Tales of the Old West Done in a Golf Wrapping
A word of caution: many of the sites where the western tournaments have been played aren't at their optimum condition. Rough isn't at its full growth yet. Putting surfaces have been spotty. If it were possible to play these tournaments in April or May, you would see much improved golf courses. But the Tour and television decree the order of play, and the decree is that the West starts the schedule. So tournament directors make the best of it and hold their parties, knowing that their courses aren't yet at their best.
And some of the players traditionally don't play well on the West Coast grasses. One stroke a round makes a big difference, two strokes a round means making or missing the cut, and some players lose that many trying to adjust to poa annua or inferior bent instead of Bermuda. That does make a difference, people.
Tee times are generally earlier in the west. Again, television. TV wants the events off the air in time for local news at 6 p.m. in the east. That's just 3 p.m. in the west, the best time of the day for good golf. But in order to get everyone around, golfers play in threesomes throughout the tournament instead of twosomes the final two days. Fields are cut down to 144 players - there are 156 for much of the eastern swing.
Included in the statistics were the Accenture Match Play, a World Golf Championship event held this year is Australia, and the Mercedes Championships, which hosts only 30 players. So some players have been eligible for only six events while others have been eligible for eight.
But Love and Faxon have been big surprises, Love because he hasn't won since early in 1998. And Tiger Woods has been a mild eye-opener, if only because he didn't win out west. He played five times and the worst he did was twice finish tied for 13th. But he is held to a higher standard by virtue of his nine wins last year, and he was raised in Southern California, so the conditions ought to be right down his wheelhouse.
Two statistics stand out in Woods' West Coast performance: his putting average is No. 140, and his par-3 performance is 135th. That normally is an indication that the irons are not struck very crisply. He is third in par-5s and fourth in par-4s, both a very good number, but a 3.06 stroke average on the par-3s isn't going to win any tournaments.
Tiger ranks 157th in sand-save percentage, but that is a product of his putting. He says that's because of a frustrating number of lipouts, but unfortunately those are logged in the stats book as just another miss. Last year they were going dead-center and this year they are catching the edge. That says Tiger is off, by how much we'll concede him the benefit of a doubt. The par-3 thing, though, is definitely something gone awry.
That, though, is commentary on the Tour's No. 16-ranked player, not a bad place to be after the first two months. Obviously his problems are not overly serious. But they definitely aren't up to the standards of a player who wins nine times.
Love is something else. He won at Pebble Beach, lost a playoff at San Diego, and finished just one shot out of a playoff at Los Angeles. Undoubtedly the problems of Woods have had a beneficial effect on him, as it has a number of players. But at age 37, he is playing some of the best golf of his career. He leads the Tour both in scoring average and in total money.
Faxon still has problems with the driver, standing 160th in driving accuracy, but he has hit the greens often enough to make a charge at the hole. He's 31st in that category and No. 28 in putting. Put together, they add up to No. 2 on the money list.
Begay looked like he was on his way up-up-up last year, but this year he is 190th in driving distance and 195th in putting. Maybe it's time he thought about going lefty or righty, one or the other, on the rollers. Janzen is 180th in driving accuracy and is currently in the middle of a slump. In 1998 he was No. 20 on the money, but the last two years he has finished 48th and 62nd.
O'Meara is 136th in driving distance and 190th in accuracy, simply leaving him too far back in the rough. And that, when a usually fine putter is 102nd in putting, makes one think long and hard about the television racket.
And Duval? Well, just one number needs to be mentioned here - 122. That's where he stands in putting. He has missed the cut in two of four tournaments and finished 59th in a third. He, more than anyone, will probably say, 'Bye bye, West, and good riddance.'
Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic
Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
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Hahn jabs USGA over possible ball rollback
As debate continues to heat up over possible sweeping changes to the golf ball amid distance concerns, PGA Tour pro James Hahn chimed in to question the merits of a potential rollback.
The ball and distance debate gained traction earlier this week when Jack Nicklaus offered that the ball should be rolled back to the approximate distances achieved in 1995, and he put blame for the current situation squarely at the feet of Titleist. That drew a response from former Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who put the onus back on the governing bodies.
