Scrutiny on Woods shifts from swing to putting

By Doug FergusonFebruary 28, 2012, 7:02 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods might long for the day when all anyone questioned was his swing.

Because until now, no one ever doubted his putting.

But as Woods begins his road to the Masters this week at the Honda Classic, scrutiny has shifted from his new swing to what used to be the most reliable part of his game.

Poised to make a run at Pebble Beach, Woods badly missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the second hole and missed from 3 feet for par on the seventh hole just as Phil Mickelson was pulling away. Woods three-putted the last hole for a 75.

“I could not get comfortable where I could see my lines,” he said. “I couldn’t get the putter to swing.”

Last week at the Match Play Championship, despite missing two birdie putts inside 10 feet on the back nine as he tried to rally, Woods had a birdie putt from just outside 5 feet on the 18th hole to extend his second-round match against Nick Watney.

The putt never even touched the hole.

“I should be able to fix it in a day,” Woods said.

Players help each other all the time, so it should not be unusual that twice in the last three months, Woods has sought advice from Steve Stricker. The tip at the Presidents Cup was to release the blade. They played nine holes of a practice round Tuesday at Dove Mountain, and Stricker noticed the club was too shut going back, which Woods attributed to his missed putt against Watney.

But ask yourself this: When does Woods take advice from anybody – even Stricker – when it comes to his putting?

This is the guy on everyone’s list of the game’s best putters. No one from his generation made more clutch putts.

There was that 6-foot birdie putt to force a playoff at the PGA Championship in 2000 during his sweep of the majors. The 15-foot putt in the dark at the Presidents Cup in South Africa. And perhaps the biggest one of all, the 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole at Torrey Pines that got Woods and his shattered leg into a playoff at the U.S. Open.

To watch a replay in slow motion of the ball bouncing toward the cup and diving into the right corner, it had no business going in except that it was Woods. The shortest club in his bag wasn’t a putter, it was a magic wand.

Maybe it’s as simple as karma.

For those suggesting he go back to the Scotty Cameron putter that brought him 13 majors, that’s not the solution. He was missing just as many putts with his old putter since coming back from the crisis in his personal life.

It would be foolish to jump to conclusions about Woods. He is capable of far more than anyone else, proof of that coming from his 71 wins on the PGA Tour. Winning at Honda or Doral might be enough to empty his head of doubts. A win at the Masters, which is more about creativity than technique, changes everything.

Woods can do just about anything with his swing – this is the fourth change he has made in 15 years.

He can’t get by as easily without good putting.

Woods spent most of 1998 overhauling his swing under Butch Harmon. He still managed two wins, four runner-up finishes and he was out of the top 10 only eight times in 24 tournaments around the world.

He revamped his swing again in 2004 under Hank Haney and still contended. Woods won twice that year, was runner-up three times and finished out of the top 10 only five times in 21 tournaments.

The difference? He was still making putts.

He’s no longer making as many.

“Stevie (Williams) used to keep all his stats,” Haney said. “If he didn’t three-putt, he would win 85 percent of the time. If he made his normal amount of putts, he would usually win. And if he made a bunch of them, he would win by six or eight. Now it looks to me like he has to make a bunch to win by a couple, which is what everybody else does.”

That has been the biggest difference about Woods the last two years – he looks like everybody else.

It’s difficult to compare his results with the latest swing change because of the circumstances. He had a four-month layoff in 2010 after being exposed for cheating on his wife. And as it relates to golf, injuries kept him from making quicker progress.

Since returning fully healthy at Firestone last August, Woods won the Chevron World Challenge (with birdies on the last two holes). He lost the 36-hole lead and finished third at the Australian Open, and he lost a share of the 54-hole lead with Robert Rock and tied for third in Abu Dhabi. He finished out of the top 10 in his other five events.

Woods never made every big putt, even if he made it look that way.

Perhaps the biggest putt he ever missed was a 15-footer on the final hole of the second round in the 2005 Byron Nelson Classic, which caused him to miss the cut for the first time in seven years and ended one of the greatest streaks in golf. He missed key putts while contending for U.S. Opens at Pinehurst and Oakmont. That stuff even happened to Jack Nicklaus.

But when he’s not winning as much – or at all – people tend to remember the misses. The question is how much Woods is thinking about them. His head used to be loaded with memories of clutch putts. He has those two birdies at Sherwood three months ago when he won, and that’s about it. In a Tour-approved event, when was the last big putt Woods made? Certainly not at Augusta last year, when he was tied for the lead at the turn and shot 36 on the back nine.

Is it an easy fix? Woods said it would only take one day.

Or is the problem between the ears?

All that can be certain is that his putting is getting a lot of attention. Not because of the putts he makes, but the putts he misses.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.