Putting is key to Woods' resurgence

By Joe PosnanskiMarch 25, 2013, 8:01 pm

The ability to make long putts (and short ones, for that matter) is one of the strangest and most mysterious forces in all of sports. It takes obvious talents and skills, of course – touch and feel and balance and nerve and an ability to see paths through the grass. But it takes something on top of that, something harder to describe.

The young Tiger Woods had that something. Well, the young Tiger Woods had a lot of gifts. He could hit the ball farther than anyone else. He could hit his approach shots higher than anyone else.  He could hit the most imaginative shots when he was in trouble, and he could play the most relentless and sound golf when he was in the lead. As Tom Watson said at the time, “He’s the best driver, the best iron player, has the best short game and is the best competitor.”


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It was that unbeatable combination that once led Colin Montgomerie, when asked if he might win the U.S. Open, to ask only half-jokingly: “Is Woods injured?”

But, even with all that, it was Woods’ putting ability – specifically his ability to make longer putts – that took him to this unprecedented place in golf history.  Jack Nicklaus, it was always said, wasn’t a great putter until he had to be a great putter. Then, he was the best. Woods was a great putter always, and an even greater putter when he had to be. In 2001, he wrote about the feeling in his instructional book, “How I Play Golf”: “Under pressure, it seemed like I never missed.”

It really was like that. Woods has annoyed some people with his visible frustration every time a long putt does not go in – but, hey, Tiger Woods expects every one of them to drop in the hole, especially when he’s feeling good. He takes it as a personal affront when the ball disobeys. (Johnny Miller summed this up Monday when he said during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational that Tiger “hates making bogeys more than anyone who has ever played the game.”)

And, when a tournament is on the line, he expects even more. If you listed the 50 greatest clutch putts of all time, you would almost certainly have to put four or five or six of Woods’ putts in there, maybe more. You’d have to include: the putt he made to force a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines; the birdie putt he made at the 18th to force a playoff at the 2000 PGA Championship; his 35-footer on the penultimate hole to win the 1996 U.S. Amateur; his 60-foot birdie putt that led to victory at the 2001 Players Championship – the one Gary Koch immortalized with his “better than most” call. This doesn’t even include his chip-in at Augusta.

But something happened to Woods the last three or four years.  It’s something anyone can see. It’s also in the numbers. The PGA Tour has a cool stat called “Putting Strokes Gained,” which basically breaks down every putt by distance. Take 8 feet – the average Tour player needs about 1.5 attempts to sink that putt (meaning that about half the golfers make the putt and half two-putt it). Well, if a PGA Tour golfer makes the 8-foot putt, he essentially gains a half-stroke on the field, and if he misses he loses a half-stroke to the field. That simple.

From 2004 to 2008, Tiger Woods only once finished out of the top 10 in putting strokes gained – he was 22nd in 2006, which isn’t too bad. The other years: second, ninth, third, third and second. Every single year, he was winning on the greens.

The last three years? He finished 109th in 2010, 45th in 2011 and 38th in 2012.

Why? Everybody always has opinions about what drives and stalls Tiger Woods. Some said he had lost his mental edge and confidence after going through the tabloid scandal. Some said that his swing was so messed up that he didn’t have time to work on his putting. Some said it was age. Some said it involved some injuries. Some said that every golfer, no matter how good, has only so many long putts in his quiver, and maybe Woods simply used his up. At different points, I believed each of these theories.

But if there’s one thing we know about Tiger Woods it is that we don’t know very much about Tiger Woods. He wants it that way. So nobody really knows – maybe not even Tiger Woods himself. At times he putted well. At other times, he flailed. The only question that really mattered was this: Could he ever putt like his old self again?

Well, this year, there is something different about him … and something familiar. He’s making the long putts again. He’s burning the cup on just about every birdie and eagle chance. He’s dropping those testy par putts. He’s locked in. Again, there are theories why. He’s happier. He’s most comfortable with himself. He’s working more on his short game. He’s dating Lindsey Vonn. Again: Who knows?

In winning Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill again – eighth time he’s won, absurd; only Sam Snead at Greensboro so dominated a single tournament – Woods had two extraordinary putts that tell the story: one he made, one he didn’t.