It's an issue that will likely be discussed for months to come, but Hahn took to Twitter to throw a jab toward the USGA and play devil's advocate on some key arguments related to a possible rollback:
Breaking news. In addition to limited flight balls, the USGA plans to ban working out, proper diet and swinging faster than 105mph. They are also planning on removing the 3 point shot in the NBA.— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) February 23, 2018
If we were playing a match, would you rather hit 7 iron to my 9 iron OR hit hybrid to my 5 iron? Oh and by the way, I can still hit par 5s in two with 3 wood. You can't.— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) February 25, 2018
Hahn, who has two career PGA Tour wins and lost in a playoff last month at the Sony Open, ranks 55th on Tour this season in driving distance with an average of 301.2 yards off the tee.
Na fires back over slow play criticism from cricketer
Kevin Na fired back over recent criticism he received about his purported slow play at last week's Genesis Open.
Kevin Pietersen is a retired English cricketer with more than 3.6 million followers on Twitter. He tweeted a video of Na, known as one of the slower players on the PGA Tour, taking more than a minute to line up and hit what he described as a "Tap In" during the final round at Riviera:
SERIOUSLY, Kevin Na?!?!— Kevin Pietersen (@KP24) February 18, 2018
That Is A Tap In, MATE! pic.twitter.com/YMmNT6m5H7
He then added another video of himself on a green in Dubai, where he again called out Na and showed how long he believed it should take for a player to brush in a short putt:
Na has faced his fair share of slow play criticism, but this time he decided to defend himself. Na isn't on Twitter, but he took to Instagram to tell Pietersen to "stick to your own sport," pointing out both the length of the putt in question and the stakes that were involved during the final round, when Na went on to tie for second behind Bubba Watson:
@kp24 lets get some facts straight. Shot tracker shows what u call “tap in” 3ft 4in. Since when is 3’4’’ on green speed 12 a “tap in.” FYI 1 shot for me on Sunday was 300k. Difference between T2 and T4. Yes, I did back off because the line didn’t feel right. So what! BTW that was the only putt I backed off all day. Also our group was on pace all day! We waited if anything. @pgatour @golfdigest @golf_com @golfchannel #getyourfactstraight #sticktoyourownsport #everyshotcounts
Pepperell wins his first European Tour title in Qatar
DOHA, Qatar - Eddie Pepperell survived a tense finish to win the Qatar Masters at the Doha Golf Club on Sunday for his maiden European Tour title.
The 27-year-old Englishman held off a spirited challenge from compatriot Oliver Fisher, who needed a third successive birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff, but had his putt from six feet slip past the hole for a par.
Pepperell shot a 2-under-par 70 for a four-day tally of 18 under 270, while Fisher, who started the day tied for the lead, could only manage a 71.
Sweden's Marcus Kinhult (68) finished third at 16-under.
The No. 154-ranked Pepperell made things difficult for himself with a bogey on the 15th hole, but hit a superb wedge to three feet on the next to get back to 18 under again.
Fisher, who appeared to have fallen out of contention with three bogeys starting on the third hole, stormed back with birdies on the 14th, 16th and 17th holes.
On the last, Pepperell laid up with his second into the thick rough, made wet and unwieldy by rain in the Qatar capital, but found the green in three and two-putted for the win when Fisher missed his birdie putt.
''I did the things I needed to do, I didn't play fantastic but I won ugly and for the first win to be ugly is good. Hopefully, I'll have some prettier ones in the future,'' said Pepperell.
''I knew I was playing well, especially tee to green, so I expected a lot of myself this week and I guess to pull it off is amazing. When Oli birdied the 17th, that was when it really caught up with me that I was only one ahead. I was in my own zone, I knew I had a couple of shots of lead but Oli did great. It was a tough front nine for him and I had to stay right in my own way and out of the two guys' way because they were struggling a bit and it's sometimes easy to get dragged into that.''
Fisher was disappointed, but saw the silver lining in the way he fought back.
''It went all the way to the last hole which, after my front nine, was what I was hoping for on the back nine,'' said Fisher, who won the 2011 Czech Open, but recorded his first top-three finish since the 2014 Africa Open.
''I hit a lot of good shots coming down the back nine and gave myself a lot of good chances, but there were just too many bogeys today, four in total, so you're never going to win a tournament making that many mistakes on a Sunday. But at least I pressed him all the way.''
Italian Renato Paratore (66) had the low round of the day and finished tied for fourth place at 15 under par, where he was joined by the Spanish pair of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Larrazabal along with Gregory Havret of France.