Sometimes a win is just a tweak away

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 6, 2016, 8:33 pm

CARMEL, Ind. – Rory McIlroy’s victory Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship was the latest reminder of how quickly fortunes can change – and why PGA Tour players are usually just one swing tip, putting tweak or positive thought from surging into contention.

That’s the only way to explain how McIlroy went from being nearly dead last in putting two weeks ago to pacing the field in Boston.

Or how Vaughn Taylor went 10 ½ years without a win, and was 11 days removed from a visit to a Colombia hospital, when he broke through in February at Pebble Beach.

Or how James Hahn overcame eight consecutive missed cuts to win at Quail Hollow.

Or how Billy Hurley III went nine months without a top-40 finish before rolling at Congressional.

Or how Jimmy Walker went 11 straight tournaments without a top-10 before a wire-to-wire victory at the PGA.

“It always feels like you’re just trying to dial it in,” Taylor said Tuesday at the BMW Championship. “Sometimes it’s a little thing, and other times it feels like you’re miles away from playing good. It’s a funny game, so you just keep working and hope for that moment where it all comes together.”

McIlroy’s victory wasn’t all that unexpected – after all, he’s the third-ranked player in the world with off-the-charts ball-striking statistics – but it still registered as a mild surprise, if only because of his recent putting woes. In his previous seven rounds, he’d missed 23 putts inside 10 feet and lost more than 10 shots to the field on the greens. He turned to putting coach Phil Kenyon for help and began a process that he hoped would be completed in time for next year’s Masters.

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Suffice to say, the early returns have been encouraging. In his last three rounds, he missed only four times inside 10 feet and gained nearly 5 ½ shots on the greens. The turnaround was as simple, he said, as holding the putter grip more in his fingers, with his right hand on top of the handle. He implemented the slight change on the practice green the morning of his second round, and it allowed him to release the putter, instead of blocking his putts. Three days later, he won for the first time on Tour in 15 months.

“It’s just incredible,” he said, “this game, how quickly things can change and how quickly things can turn around.”

There are similar comeback stories from the Tour’s middle class.

Playing on past champion’s status from his pair of opposite-field victories a decade ago, Taylor had two missed cuts and a withdrawal (the aforementioned hospital visit) in his last three starts entering Pebble. But on the range, he stumbled upon his swing thought for the week: He tried to feel as though he was laying the club off at the top.

“You hit a shot here or there and you say, ‘Oh, that was it; that’s what I’m looking for,’” Taylor said. “From there, it’s usually a lot of variables coming together at the same time.”

Crucial putts need to be holed. Nerves need to be steadied. And in Taylor’s case, a Hall of Famer needed to falter, as he overcame a six-shot, final-round deficit to Phil Mickelson.

It turns out that swing thought was a short-term fix, not a long-term solution. He missed his next five cuts, and seven of his next nine.

“It lasted long enough,” he said with a smile, “and then you’re on to find something else.

Hurley, whose slump-busting victory came at one of the most demanding courses on Tour (Congressional), said that he runs through about 15 to 20 swing thoughts a year, as he chases what works and dumps whatever does not. He even jots down the various tips in a journal.

“It’s one of the best parts about our game and one of the most maddening parts about our game all at the same time,” he said. “It doesn’t take much just to find that little feeling, that little switch that just makes it all feel right and the ball starts going where you’re looking, putts start dropping and you have a great week.”

When Brian Stuard arrived in New Orleans for the Zurich Classic, he’d gone 35 consecutive starts without a top-10. But he wasn’t distraught. He had worked the past few weeks on moving on to his left side through impact, and he said he saw enough positive signs the previous week (a T-55 in San Antonio) to believe that he was due for a “good finish,” whatever that meant.

Even though Stuard was winless in 100 career appearances on the and PGA tours, he sensed early on that it might be his week in New Orleans. In the opening round, he should have dropped at least one shot after his approach shot on the 12th hole wound up in a nasty spot left of the green. He tried to limit the damage, chopping out to 30 feet behind the hole, but he holed the comebacker for par. Walking off the green, Stuard said, “I thought, Hey, this might be a good omen.”

Stuard ended up winning the rain-shortened event.

“Golf to me is weird,” he said, “because if you get that one mental key, it seems to be able to last a tournament, but you can’t keep it going for the whole year. It just seems like if you change something, it must be the positive vibes it gives you.”

Hahn followed that out-of-nowhere script when he won in Charlotte. Even though he’d missed eight cuts in a row, he reviewed the stats and didn’t find any glaring weakness.

“It was just a combination of one putt, one drive, one bad hole, one mud ball, one bad break that kind of snowballed into a couple bogeys and missed cuts,” he said earlier this year.

“The competition out here is so high that you can afford to make mistakes, but you can’t afford to make many of them.”

Players like McIlroy have a bit more leeway, because their tee-to-green performance is so dominant, but even for the stars there is a fine line between a victory and another top-10.

Sure, part of that is because of the deep competition. But it also boils down to a few breaks: tee shots that appear destined for the rough but kick back into the fairway, or approaches that spin closer to the hole, thus increasing a player’s make percentage.

The lesson here: At this level, players are never as far away as they can seem. 

“You’re always evolving,” Taylor said. “You just always have to see the end goal and the end vision and try to stay patient.”

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.