagne shower.

Wie now has four career victories and has moved atop the LPGA money list after winning the biggest event in women's golf.

Wie was the youngest player, at age 10, to qualify for a USGA amateur event and was 13 when she played in the final group of a major. Wie competed against the men on the PGA Tour while still in high school and had the temerity to even talk about playing in the Masters some day.

A lot has changed for the 6-foot Wie since then as she has taken a more conventional path to her current popularity.

"I just had so many people surrounding me . . . who never lost faith in me," said said. "It's just amazing."

Wie's previous best Open finish was a tie for third in 2006, but she had not cracked the top 10 in nine previous starts. Twice she withdrew (2007 and 2013), and twice she missed the cut (2008 and 2010).

On Sunday, however, her past was just that and her future all the more bright.

"I'm so happy right now," she said following her round. "I'm just unbelievably happy. I'm so honored to be part — to have my name on the trophy. Just so grateful for everything. I'm just really happy. I'm really thankful, just everything, feeling every single emotion I can right now."

Since her victory, Wie has been on a whirlwind PR tour of New York City. On Tuesday, she made stops at Sirius XM Radio, The Today Show, Fox & Friends, CNN Newsroom, CNN Sports International, The Dan Patrick Show, NBC Sports Radio, NBC Sports Radio, CNBC Closing Bell, Golf Central and Fox Sports 1.

She carried the U.S. Women's Open Trophy with her wherever she went, which included a trip to the top of the Empire State Building.

It was an appropriate place to be, since Wie is now on top of the world in women's golf.

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