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Tiger Woods' back feels better

By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
Tiger Woods' back feels better
Tiger Woods signs a copy of his book, "The 1997 Masters: My Story," on March 20 at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York City. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

--There has been plenty of speculation that Tiger Woods might never play competitive golf again after three back surgeries, and he almost certainly won't be the force he was if he manages to come back.

Woods is recovering from back fusion surgery, and if nothing else, he is feeling much better.

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"(The surgery gave me) instant nerve relief," Woods wrote on his website, adding that he is not close to picking up a club again. "I haven't felt this good in years.

"I can't twist for another two and a half to three months. Right now, my sole focus is rehab and doing what the doctors tell me. I am concentrating on short-term goals."

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The 41-year-old Woods played twice early this year before deciding that he needed a third back procedure in three years, and these days he is listening to his doctors when it comes to his progression.

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Woods has admitted to not being a good listener in the past, particularly when he played the 2008 U.S. Open virtually on one leg and limped around Torrey Pines while claiming his 14th, and last, major title.

"There's no hurry," Woods said. "... We tried every possible non-surgical route and nothing worked. I had good days and bad days, but the pain was usually there, and I couldn't do much. Even lying down hurt. I had nerve pain with anything I did and was at the end of my rope. The process leading up to my decision to have surgery was exhaustive. I consulted with a specialist, and after weighing my options, that's when I decided to go to Texas to have surgery.

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"You mention the word 'fusion,' and it's scary. Other guys who have had fusions or disc replacements like Davis Love III, Retief Goosen, Lee Trevino, Lanny Wadkins and Dudley Hart. ... They have all come back and played. But more than anything, it made their lives better. That's the most important thing ... that I can have a life again with my kids.

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"But, I want to say unequivocally, I want to play professional golf again."

Wadkins, one of the players Woods mentioned and now a commentator for the Golf Channel, had a rebuttal for all the Tiger naysayers.

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"All he does if he comes back and plays is make our game better," Wadkins said. "Can you imagine if Tiger could come back and play at a really high level? Where he can win tournaments competing with these kids today? It would be some of the most exciting stuff we've ever seen."

--Maverick McNealy of Stanford won the Ben Hogan Award, presented annually to the top men's college golfer by Colonial Country Club, Friends of Golf and the Golf Coaches Association of America.

McNealy received the award during a banquet at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas.

"It's very special," said McNealy, who was a finalist the award three straight years but lost out the last to two times to Jon Rahm of Arizona State. "You think of the quality of the people and the quality of the golfers on that trophy, guys that have contributed so much to the game of golf. It's really cool.

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"I think the cool thing about the Hogan legacy is how hard and driven and tireless he was in the pursuit of getting better. I think improving and getting better at things is one of the most rewarding things in my life. It's really cool to see what all he did to get as good as he possibly could in golf. I think that's a lesson for all of us going forward, to try and be the absolute best at whatever you do. That's real important to me."

McNealy earned an exemption into the 2018 Dean & DeLuca Invitational, and a $32,000 grant was presented to the Stanford men's golf scholarship program.

It was the sixth consecutive year that the Hogan Award went to a player from the Pacific 12 Conference, including Patrick Rodgers of Stanford in 2014.

McNealy is one of two players in the world currently ranked among the top 10 in all four major college and amateur ranking systems, including second in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and third in both the Golfstat and Golfweek college rankings.

The senior from Portola Valley, Calif., who also received the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the top amateur in the world in 2016, has finished in the top five in six of his 10 events this season, including a victory in the Nike Golf Collegiate Invitational at Colonial.

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That gave McNealy 11 college victories, tying the Stanford record shared by Rodgers and Tiger Woods.

--Paula Creamer and 15 other LPGA Tour pros teamed with 60 female military veterans in the Selfridge Valor Cup Military Pro-Am on the golf course at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Heritage Township, Mich.

It had a special meaning for Creamer, whose father and father-in-law were U.S. Navy pilots. Her cousin is an active Marine and her husband, Derek Heath, is a C-17 Air Force pilot.

"The military has always been very important to me, and I think these are the real heroes in our world," said Creamer, whose Paula Creamer Foundation helps families of veterans in need.

"I think it is so important to make people aware that these female veterans are still fighting, and this event raises that awareness. I really feel helping military families is the least I can do, and it's so great that I have a platform like golf that we can use to help."

The event, which was played under the scramble format, is sponsored by the Eisenhower Center to bring awareness to the health needs of female military veterans.

