How will Tiger Woods fare in return to golf?

506531.jpg

How will Tiger Woods fare in return to golf?

From Comcast SportsNet Thursday, August 4, 2011

AKRON, Ohio (AP) Add another list of numbers to show how much has changed in the world of Tiger Woods.

Geoff Ogilvy ran across a bookmaker's odds for the Bridgestone Invitational when he noticed Woods at 20-to-1. This would only be startling because Woods hasn't competed in three months while letting injuries to his left leg fully heal. In this case, however, Ogilvy considered that Woods has won a record seven times at Firestone, and until last year and never finished worse than fifth.

"Did you think you could ever get Tiger at Firestone at 20-1? Ever?" Ogilvy said to one of the caddies. "He was on 2-to-1 for a while."

Then he paused on the putting green, which was filled with players getting ready for a World Golf Championship that starts on Thursday.

"It's been an odd year," Ogilvy said.

The goal for Woods is to restore some normalcy, at least to his own game. He is coming up on the two-year anniversary of his last win on American soil. The last time he faced any competition inside the ropes, it lasted no more than nine holes at The Players Championship until he withdrew because of leg injuries.

Now, he claims he is as healthy as he has been in years - he wouldn't say how many years, just "plural." He has looked solid in a nine-hole practice round alone on Tuesday, and with Hunter Mahan and Arjun Atwal on Wednesday. Then again, practice rounds haven't always been a good indicator for Woods, except at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews in the summer of 2000.

What to expect Thursday? Not even Woods knows.

"I still haven't been in a competitive environment yet, so that's a totally different atmosphere," he said.

The Bridgestone Invitational features a 76-man field, which includes only four past champions in the 11-year history of this WGC event at Firestone - one win each for defending champion Mahan, Stewart Cink and Darren Clarke, and seven titles for Woods.

But that was the old Woods, the guy who won at least one World Championship every year since 1999.

The recovering Woods?

He said his expectation was to win, just like always. Some of his peers, who have seen his action over 20 winless months and haven't seen him the past three months, aren't so sure.

"No one expects him to come out and play well," U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy said. "I'm sure he expects himself to come out and play and compete, but given the length of layoff and considering that he's only been able to hit full shots for the last two weeks or whatever, it would be an unbelievable effort if he was to come back and compete. But I think just get through 72 holes and maybe finish top 20 would be a really good effort."

After playing the back nine under gray clouds, Mahan said this about Woods on Twitter: "The swing looks great and the knee looks even better."

Then again, Mahan is slightly biased because both employ Sean Foley as a swing coach.

Whatever the expectations, the level of curiosity about Woods is close to what it was when he returned from his sex scandal at the 2010 Masters. There was something about the way he left The Players Championship on May 12 that made it look as though he would never be the same, that the four surgeries on his left knee would keep him from dominating the way he once did.

Three months later, there was a confidence with Woods when he spoke about his health, and being patient to let his legs heal properly.

"I think for some of the young guys, they've never seen Tiger Woods play Tiger Woods golf," Mahan said. "They've never even come close to seeing it. I don't think he has to prove anything, but I think he's one of those guys, kind of like (Michael) Jordan, he takes every single thing that someone says and he's going to turn it into this massive gas on a fire that he's got burning right now. I think he's ready, man.

"A motivated Tiger and someone who has a challenge in front of him is a good thing for him."

Woods tees off at 1:40 p.m. with Clarke, a longtime friend who last month captured his first major at the British Open. Two groups behind them will be Adam Scott, noteworthy only because Scott now uses Steve Williams, whom Woods fired as a caddie a month ago. Woods is using Bryon Bell, a childhood friend who last worked for him six years ago at Disney.

Another reunion occurred during his practice round when he put his old Scotty Cameron putter - the one he used in 13 major wins - back in his bag. Whether it stays there won't be known until he tees off.

The field is comprised of the last Ryder Cup team members from both sides, selected winners on six tours around the world and the top 50 in the world ranking. Firestone South looks strong as ever, with rough framing the tree-lined fairways and greens that are as pure as ever.

