Tiger upbeat about his game, Open performance

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Tiger upbeat about his game, Open performance

Len Shapiro
CSNWashington.com

Despite shooting 75-73 in the final two rounds of the U.S. Open at Olympic two weeks ago to finish tied for 21st place, Tiger Woods, as always, preferred to look at the bright side of his week in San Francisco.

I was still in the ball game, Woods, who held a share of the 36-hole lead, told reporters after completing his final round that Sunday. A lot of positives to be taken away from this week. A lot of positives.

Ten days later, not much had changed. Woods made his first public appearance since the Open Tuesday at Congressional Country Club and remained mostly upbeat about his Open performance, despite his disappointing weekend on a brutally difficult golf course that produced a winning score of one over par from champion Webb Simpson.

The way I struck the golf ball, I was very pleased by that, said Woods, the official host of the AT&T National in town this week. I didn't particularly chip or putt well that week, something that I had done at Memorial (where he won two weeks earlier). Obviously at the Open, that's just one of the things you have to do, and I didn't do that. I didn't make anything from 15 or 20 feet. I made a bunch of putts from 8 to 10 feet and in, but I didn't make any other putts. I played very conservative. My game plan worked for the first couple days. I was playing away from a lot of flags, lag putting, but I didn't make anything. I need to hit the ball a little bit closer than I did that week.

It was one of those weekends where I just didn't quite get everything out of my rounds. I was so close on Saturday to getting a good round out of it, and I didn't. It's just one of those things where a fraction off, particularly on that U.S. Open venue, balls that land in the fairway don't stay in the fairway, and I kept hitting the edge of the fairways and going in the rough. There you've not only got to hit the ball in the middle but you've got to hit the ball in the middle with the correct shape. Being a fraction off, certainly it showed up on Saturday, and the beginning of Sunday for sure. But I got it back towards the end of it, played 3under coming in, and that was something positive.

Woods seemed particularly upbeat Wednesday returning to play Congressional for the first time since he won his own event here in 2009 with a score of 13-under par. He did not play in the 2011 U.S. Open on the clubs famous Blue Course because he was still recovering from surgery. When someone asked him if hed like the winning score to be below the Open record breaking total of 16 under posted last year by Rory McIlroy, he said as long as Im that person.

Woods did not have a chance to play Congressional when he met with the media shortly after 1 p.m. but said hes been told the course was playing firm and fast, just the way he likes it. Thats the good news. The bad? With high humidity and temperatures in the mid-90s predicted over the four days of the tournament, those conditions may not last.

Weve seen what this place can do when it gets soft and what the guys can shoot, he said. But this week, with the weather forecast as hot as its supposed to be, I dont think were going to quite see it as fast as it is right now. Theyre going to have to put some water on it to try to keep it alive.

Woods also admitted that there are still significant shortcomings with his game as he continues to attempt to equal or surpass Jack Nicklauss record 18 major championships. Woods has 14 now and 73 PGA Tour victories, but he also knows his short game had better get better in order to significantly build on both those numbers.

I would say certainly my short game has been something that has taken a hit, he said, and it did the same thing when I was working with Butch (Harmon) and the same thing when I was working with Hank (Haney). During that period, my short game went down, and it's because I was working on my full game. Eventually I get to a point where the full game becomes very natural feeling and I can repeat it day after day, and I can dedicate most of my time to my short game again.

One thing Woods said he will never do with his short game is switch to a long putter, all the rage these days on the PGA Tour.

Ive tried it and my stroke is infinitely worse, he said. Its just not good. I like the flow of my stroke. I like how I putt. Putting with anchoring or even different configurations of a standard grip, my stroke doesnt flow at all. I think Ive done all right with mine, and I think Im going to stick with it.

Hes also going to stay the course with his current swing changes being overseen by his latest instructor, Sean Foley. He equated making changes in his swing the older he gets with Michael Jordan making adjustments to his shooting style as he moved into his 30s .

He couldnt jump over everybody with the Pistons and eventually learned a different shot, and he mastered going off his right hand, left shoulder, Woods said. It didnt matter; he could fade away from either shoulder. I didnt want to play the way I did (in the past) because it hurt, and it hurt a lot.

Was I good at it. Yeah, I was good at it, but I couldnt go down that road, and theres no way I could have had that longevity in the game if I had done that. Four knee surgeries later, here we are. I finally have a swing that it doesnt hurt, and Im still generating power, but it doesnt hurt anymore.

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Braden Holtby, almost singlehandedly, gets the Caps a point on the road

Braden Holtby, almost singlehandedly, gets the Caps a point on the road

TAMPA—The Capitals didn’t earn the two points they came here seeking, but they got one—and they’ve got goalie Braden Holtby to thank for it.

