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Tiger Woods
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Tiger Woods admitted Tuesday morning he didn't think he'd be far enough along in the rehabilitation process following back surgery in late March to be playing this week at the Quicken Loans National, but here he is.

Tiger Woods admitted Tuesday morning he didn't think he'd be far enough along in the rehabilitation process following back surgery in late March to be playing this week at the Quicken Loans National, but here he is.

"I'm probably ahead of schedule from where everyone thought I'd be at," Woods said during his news conference. "The British Open was supposed to be my first event back. I healed extremely fast. It's been an interesting road. It was quite a tedious little process. but I'm to the point where I can play competitive golf again and I'm excited."

INJURY INVENTORY: A history of injuries suffered by Tiger Woods

Woods said with the assistance of his surgeon and trainers, training exercises and cold treatments allowed him to "bounce back fast." Starting with the putter, Woods was able to progress to full swings with different clubs, eventally hitting drivers and playing rounds.

"The whole progression was putting first," Woods said. "You can putt the next day, hop right out of the recovery room and you're OK to putt. But I wasn't allowed to bend over and pick the balls out of the cup. ... Then chipping and pitching, adding about 10 yards every day to two days, depending on how I felt. I got to the point where I was hitting drivers a couple of weeks ago, and then started playing golf. I wanted to knock off some rust on the range so I didn't go out and embarrass myself. The worst thing is to sit in the cart. Sometimes I'll ride on the back of the cart, standing up, so I could get in a few more holes."

The scores didn't matter, Woods said, although he admitted he was very rusty right off the bat.

"I broke 50 for nine holes, just like i did when I was 3," Woods said with a smile. "I'm sneaking up on it. My prime's coming up."

MISSING THE MASTERS: Tiger Woods has back surgery on March 31

Woods said it's probably been two years since he's felt this good. First, it was the Achilles tendon that bothered him, then his back started acting up.

"It was week-to-week," Woods said. "There were times when it felt great -- I won five times last year -- and then others where it was so bad, I had to pull out of an event."

By the time the Florida swing came around in March, Woods said his back was so bad -- and the pain shooting down his leg was so debilitating -- he realized surgery was the only option.

"Pre-procedure, I wasn't able to function, I couldn't get out of bed, do any normal activities," Woods said. "When I had the issues with my knee and my Achilles, I was still able to do things. Anyone who has had nerve impingment, it's no joke. [After the surgery], that pain going down my leg was gone. It's like getting your life back."

After this week, Woods and his doctors will see how things went. His plan as of now is to take time off until the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 17-20.

NEW SPONSOR: Tiger lands Quicken Loans for Congressional

So does he think he can win this weekend? Of course, Woods said. Why else would he be here?

"Expectations don't change," he said. "That's the utlimate goal. It's justgoing to be harder this time. But I'm good enough to play and going to give it a go."

June 24, 2014 - 9:57am
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T.J. Auclair
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PGA Professional National Championship
PGA of America
At 9:26 a.m., however, players were called off the golf course immediately due to a dangerous situation. There has been heavy rain and scattered thundershowers in the area.

At 9:10 a.m. ET play was called during the third round of the 47th PGA Professional National Championship due to a non-dangerous situation, meaning players could finish the hole they were playing at The Dunes Club.

At 9:26 a.m., however, players were called off the golf course immediately due to a dangerous situation.

RELATED: Complete PNC coverage | PNC leaderboard | Labritz back after surgery

There has been heavy rain and scattered thundershowers in the area.

The forecast for the remainder of the day looks decent, calling for cloudy skies and less than a 15 percent chance of precipitation after 1 p.m.

UPDATE: Play resumed at 10:30 a.m.

June 23, 2014 - 7:28pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Karen Paolozzi
PGA of America
With a 1-under 71 at the Dunes Golf & Beach Club on Monday, Karen Paolozzi recorded the lowest score by a woman professional in National Championship history, and joined Suzy Whaley as the only other woman to make the cut in the championship.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- With a 4-under-par 32 on her back nine Monday, Karen Paolozzi shot a 1-under 71 at the Dunes Golf & Beach Club to became just the second woman professional to make the 36-hole cut in the PGA Professional National Championship.

Her round was the best ever recorded by a woman professional in this tournament as well.

Paolozzi's 36-hole total of 2-over 146 left her just six shots out of the lead.

"This is exactly what my goal was," said Paolozzi after joining Suzy Whaley at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course in 2005 as the only other woman professional to make the National Championship cut. "I wanted to make the cut. I wanted to come here and play well. I was a little disappointed after yesterday, but I knew if I put in a solid round today, I had a chance."

RELATED: PNC Leaderboard | PNC coverage | Labritz in hunt one month after surgery

After a bumpy front nine, things weren't looking so hot for the 31-year-old assistant professional from Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta. She made the turn in 3-over 39 after a double bogey at the seventh hole, but collected herself beautifully on the back.

Paolozzi air-mailed the 10th green with a 9-iron, but chipped in for an unlikely birdie.

