SYDNEY – For Tiger Woods the Australian Open was all about the shot. No, not the sailing 3-wood at the eighth hole on Friday or the deftly played chip-in for eagle at the 14th on Sunday. For those with the week’s best vantage the front end of Woods’ Aussie fortnight was defined by the return of the stinger.
You remember the stinger, right? That go-to bullet Woods would lean on when the pressure or the wind speed exceeded terminal velocity. He won 14 majors and just about everything else a professional golfer would want with it.
The numbers on the scoreboard tell the story – Woods finished alone in third place at 11 under, one stroke behind your champion Greg Chalmers, his victory schneid now at two years and counting. The words of Aaron Baddeley, who was paired with Woods on Sunday in Sydney, and Joe LaCava, red shirt’s new bag man, give the context.
For four windswept days on a quirky layout Woods cut a hole through the breezy din with a boring shot that had been missing from his bag of tricks for too long.
“He had that stinger club back,” Baddeley said. “That’s a telltale sign he’s playing nice.”
There were mental mistakes, a wayward driver at the short 13th hole, and missed putts – his 27 putts on Sunday were seven better than his Day 3 total. He largely failed to “take care of the par 5s,” playing the 16 par 5s in 7 under, and he failed to bridge the gap between his good rounds (Friday and Sunday) and his misses (Saturday).
Yet throughout it all Woods controlled his golf ball, no small accomplishment given this week’s conditions.
Following Thursday’s 68 Woods talked fondly of the stinger 2.0. “I’m in a position to hit it,” Woods said. “I hadn’t been in a position to hit that shot.”
Twice during a frenzied Sunday back nine Woods returned to the stinger and twice it delivered. At the par-4 12th he rifled a low 4-iron up the hill to 25 feet for birdie to move to 9 under – two shots back.
“That was a beautiful shot,” said LaCava, who has seen his share of beauty as Fred Couples’ bag man.
Two holes later Woods played the par 5 with a pair of blistering 5-irons and chipped in for eagle – one shot back.
Despite another birdie for Woods at the 17th hole Chalmers had virtually put the tournament out of reach, at least for Woods, with a Sunday run of his own. The Sydney southpaw bogeyed the last to clip fellow Aussie John Senden by a stroke.
There was no title and on this Woods has always been clear – second sucks. But what the stop lacked in silver hardware it made up for with a silver lining.
“He was hitting the shots he used to hit. Everything he pictured he hit,” LaCava said. “I thought (Couples) hit the ball pretty solid – and he really does, this is no disrespect to him – but that guy (Woods) flushes it more than I’ve ever seen.”
Cleaning up his short game and the occasional mental mistake seem to be the next item on Woods' to-do list. He seemed to make progress with the former following an extended chipping and putting session late Saturday and fixing the latter may be as simple as a venue change.
Although Woods and LaCava had agreed to hit driver at the short par-4 13th hole given the right conditions, Woods was second guessing that plan following an eventful bogey that likely cost him the tournament.
Following a tee shot that sailed some 60 yards right of the green, Woods hit a tree from a plugged lie in a hazard and did well to make bogey to fall four strokes off the pace.
“I shouldn’t have gone for it,” Woods said. “Driver is too much and 3-wood is not enough and I was trying to hit a big slicing driver in there. I should have laid up. I laid up on Thursday and made birdie.”
Regret has never been a part of Woods’ repertoire and the difference between a good choice and a boneheaded move is normally biased by outcome, not objective analysis.
“It could have been pretty good,” Woods said of his round if not his week.
He played the odds and lost. He could have gone with the stinger, maybe he should have gone with the old standby. But second guessing is no place for a Tour type. The good news is after such an extended hiatus it’s nice to have the option. It was nice to have the stinger back.
Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel beginning Monday at 6PM. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Wednesday 9PM-2AM, Thursday 7:30PM-2AM, Friday 3PM-2AM and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)