The one he missed came on the first hole Sunday, before the rains rushed in. He was facing a 25-or-so-footer, and it was a lightning-fast putt. Other golfers were knocking that putt 9 or 10 feet past the hole because it was so ridiculously fast.

Woods, instead, calmly stepped up, hit the ball deliberately slowly, and watched as the ball trickled and trickled until it came to a stop about 10 inches short of the hole. How did he know to do that? Sure, he knows this course well – but so do other golfers. Sure, he’s a genius at reading the greens – but so are other golfers. If there’s one thing that you pick up watching golf week after week it is that these golfers are rarely fooled … but when there is something that fools one golfer, it usually fools everyone. That’s why you will hear announcers say, “Yeah, everybody’s leaving that putt short,” or “Everyone thinks that putt breaks left, but it actually moves a little to the right.” Woods broke out of the mold.

Which takes us to the 12th hole on Monday, and Woods’ coup de grace.  He was leading the field by three shots going into the hole, and then his playing partner Rickie Fowler drained a long putt to cut the margin to two shots. Woods stood over his birdie putt, a 25- to 30-footer that everyone thought broke to the left. The announcers made this point too. Nobody read the right break in that putt because, apparently, it was invisible.

Tiger Woods read the right break, drained the putt, and won the tournament. How did he see that? He’s Tiger Woods. He’s now the No. 1 player in the world again. He’s now five victories away from Snead’s all-time record of 82 PGA wins. He is now looking a whole lot like the Tiger Woods who dominated the golf world for a decade.

Will it last? That’s hard to say. Putting is a capricious act. Some weeks the putts drop. Some they don’t. Nobody made more long putts in the 1970s than the young Tom Watson. He made those putts by sheer force – he cracked his putts at the hole, utterly unafraid of the 5-footers coming back. And then, at some point, he stopped making the 5-footers coming back. And then he stopped hitting his first putt with the same kind of power and confidence. It’s a nasty cycle.

Maybe Woods went through his own nasty cycle. And maybe he pulled himself out of it. That’s hard to say. But right now, the way he’s putting, he’s the best player in the world again. The Masters, which tends to go to the supreme putter, is only two weeks away. There’s no doubt who is the favorite.

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Durant tops Stricker, others to win Chubb Classic

By Associated PressFebruary 19, 2018, 12:19 am

NAPLES, Fla. - Joe Durant birdied the final two holes - and got some help from Steve Stricker - to win the PGA Tour Champions' Chubb Classic.

Durant shot a 5-under 67 on Sunday for a four-stroke victory over Stricker, David Toms, Lee Janzen, Billy Mayfair and Tim Petrovic.

''The stick-to-itiveness and the intestinal fortitude,'' Durant said when asked what he most proud about. ''I was nervous starting out, and I missed short putts early, but I kept grinding, kept telling myself that if I could just steady myself, hit some quality shots, the putts would start to go.''

Tied with Durant with two holes left, Stricker dropped a stroke back when Durant birdied the par-5 17th. On the par-4 18th, Stricker hit into the water and made a double bogey for a three-shot swing.

''Not my favorite pin in the world on the right side and the right-to-left wind, and I tried to hold it off and pushed it a little bit,'' Stricker said. ''He hit a great shot in there, forced me to try to go right straight at it, and I didn't pull it off.''

The 53-year-old Durant closed with a 15-footer to finish at 19-under 197 on TwinEagles' Talon course. He was safely on the 18th green when Stricker - needing birdie to tie - hit into the water.

''One of those situations where I was fortunate that I hit fist, knocked it onto the green,'' Durant said. ''So, it might have put a couple thoughts in his head anyway.''

Durant earned $240,000 for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour after winning four PGA Tour titles.

''Joe hit some great shots when he had to, put the pressure on all of us when it mattered most,'' Stricker said. ''He played great.''

The 50-year-old Stricker shot 70. He made his first start of the year on the senior tour after playing six tournaments last year - a runner-up finish in his debut along with three third-places ties.

''The par 5s killed me today,'' Stricker said. ''I eagled the first one, and then I was in great position on every other one and walked away with pars on all of them. That was really the difference.''

Durant eagled the par-5 13th - ''I felt like if I could make the 3 there, I had a shot,'' he said - and birdied the par-4 14th to take the lead at 18 under. He dropped into a tie with a bogey on the par-3 16th and Stricker's birdie on the hole.

