Oosthuizen vs. Poulter: Talent vs. tenacity

By John HawkinsNovember 5, 2012, 3:20 pm

We've reached the bonus-golf season in the great Northeast. Any round played after Halloween is like stealing candy from Mother Nature, who tried to end things early by sending Hurricane Sandy our way last week. For all the destruction the superstorm caused, for all the people in this region whose lives were so adversely affected, we lost a grand total of one tree at the Little Brown Dog.

Less than 72 hours later, we were back out there swingin’ and cussin’, thankful to be so fortunate, at least until we reached the second tee. Some of my buddies were without electricity in their homes until the weekend. We lost power only briefly, but my short game is missing and my 60-degree wedge now lives at the bottom of the pond in front of the 10th green.

I’m sorry, but sometimes, an innocent club must bear the blame for a man’s physical inadequacies. My insurance agent has since informed me that my policy does not cover wagers lost because of chunked chips, skulled bunker shots and other various round-killers. The 60-degree has been replaced, but those 60-degree days are likely gone until April.

It leaves me wondering if I should skip the rest of the bonus-golf season and take up knitting. Golf can be a really fun game until you actually start playing it.

ALL DISAPPOINTMENT is relative. Whether it’s turning a 76 into an 82 because you never get up and down, or leading a strong field by five shots after 36 holes before finishing T-6, as Louis Oosthuizen did in China this past weekend. Or, for that matter, if you’re hosting an unofficial/official World Golf Championship without Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, as was also the case at the HSBC Champions.

Let’s address Oosthuizen first. We’re talking about a guy who trampled the field at the 2010 British Open, joined the PGA Tour the following year and managed one top-10 (T-9, U.S. Open) in 13 regular-season starts. Heck, Oosthuizen finished 148th in the 2011 FedEx Cup standings, meaning he didn’t qualify for the playoffs, then had to come back to America for two Fall Series events just to reach the 15-tournament minimum.

His weak performance throughout 2011 revived whispers that Oosthuizen wasn’t a hard worker, that he wasn’t passionate about competitive golf and found more enjoyment doing other things. Valid or not, Oosthie rebounded nicely in 2012. The Masters playoff loss to Bubba Watson left him a whisker short of becoming a multiple major champion – a week after shooting a front-nine 41 to surrender the 54-hole lead in Houston.

He had three top-fives and made $1,832,067 in the final seven weeks of the season, however, a stretch reflective of Oosthuizen’s considerable skill. Very few players swing the club as beautifully or as efficiently. And when Oosthie gets hot with the putter, which was the case in the third round at TPC Boston a couple of months ago, then again during the first two rounds in China, he looks unbeatable.

Turns out that five-stroke lead wasn’t nearly enough. Immense physical ability can take you a long way in this game, perhaps even into the top 50 in the world ranking, but mental toughness is what wins tournaments, what turns talented players into extremely productive ones. Mental toughness is what defines greatness and allows guys like HSBC winner Ian Poulter to maximize their skills on a fairly consistent basis.

Oosthuizen has won three times since the 2010 British, all against inferior fields: tournaments with no more than a handful of competitors in his class. He’s gifted enough to dominate lesser players, but once the weekend cast was set in China – perhaps a dozen potential contenders, many of them established stars – Oosthie became a different player. As did Poulter, who bested the 36-hole leader by 12 strokes and seems to thrive on opportunities to knock off the game’s elite.

We’ve seen it in vivid detail at more than one Ryder Cup. Near the end of his Saturday night news conference at Medinah, U.S. captain Davis Love III marveled over Poulter’s ability to channel a me-vs.-the-world mentality into an otherworldly performance, saying, “On one hole, some [gallery members] were giving him a hard time about something, and he seemed to enjoy it.”

Churning negative perception into positive reality – it’s a quality that can’t be taught. It’s not easily defined and practically impossible to measure, but you know it when you see it. Poulter has it. Oosthuizen doesn’t.

AS FOR THE HSBC Champions itself, I’ve read a bunch of related stories and watched the tournament into the wee hours on numerous occasions. I’ve sifted through the literary rubble of the latest PGA Tour press release announcing the HSBC as an “official” event in 2013 – real money, real FedEx Cup credit – which I already knew. Still, I’m left to shake my head.

