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.
Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational
Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.
The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.
Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.
“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”
Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews
Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.
Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.
Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form
Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.
Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.
Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.
Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.
Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA.
New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.
Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.
Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.
Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.
Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.
Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions.
Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might
Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.
“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”
Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”
“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”
Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)
Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”
Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"
As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.
Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”