''I was just so nervous today, and it showed on the first few holes,'' Durant said. ''I missed some short putts. My goal was to just hang in there. If you can stay around it, you never know what's going to happen the last three or four holes, and that's all I really tried to do.''

Mayfair and Petrovic shot 64, Toms had a 65, and Janzen a 68.

''Didn't really get anything going until the end of the round today,'' Toms said. ''I'm playing solid, just keep putting myself in position, maybe one day I'll get that hot round on Sunday.''

Scott McCarron was 14 under after a 68.

John Daly had a hole-in-one in a 67 to get to 13 under. He used an 8-iron on the 16th for the ace.

First-round leader Miguel Angel Jimenez was ninth at 12 under after a 72.

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Phil eyes Augusta after third straight top-6 finish

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 11:54 pm

LOS ANGELES – For the third straight Sunday, a valiant back-nine charge came up just short for Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson began the final round of the Genesis Open five shots off the lead, but after a chip-in birdie on No. 12 he got within a shot of Bubba Watson. With the leaders a few holes behind him, he continued to press and his aggressive approaches into Nos. 15 and 16 both led to bogeys that effectively ended his chances to win for the first time since 2013.

Mickelson’s closing 3-under 68 ultimately left him in a tie for sixth, four shots behind Watson. It comes on the heels of a runner-up finish last week at Pebble Beach and a T-5 finish the week before that in Phoenix, marking the first time since 2007 that Mickelson has strung together three straight top-6 finishes.


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“My game’s on the upswing,” Mickelson said. “I’m playing well enough to compete week in and week out now, and now it’s just a matter of a shot here or there, the difference between winning and not, as opposed to kind of finding my game. I’m not searching anymore.”

Mickelson added that he has seen “significant” progress in both putting and driving, two areas of concern he addressed in the offseason. But as the season’s first major continues to draw near, he believes that turning top-10s into a victory is critical to his chances at a fourth green jacket.

“I think it will be important for me, if I want to go into Augusta with the expectation of winning again, that I win before then,” Mickelson said. “If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But I think that that would be a big thing for momentum, because you need to perform under the gun, in the clutch, and play well enough to win a tournament before you expect to win a major.”

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Watson wins at Riviera for third time

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 11:35 pm

Bubba Watson holed a bunker shot midway through the back nine Sunday on his way to a 2-under 69 and a two-stroke victory in the Genesis Open. Here's the plot lines of Watson's third victory in the PGA Tour's Los Angeles stop:

Leaderboard: Bubba Watson (-12), Kevin Na (-10), Tony Finau (-10), Scott Stallings (-9), Patrick Cantlay (-9)

What it means: This is the third time Watson has won at Riviera Country Club, following victories in 2014 and 2016. It's his 10th PGA Tour win and his first since he won at Riviera two years ago. After a shaky, three-bogey, two-birdie front nine, he settled down - helped by his prodigious length - to make three birdies on the back with no dropped shots.


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Round of the day: Adam Hadwin shot his second consecutive 5-under-par 66. Only a second-round 74 kept him from being squarely in the mix.

Best of the rest: Jordan Spieth shot a final-round 67 to finish tied for ninth.

Biggest disappointment: Graeme McDowell was just two shots off the lead after 54 holes, seeking his first win since 2015, but he closed with a 77 and fell 23 spots.

Shot of the day: Watson's bunker hole-out from 16 yards at the par-3 14th. It gave him a two-stroke cushion over Cantlay.

Quote of the day: "It means a lot. My goal has always been to get 10 wins." - Bubba Watson

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Bubba holes birdie from bunker after caddie calls it

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 10:31 pm

Bubba Watson started the final round of the Genesis Open with the lead, but quickly squandered it with three bogeys on the front nine.

That didn't crush the two-time tournament champion's (or his caddie's) confidence though, as evidenced by his birdie on the par-3 14th hole, which he made from the greenside bunker.

Watson regained the final-round lead by finding the bottom of the cup with this splash-out from the sand, a shot his caddie, Ted Scott, apparently called before he hit it:

Hey, when you caddie for a guy who has two green jackets hanging in the closet at home, sometimes you just know.