If you’re going to call it a World Golf Championship, why wasn’t it designated as official when they slapped the WGC label on it back in 2009? It’s kind of like dressing up as a cop for Halloween, then pulling people over for speeding.

How official or unofficial will this thing be if Woods and McIlroy decide not to show up again? The fact that both had played in Asia the week before, then left after last Monday’s made-for-money challenge match, doesn’t speak highly as to the HSBC’s importance. The fact that Tiger and Rory formally apologized for their absence didn’t make things all better.

But then, who cares about the facts? “I believe that golfers have a responsibility to their sponsors,” said HSBC official Giles Morgan. “Without the sponsors, there isn’t professional golf. I speak on behalf of the industry.”

Nice try, Giles. No athlete on earth has proven more receptive to the almighty sponsorship dollar than Sir Eldrick. Years ago, Woods stopped playing Colonial because it was underwritten by MasterCard, which he considered a direct competitor to American Express. He blamed the lousy greens at Kapalua for his not participating in the season-opening Mercedes Championships, although one could see how his profitable relationship with Buick might have had something to do with it.

Bottom line? Well, uh, it’s the bottom line. HSBC might have been better off, especially in the long run, by ducking the WGC shingle and using its marketing/promotions cash to pay the players directly – appearance fees without Camp Ponte Vedra’s fingerprints all over it. To anyone who thinks the PGA Tour’s interest in expanding to Asia has nothing to do with lining its own pockets, please, pass me some of that stuff you’re smoking.

You want Tiger? Pony up, Giles. You need him a lot more than he needs you.

MY MOST RECENT conversation with Hank Haney, first referenced here last week, ultimately veered toward the same subject as do all my talks with the swing coach: the state of Tiger’s game. Haney hasn’t worked with Woods since May 2010, but that doesn’t mean he’s not watching everything the guy does. And a few things he doesn’t do.

I bring this up after casually mentioning to Haney that Woods drove the ball better in 2012 than he has in years. More fairways, far fewer second shots from the hot-dog stand. That’s how I saw it, anyway, which did not sit well with my man. “Everyone is saying that!” Haney retorted. You’ve got to look at the numbers!”

So I did, and from a statistical standpoint, Haney is right. Woods hit 63.93 percent of his fairways in 2012, compared with 64.29 in 2009, the last full season they worked together. Tiger was 1 yard longer in ’09 (298.4 per measured drive) than he was this year, which doesn’t mean anything because they still measure just two drives per round. And while the difference in accuracy was just as negligible, I would have sworn Eldrick was more precise off the tee in 2012.

It prompted me to examine other numerical comparisons between 2009 and 2012. In terms of hitting greens in regulation, Woods led the Tour this year from 175-200 yards and was second in proximity to the hole from the same distance. His GIR numbers on middle/long-iron approaches were fairly similar. One common trend stood out in both years: The farther Woods played a shot from the hole, the more likely he was to rank among the best on the Tour.

In ’09, however, Tiger’s short-iron/wedge play was considerably stronger: more greens hit, shorter putts and, presumably, more chances to make them. Across the board, however, you wouldn’t look at Woods’ 2012 putting stats and see them as the reason he won three tournaments instead of six. His rankings from each distance were a little better overall in ’09, but not by much.

Some dude on another sports network has a show called “The Numbers Don’t Lie,” which is sort of true if you employ the line in the proper context. In many cases, the numbers don’t say a thing — or don’t begin to tell the entire story. That certainly is the verdict rendered here.

SO I WAS pretty doggone stoked about a 14-year-old qualifying for next year’s Masters – until I saw him using a belly putter to hole the tournament-winner, which I find both highly amusing and maddeningly frightening. I suppose a kid has to wrap his arms around every advantage he can get, but it would be kind of funny if the R&A and U.S. Golf Association outlawed anchored putters before next April, leaving the poor child to yip his way around the cathedral.

As for Chinese prodigy Tianlang Guan making it into next year’s first major with his triumph at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, you mean to tell me he’s more deserving of a spot than, say, Jonas Blixt, who won the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open? Not that it’s worth getting in a huff about – a 14-year-old is much better copy than some winner of a Fall Series event – but seriously.

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Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 8:52 pm

The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:

Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)

What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.

Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.

Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.

Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.

Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.