Holtby was easily the Caps’ best player Saturday at Amalie Arena, where the Lightning eked out a 2-1 shootout victory. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced, including a handful of difficult saves at critical junctures.

”He made some really key stops in that game, at really key moments when the game was 0-0 and another when it was 1-0 for them,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought his effort was real solid. Without his performance maybe we don’t get a point here.”

RELATED: Caps' struggles continue after shootout loss to Lightning

One such save came six minutes into the second period. Tyler Johnson won a defensive zone draw, Ondrej Palat flipped a long pass to Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning’s leading goal scorer. Kucherov gathered the puck on the fly, broke in alone and attempted to beat Holtby on the blocker side. Holtby, though, turned him back, keeping it 0-0.

“It was high flip, so you never know if it’s going to dig in or not,” Holtby said of the play. “So I didn’t know if I had the time to go out and get it, which I might have. But I tried to just play it patient.”

In the 3-on-3 overtime, Holtby came up with another game-changing gem. Palat went end-to-end, knifing through Lars Eller, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson. The winger raced in at full speed and tried to beat Holtby through the five-hole. Holtby, however, slid over in the butterfly and slammed his pads shut just in time.

“Holts was great,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who tallied the Caps’ long goal. “He’s been great for us all season, as usual. He’s always giving us a chance to win. Now it’s just up to us to start scoring goals.”

Indeed, the Caps have now scored only 13 goals in the past seven games (3-3-1). And, for the most part, the offense struggled to get much going on Saturday, as well.

Holtby, however, chose to focus on the positives after the loss.

“Obviously, we got a big one from our power play,” Holtby said, asked how he digests a shootout defeat on the road. “But it shows character that we were able to come back from 1-0. They’re in the same situation as us; they were desperate, as well. A game like that can go either way, really.”

With the 32-save performance, Holtby’s save percentage improved to .922 and his goal against average dropped to 2.18.

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Caps' struggles continue after shootout loss to Lightning

Caps' struggles continue after shootout loss to Lightning

Nicklas Backstrom forced overtime, but the Caps fell in to the Lightning 2-1 in a shootout.

How it happened: After a scoreless first period, Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring in the second period with a power play goal. The penalty killers were caught low as the puck went to the corner. A failed clear attempt went to Hedman who fed Kucherov at the blue line. With plenty of room to work with, Kucherov unleased a monster slap shot to beat Braden Holtby. Nicklas Backstrom pulled the Caps even in the third period when he called his own number on the power play, sending a wrister from the top of the circle past goalie Ben Bishop. With no winner in overtime, the game went to a shootout where the Caps lost in four rounds after Brian Boyle netted his first ever shootout goal.

What it means: Washington has now lost three straight games for the first time since Feb. 2015. The loss drops the Caps in a three-way tie with Tampa and the Philadelphia Flyers in the final two wild card spots. It was Washington's first loss to the Lightning since Nov. 1, 2014 after a stretch of five straight wins. The Caps have, however, earned at least one point in 12 of their last 13 games against Tampa.

Staying hot: Backstrom's goal was his seventh of the season and first on the power play. Six of those seven goals have come in the last nine games as the veteran center has really stepped up his game in recent weeks. He leads Washington in points this season with 21. Backstrom now has points in 11 of his 1ast 13 games against the Lightning.

Special again?: The power play struggles continued on Saturday as the Caps failed to convert on their first three opportunities of the game, bringing their streak up to 13 straight failed power plays. Then Backstrom finally, finally put the Caps on the board with his game-tying tally in the third period. It was the team's first power play goal since Nov. 25 against the Buffalo Sabres. For the night, Washington went 1-for-6 on the man advantage. Not a good night by any stretch, but the one goal the team did score proved crucial.

Trouble with the law: With two penalties on the night, Alex Ovechkin now leads the team in minor penalties with 10, one more than Lars Eller whose early season struggles were well documented. Ovechkin closed the gap quickly with four minors in the last two games. It's hard to blame him for either penalty on Saturday. In the first period, Ovechkin was tripped and then reached his stick out while on the ice after the puck. Victor Hedman tripped over it and Ovechkin received the only call. In the second period, Ovechkin slashed Hedman to try to break up a scoring opportunity. Even if you want to absolve him of both penalties in this game, however, the fact that he new leads the team is not what you want to see from the team's biggest offensive weapon.

Blanked: With Backstrom's third-period goal, the Caps avoided being shutout in consecutive games for the first time since March 2-4 of 2012. At that time, Dale Hunter was the head coach. To say that offense wasn't Hunter's top priority would be an understatement.

Look ahead: The Caps return home for a brief two-game homestand starting on Monday against the Buffalo Sabres. They host the Boston Bruins on Wednesday and then reacquaint themselves with the Sabres on Friday, this time in Buffalo.