"I was struggling a little bit with the greens, but I was hitting the ball pretty good," she said. "I was getting my yardages right. On No. 10, I was in the rough, just kind of in a crazy lie, so I flew the green. I thought, 'Oh, here we go again.' But I made a nice little chip and I happened to chip it in and that turned it all around for me. I got a little more confidence and then made that birdie on 11 after hitting a great shot in there. Making that birdie putt just got me going even more. The putter got really hot on the back side."

Paolozzi added birdies on Nos. 14 and 16 before closing out the round with a solid two-putt par at the last.

"I'm very happy with the round," Paolozzi said. "Today's conditions were different. There was a little bit more of a breeze, but it wasn't as hot. Yesterday was just so sticky and hot. The breeze actually felt good. It made the club selection a little more difficult, but you just have to decide what you're going to do and do it -- and hope that it's correct."

Paolozzi's driver, she said, was the key to her round.

"My driver was in really good shape today. I hit it really solid off the tee. Actually, on 17 I'm not supposed to hit driver, but I decided I was hitting it too well."

Paolozzi said she has received a warm welcome from her fellow male professionals throughout the week.

"A lot of the guys have been coming up to me and just congratulating me for making it here, which has been great," she said. "You always wonder what their thoughts are -- the different yardages are always a topic of discussion (Paolizzi played from roughly 900 yards shorter than the men on both courses) -- but most of the guys have come up and congratulated me on making it." 

June 23, 2014 - 5:25pm
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T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz
PGA of America
On May 27, PGA Professional Rob Labritz underwent surgery to have his thyroid removed. Four weeks later, he's contending at the 47th PGA Professional National Championship.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Rob Labritz is truly happy to be at the PGA Professional National Championship this week, and not just because he's a participant and comfortably inside the cut line at 3-over 147 through 36 holes.

It's because it also means he's on the mend.

Labritz, 43, the PGA Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, N.Y., is best known for the shot below. He holed out from 95 yards in a playoff at the 2013 National Championship from 95 yards to earn the final spot in the 2013 PGA Championship -- his fourth overall trip to the season's final major.

"There's a place in my teaching bay," Labritz explained. "There's this golf cart out there 95 to 108 yards. I ping it off the roof there all day with my assistant. When I had 95 yards left on that shot at Sunriver last year, I was like, 'Wow. This is the ping it off the roof shot.'

"I put a nice, comfortable swing on it and it was one of those shots that was just hit perfect -- and it went in and they caught it on TV. For the 30-40 years I've playing this game, everything came together in that moment. I think about it everyday. It keeps me moving. People say stuff to me. I'll be in an airport and someone might say, 'You're the guy that made that shot,' it's crazy stuff. I love it."

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That shot has been highlighted many times leading up to this week's National Championship, but having Labritz back is extra special because he's here less than one month following surgery to have his thyroid removed on May 27 after being afflicted with Graves Disease. 

"It all started last year," Labritz said. "I started feeling funky on the golf course. When I would follow through, I'd start to shake. When I won Met PGA Player-of-the-Year last year, as I was putting my last putt out -- I had a 4- or 5-shot lead -- but I was really shaking. I said to myself, 'Wow. I must be really nervous.' After that, I said to my wife, 'I think I'm done playing, especially competitively. I can't go through this all the time. It's just not fun.' I didn't feel good."

Labritz's wife, Kerry, suggested that her husband pay a visit to the doctor's office and get checked out. After a blood test, the doctor told Labritz he had a thyroid problem. After more tests, it was determined he had Graves Disease, which is when the thyroid "is just screaming out hormones -- crazy, like off the charts," he explained.

All told, Labritz -- an incredibly fit man before all this began -- lost 47 pounds that he didn't exactly have to lose.

"Can you imagine being on hyperdrive all the time?" Labritz said. "I was in fight-or-flight mode pretty much 24/7 for about a year, year and a half and didn't even know it," he said. "My heart was 95 beats per minute resting. I was walking the fairways really fast and barking at my caddie to keep up. It was just one of those things where I was in overdrive and didn't know it."

And that was the reason for the surgery. No one wants something wrong health-wise, but when something's not right, it's at least comforting to be able to give it a name.

"There were three options since it was Graves Disease: take the thyroid out, radiate it, or live with it and medicate it," Labritz said. "I didn't want to radiate it and I didn't want to live with it and take medication the rest of my life, so I had it removed. It's been four weeks now and I'm feeling much better. After losing 47 pounds, I've already put 15 pounds back on."

Let that sink in. Four weeks ago, Labritz was under the knife. On Monday, he shot a 1-under 71 at Grande Dunes in the second round of the National Championship to get to 3-over, will comfortably make the halfway cut and has a chance to make a run at a fifth PGA Championship berth.

Right now, Labritz estimates, he's playing at 70 percent strength.

