Woods' rustiness showed in his short game

By Jason SobelDecember 4, 2014, 11:36 pm

WINDERMERE, Fla. – In case you hadn’t heard, Tiger Woods has been working on his swing lately.

He’s been focusing on his fast-twitch muscles. His motor patterns. His explosiveness. His traj. His reps. His speed. His feels. He’s making adjustments. Generating force. Hitting his numbers.

In advance of this week’s Hero World Challenge, all of the usual buzzwords were buzzing around Woods in his return from a four-month competitive absence because of a back injury.

All of the usual buzzwords, that is, except for two.

Short game.

Woods’ opening-round 5-over 77 wasn’t just four strokes worse than anybody else in the 18-man field. It was an exhibition of rustiness and an exploration into what happens when so many of those swing thoughts come to fruition without the benefit of a formidable game around the greens.

All told, he left five greenside wedge shots short of the actual greens, chunking four of them and leaving a bunker shot in the sand. If his ball-striking – which included 8-of-14 fairways and 11-of-18 greens in regulation – was a newfound bright spot during this latest comeback attempt, his short game was a dark crater of unfulfilled intentions.

“It certainly is surprising that I hit chip shots that poorly,” sighed Woods after the round. “I was just awful. I just made too many mistakes and mainly they were around the green.”

Not that we should be surprised. Woods warned us prior to his first round since the PGA Championship that we should expect some rustiness. Well, he was right.

His bunker shot on the seventh hole hit the lip and stayed in.

Then he flubbed a chip on the next hole. And two more five holes later. And another four holes after that.

He had more chili-dips than a tailgate party.

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“I have a nice facility in my backyard, so I can’t say it’s for the lack of practicing,” he explained. “I just haven’t faced grain this thick. My short-game area is very tight. It got a little stickier in the longer grass around the greens and I just hit horrible chips.”

Logic states that this was a horrifically poor performance, even with the rust. In his time away from hitting full shots, Woods should have had more time to work on his short game; and Isleworth is a course on which he’s played hundreds of previous rounds; and, let’s face it, no elite golfer should leave five greenside shots short of the green on any course on the planet – especially one with 14 career major championships on his resume.

Where that logic goes awry is when it tries to connect those dots to his future prospects.

Like so many critiques of Woods’ game, too much will be read into this one. Anyone trying to read the tea leaves of his first competitive round in 119 days, though, should stop short of theorizing that a domino effect could leave his short game in shambles for not just the remaining three rounds, but going forward toward the 2015 campaign.

Instead, the main takeaway from Thursday afternoon is that it’s going to take more than a healthy body to thrust Woods back onto leaderboards.

Any notion that he could simply rest, recover, recuperate and rebound was left in the divots of those stubbed and flubbed chip shots.

The other lesson is a reminder that short game shouldn’t be overlooked or underrated. Much of the public speculation during the past few weeks has centered around his new working relationship with “consultant” Chris Como and a swing that Woods cryptically described as “new … but it’s old.” A video of this move through the ball went viral on social media Monday in advance of this event, so many observers impatiently and passionately clicking on a quick, driving range tee shot.

Three days later, we realized that maybe we should have been snooping around for video of short wedge shots instead – not that we would have seen anything unseemly.

“Monday he was chipping fine; his short game was on point,” said Jason Day, his opening-round playing partner. “It was just surprising today to see him stub a lot of chip shots. Uphill into the grain is very difficult, but to see that many out of Tiger Woods is very surprising.”

In his first round back, Woods’ swing looked improved in most of those buzzwordy ways he so often speaks – from his explosiveness to his traj to his speed to his feels.

The phrase he didn’t use much in the lead-up to this return was short game. And on Thursday, it showed.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.