As Expected Flatstick Proves Key at Doral
Even before the tournament started, the talk at this first stop on the Florida swing was putting. To a man, each touring professional was thrilled to be back putting on the smooth, fast Bermuda-grass greens of the Sunshine State, thousands of miles away from the slow, bumpy, unpredictable poa annua greens of California.
I grew up on poa, SoCal native Tiger Woods said, But I still cant putt them consistently. Woods left the tours West Coast swing ranked outside the top 150 in total putts per round. On poa, you can hit good putts and they dont go in and hit bad putts and they do go in. Tiger said there is nothing wrong with his putting technique or mechanics and he proved it to himself quickly in his practice rounds at Doral. I can see the line here better (than on poa) and when the greens are fast and consistent, its easier to adjust your feel and speed good putts go in.
In the first round at Doral, Tiger missed half the fairways and five greens, but made just one bogey. He needed just 27 putts to put together a round of 5-under-par 67 and gain a tie for third. Thats the best position hes been in after the first round this year.
Having finally reached greens that reward good strokes, much of the attention on the tour turned to technique. Specifically, The Claw. Chris DiMarco, The Claws cover-boy, arrived in Miami sitting atop the tours money list and ranked 10th in the world ' the highest hes ever been placed. The key to his success: his game on the greens with The Claw.
The Claw grip is one where a right-handed player uses a standard grip with his left hand and, literally, claws the shaft with his right. The putter is stuck between the thumb and forefinger with the palm facing either towards the hole or the ground. It totally takes the right hand out of the stroke, DiMarco explains. You stroke with your shoulders and dont yank it.
Skip Kendall showed DiMarco The Claw seven years ago. Chris, in turn, taught it to Mark Calcavecchia. Mark used the claw last year to set a scoring record of 256, 28-under-par at the Phoenix Open. This year, DiMarco and Calc rank first and second, respectively, in putting on tour.
DiMarco needed just 25 putts in his first round at Doral to shoot 65 and grab the lead.
When guys out here see that something is working for someone else, theyre usually going to check it out for themselves, Kendall said of The Claw. Sure enough. Kevin Sutherland switched to The Claw right before the World Match Play Championship at La Costa and the 62nd-ranked player won the $1 million first-place prize.
At the same time in Tucson, in the event for the players who didnt qualify for the Match Play, 18-year tour veteran David Peoples adopted The Claw. He had his best showing in years, finishing second.
Watch for more claw grips coming to a tour stop near you.
For years on The Golf Channel, weve heard short-game guru Dave Pelz implore us to spend more time practicing our play from 100 yards in. The pros certainly dont have to be browbeaten into believing the short game means everything.
At the end of two rounds at Doral, the leader was Ernie Els. The two-time U.S. Open champion missed 12 greens in regulation ' thats one-third of the greens. Well, Ernie did not make one single bogey over the first 36 holes. Obviously my short games been pretty good, he said.
In the third round, that short game got even better. As Rich Beem, one player paired with Ernie, said, Well, they call him the Big Easy and he sure made it look easy.
In the first 13 holes Saturday, Ernie used just 17 putts. Yes, he made his first two bogeys of the tournament during that stretch, but he also posted eight birdies. Els built his lead to an overwhelming eight strokes. Afterwards, Ernie summed it up with the understatement of the week: Yeah, I guess Im putting pretty good. Through the first 54 holes, the Big Easy was averaging 11 one-putts per round.
Els also said Saturday evening, This tournament still isnt over. Much to his dismay, Ernies words rang shockingly true on Sunday. Tiger was playing in the group ahead of Els and Ernie was witness to the type of incredible rally weve grown to expect from young Mr. Woods. Tiger birdied the first three holes and was moving in.
Meanwhile, Ernie also birdied the easy par-5 first. But on the second green, his heretofore-reliable putter failed him. That early mistake didnt help, Els said. Ernie missed a 2-and-1/2 foot putt for par. After three holes, his lead had shrunk to five. Another bogey at No. 6 and Els advantage was a mere four.
I was hoping to cut the lead in half by the turn, Tiger said. He did even better. Tiger nailed a ten-footer for birdie on the treacherous par-3 ninth. The lead was down to three. Tiger birdied the par-5 10th. The lead was down to two. Six shots in ten holes.
Ernies short game failed him again on the 10th. He stubbed a chip and had to settle for par. The next par-5 was the 12th; and up ahead of Els, Tiger hit two gargantuan shots to the green and two-putted for birdie. Incredibly, the lead was down to one. Tiger had erased seven shots of the eight-stroke deficit.
Ernie drove in a bunker on No. 12, laid up and then hit his approach to 20 feet. He had yet to make a single one-putt birdie all day. Then came probably the most important putt of the tournament, Els said. Ernie drained the 20-footer, his lead was back to two and relief was written on his face. Suddenly his swing became more relaxed, his confidence returned. He pared in with no trouble. The two-shot lead was maintained.
Victory was his. But as the man called The Big Easy said, it was anything but.
Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1
SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.
After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.
With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.
“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'
SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.
“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”
On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”
Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”
Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.
“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”
Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines
SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.
The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.
Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.
Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.
Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:
• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10
• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1
• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1
Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion
Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.
Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.
“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.
It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.
“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”
The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.
“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”