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The Eisenhower Center, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is one of the nation's leading treatment centers for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.

The center developed the landmark "After The Impact" program that helps veterans, first responders and NFL players.

Col. Patricia Sellers, retired from the U.S. Army after 28 years of service, played in the group with Creamer.

"Having the LPGA players come to help raise awareness for veterans in the area -- phenomenal," Sellers said. "And Paula was so gracious and patient, and with her coming from such a strong military family, she fit right in with us and was so great about supporting us. It was a tremendous day.

"PTSD doesn't discriminate. It doesn't matter who you are, doesn't matter what rank you are, what gender you are. Things happen to all people, and soldiers, men and women. It's wonderful there is an event to raise awareness, places where they can get help and athletes like Paula Creamer who care."

--Ha Na Jang, a four-time winner on the LPGA Tour and the No. 10-rated player in the Rolex Rankings, gave up her LPGA membership and will move from San Diego back to her home in South Korea.

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The 25-year-old Jang said she simply was homesick and missed her mother.

"I thought being world No. 1 was the only goal in my life and that was where my happiness comes from," said Jang, who claimed her fourth LPGA Tour victory in the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open in February.

"But I realized there are many more important things than that. Even though I won four times, I still felt empty inside. I made this decision because being with my family is more important to me than being the world's top golfer."

Jang made a reputation as one of the most gregarious players on the LPGA Tour, known for her constant smile and fist pumps after good shots from one of the best golf swings in the game.

And she can move, as she showed with a samurai dance on the final green after her first victory in the 2016 Coates Golf, and a Beyonce dance after claiming the 2016 HSBC Women's Champions.

Jang can always go back to the LPGA of Korea Tour, where she won eight times between 2012 and 2015.

--For a while, it appeared Stanford and USC might make it an all-California final in the NCAA Women's National Championships, but in the end it was Arizona State that upheld the honor of the Pacific 12 Conference.

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The Sun Devils defeated Northwestern, 3-1-1, in the match-play final to claim their eighth national championship, and first since 2009, at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.

"I'm so proud of this team and their love for each other, and fighting for each other and working so hard," Arizona State coach Missy Farr-Kaye said.

"It has not been as easy a year as it looks on the outside. We have had a few ups and downs, but we've hung in tighter. I'm so happy for them that they get to be national champions for the rest of their lives. That to me is the coolest thing."

Olivia Mehaffey, a freshman from Ireland, got Arizona State its first point in the final with a 4-and-3 victory over Sarah Cho, and Roberta Liti, a junior from Italy, defeated Janet Mao, 5 and 4.

Linnea Strom, a sophomore from Sweden, put the Sun Devils over the top with a 5-and-4 victory over Stephanie Lau.

"I can't describe this feeling," Strom said. "This is amazing. ... We have been working so hard for this since August. Every practice, every workout. All we have been talking about is this moment right here.

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"We wanted to win a national championship, and today we did it."

Senior Monica Vaughn, who claimed the individual national title for the Sun Devils earlier in the week, halved her match with Hannah Kim, a Northwestern junior from Chula Vista, Calif., while Kacie Komoto gave the Wildcats their only point by beating Sophia Zeeb, 3 and 1.

The semifinals were halted by darkness when it seemed Stanford, the 2015 national champion, and USC were on their way to victories and the final.

However, when play resumed on the next morning, Arizona State rallied to defeat Stanford, 3-2, and Northwestern came back to beat USC, also by 3-2.

--Ernie Els is known as one of the good guys in the game of golf and certainly one of the most honest.

The man known as "The Big Easy" proved that again in the first round of the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship event of the European Tour, at Wentworth Club outside London.

Els hit his second shot on the par-5 12th hole into deep rough on the edge of a greenside bunker. Thinking his ball might be plugged in the ground under the grass, Els alerted his playing partners, marked the lie, and picked up his ball to check.

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The ball was not plugged, and Els replaced it before chipping in for an eagle.

However, he didn't feel right about it because he believed he might have somehow given himself a better lie, and after checking with a rules official, he assessed himself a two-stroke penalty.

Eagle turned into par.

"I just felt uncomfortable by the way the ball came out," said Els, who signed for a score of 71. "The ball came out way too good, so I felt I didn't quite probably put it (back) exactly where I should have.

"I know deep down the ball wasn't quite where it should be, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself."

Els, who has 71 victories worldwide in his pro career, finished the tournament in a tie for 51st.

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