"When you lose that much weight, you get weak," he said. "I was weak. It was bad. I've been doing two-a-day workouts. I do 45 minutes to an hour in the morning and 45 minutes to an hour at night. Just total muscle building and some cardio. The shakes are gone on the course -- now it's just the nervous part. Everybody's nervous, but nervous is good. I can hit putts and not shake anymore."

Labritz said he came into this week -- his first start since recovering from surgery -- expecting nothing. But, ever since he was cleared by his doctors to workout and practice two weeks ago, he's been full tilt.

"All my days were very regimented -- they were long days," he said. "But I worked out and I practiced -- even though I didn't feel great and they said don't push it -- I used every minute to get ready for this. I'm playing all right.

"I went from not having any expectations to actually starting to hit the ball really good and not making any putts," he added. "I found myself getting frustrated out there and I'm like, 'Dude, you don't have any right!' But that's what golf does to you. And of course, now that I'm hitting it well I want to make some putts and win."

Since the surgery, Labritz said he has to take a pill every morning that he will take for the rest of his life.

"They said I'm living with a disease, but it's not a disease that's going to kill you, unless it's not taken care of," he said. "It makes me live each day better, because you never know what's going to happen. Stuff happens all the time. You've got to go day by day. It's crazy.

"This whole situation has put things in perspective for me. I'm taking things slower. I'm walking the fairways slower. I'm going to enjoy relationships more and try to never do anything wrong. I don't want to do anything wrong. The world is just a better place when people act right." 

 

June 23, 2014 - 2:01pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Ryan Helminen
PGA of America
After starting out 5 over through his first six holes on Monday, Ryan Helminen was able to salvage a 1-over 73 to put himself near the top of the PGA Professional National Championship leaderboard.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Ryan Helminen, a 39-year-old PGA Teaching Professional at Ridgeway Country Club in Neenan, Wisc., shot one of the most resilient 1-over 73 rounds you'll ever see on Monday in the second round of the PGA Professional National Championship.

At 3-under 141 through 36 holes, Helminen finds himself near the top of the leaderboard.

One day after firing a 4-under 68 at the Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Helminen was teeing it up at the statistically easier Grand Dunes.

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Starting on the 10th hole, Helminen gave himself birdie chances on his first two holes, but couldn't get either to drop. Then things got a little out of control.

"After the first couple of holes, I felt great," he said. "I hit it in close on the first couple and had chances for birdies that I didn't convert, but then after that I left myself some longer birdie putts and just couldn't get the speed down. It was getting to me out there. I had a four-putt and a three-putt back-to-back on Nos. 14 and 15, but I knew I was still hitting it good and I was still rolling it good on the greens."

Those train wrecks at 14 and 15, along with a bogey on No. 12, meant Helminen was 5 over through his first six holes. Absolutely not the start he was looking for.

"I felt like my speed was just off a little bit and I was hitting it through the break," he explained. "I had putts going 4, 5 and 6 feet by. But I knew -- because the ball striking was so good -- that if I just stayed patient and not dwell on it, I could pull out of that."

And did he ever pull out of it, playing his final 12 holes in 4-under par with five birdies and one bogey.

"I made a long birdie putt today on my eighth hole that got me back to 4 over and also a couple of other long putts that I made toward the end that were critical and kept me in the game," Helminen said. "I shot 73, but I got a lot out of that round. When you're 5 over through six and going the wrong way, when you make a birdie and some par-saving putts, it lifts your spirits. Those kind of putts are what keep you in the game."

Helminen's final birdie came on his last hole of the day when he buried a 12 footer.

"The last hole was icing on the cake," he said.

Overall, this is Helminen's seventh National Championship start. His best finish was a tie for 24th in 2011. After fighting through a difficult second round relatively unscathed considering how bad it could have been, Helminen is in prime position through 36 holes to make a run at a berth in his first PGA Championship. 

June 23, 2014 - 10:59am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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The Dunes Golf & Beach Club
PGA of America
The Dunes Golf & Beach Club is the host venue for the 2014 PGA Professional National Championship.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- The PGA of America has instituted a new cut rule, beginning this week, for the PGA Professional National Championship.

Until this year, the top 70 scores and ties out of the 312-player field advanced to the final two rounds following the first 36 holes.

This year, the top 90 scores and ties will advance to Tuesday's third round. After that, there will be a 54-hole cut with the traditional top 70 scores and ties advancing.

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"The tournament committee made this change because we feel that we have 312 of the finest PGA playing professionals in our organization and by moving the cut to 90 and ties versus 70 and ties after Round 2, we're giving those extra 20 players or more a chance to really shine, go low the last two rounds and maybe win the tournament," PGA Vice President Derek Sprague explained. "But, more importantly, it gives them a better chance to make the top 20 spots to earn a berth and advance to the PGA Championship August."

Sprague said the new rule has been well-received by the National Championship participants.

"The players are looking forward to it," he said. "Many of them have brought their families here as well, so it gives them that little extra cushion, if you will, with those 20 extra spots. It allows them to maybe enjoy another day here on the Grand Strand."