It's a World Golf Championship, with an even greater prize waiting next week in Atlanta for the PGA Championship.

This week could go a long way in determining whether Woods can be a factor, there, too. Once a sure thing at Firestone, he now is an unknown.

"It would be maybe a little intimidating if you knew for sure that he was going to come back and play the way he did in 2000 or 2001," McIlroy said. "But who knows for sure what way the game is going to go?"

WATCH: Celtics vs. Knicks

WATCH: Celtics vs. Knicks

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics host the Knicks at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game Preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

- Live Extra FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Celtics: All of the most recent news and notes

- Talk about the game via social media on CSN's Pulse, presented by Ford

Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

WALTHAM, Mass. –  As the fourth quarter rolls around, you will occasionally catch Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas looking down at his wrist, a gesture to remind anyone watching what time it is – Thomas time.

There are those who elevate their play in the fourth quarter of games, and then there’s Thomas who continues to smoothly navigate his way in unchartered fourth quarter scoring territory.

The Celtics begin the second half of the season Wednesday night against the New York Knicks, and there sits Thomas atop all players in the NBA when it comes to fourth-quarter scoring.

But that’s not all.

He’s not only dropping more points than any other NBA player in the most important quarter of them all, but he’s doing so at an unprecedented level of 10.1 fourth-quarter points per game.

Since NBA.com/stats began tracking fourth quarter scoring with the 1997-1998 season, no player has averaged more than 9.5 fourth-quarter points (LeBron James, 2006) in a season.

What makes Thomas’ fourth quarter heroics so impressive is that everyone in the building – fans, coaches, opponents – knows that’s when he’s looking to be most impactful for the Celtics and yet he still can’t be stopped.

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford acknowledged how tough it is to limit Thomas despite knowing he’s looking to take over games in the fourth.

“It’s hard because the blitz game is impossible because they don’t roll,” said Clifford whose Hornets were beaten 108-98 by Boston on Monday. “If you watch the teams that try to blitz them, you’re going to give up basically lay-ups. We had things in to get the ball out of his hands but the way they played and the stuff that they usually go to late, they didn’t get to. He (Thomas) made some terrific plays; he’s a terrific offensive player.”

Despite what he does in the fourth and his overall scoring average of 28.2 points which is ranked among the league’s leaders, there are still lots of doubters as to how good Thomas.

Regardless of how you view his play, he has consistently played at a level this season that places him among the game’s best players.

And at the rate he’s scoring in the fourth quarter, he’s establishing himself as one of the great closers in the game.

Consider the list of players in the past decade who led the league in points scored in the fourth quarter.

  • 2016: James Harden (7.7)
  • 2015: Russell Westbrook (7.1)
  • 2014: Kevin Durant (7.9)
  • 2013: Kevin Durant (8.4)
  • 2012: Kevin Durant (7.3)
  • 2011: Amare Stoudemire (7.1)
  • 2010: LeBron James (8.0)
  • 2009: LeBron James (7.7)
  • 2008: LeBron James (9.1)
  • 2007: Dwyane Wade (8.2)

You have All-stars, All-NBA First Teamers, league MVPs as well as a few future Hall of Famers.

As good as those players were in their respective seasons, when the game mattered most – the fourth quarter – Thomas numbers (for now at least) stand head and shoulders above them all.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens gives Thomas a lot of credit for being such a consistent scorer, particularly in the fourth quarter.

But as good as Thomas is, he’s not out there getting all these baskets on his own, either.

“It says a lot about the fact that he’s got a lot of skilled guys around him that are hard to leave,” Stevens said. “When you’re playing Kelly (Olynyk) and Jonas (Jerebko) together with him, there’s a lot of space on the floor to operate. When those guys are at the four (power forward) and five (center), when you’re playing guys like Al Horford who can space the floor or Avery (Bradley) or Jae (Crowder), you know, those types of guys … at the end of the day I think that it’s a combination of a lot of things.”

And for opponents, a lot of problems.

“He’s been playing well,” Hornets guard Kemba Walker said of Thomas. “He’s been playing better than anyone in our league. He’s playing with great confidence and making the plays for his team to win games. He’s been great.”