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Hawk's Nest: A little controversy's not a bad thing

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You’ve gotta love a kid who steps up to the microphone and declares himself one of the top five players in the world, as 23-year-old Patrick Reed did Sunday evening after winning at Doral. It’s not like Steve Sands needed to trick up the question or goad Reed into donning a Cassius Clay mask during the post-victory interview.

Braggarts simply don’t exist in pro golf, so any departure from the humility-steeped, cliché-stacked quickie behind the 18th green should be embraced with open ears. Truth be told, and it frequently isn’t, these types of straight-to-the-viewer Q&A’s have become perhaps the biggest waste of breath in all of sports.

Whether it’s some ESPNer talking to an NBA coach after the first quarter or a devoutly religious wide receiver taking the opportunity to thank his Lord and savior, the 35-second chat packs all the nutritional value of a Kit Kat bar. Unless it involves Erin Andrews and Richard Sherman, we’re talking about a photo-op with sound.

After ticking off his various accomplishments as both an amateur and professional golfer, however, Reed submitted his claim as one of the very best in the game. And good for him. Never mind that what he did at Augusta State University has no bearing on his position in the world ranking, or that a couple of weak-field victories (prior to this one) really don’t count when it comes to reaching the PGA Tour pantheon.

In a world full of caution, where how you say it has become more important than what you say, Reed punched passivity right in the nose. If this guy even contends at the Masters, I say we consider a redesign of Mount Rushmore.


SPEAKING OF REDESIGNS, I suppose the dead-calm weekend at Doral will help everyone forget what happened Friday, when Gil Hanse’s version of the Blue Monster appeared inadequate as a Tour venue in a heavy South Florida breeze. There are no hard-and-fast rules in determining when a course becomes unfair, as the U.S. Open has reminded us over the years, but the second round in Miami was a rarity.

We just don’t see actual PGA Tour events where iron shots land in the middle of a lengthy green and end up in the water, as was the case with Dustin Johnson’s approach at the par-5 eighth. Phil Mickelson’s second into the 18th Thursday also blew my mind – it tumbled down a false front on the green’s left edge and rolled into Lake Donald, or whatever they’re calling it nowadays.

Player reaction was predictably strong, especially given the high praise Hanse’s remodeling job had been accorded earlier in the week. Nobody loves a hypocrite, at least until the wind blows. “Good shot after good shot [repeatedly] ended up in the water because there was no good place to go,” Mickelson said. “I expected a little bit more from Gil, because he’s really good.”

As gripes go, my personal favorite came from Graham DeLaet: “I’d bet $1,000 to any ‘scratch’ golfer that they wouldn’t break 90 on that course [Friday].” Given that it costs about $450 to play the Blue Monster under Doral’s new ownership, you probably need to have a real job to even consider accepting DeLaet’s offer, but the message is clear.

“Look forward to coming back next year and playing Trump Doral after the changes,” tweeted Billy Horschel, who said he had three balls land on a putting surface but end up wet. “Should be a good course then.”

Changes? Didn’t they just blow up the place? First and foremost, there were some critical tee- and pin-position mistakes Friday by the Tour, which rarely errs on the side of extreme difficulty. It’s as if the field staff never saw the 30-mph winds coming, which is hard to explain. We’re talking about Miami – at a resort no more than 10 minutes from an international airport.

That front-left pin Thursday on 18 – the one that cost Mickelson at least a stroke – didn’t work. Again, we’re talking about a substantial, almost wholesale redesign, but then, the Tour consistently does an outstanding job at setting up first-time venues. This was a perfect storm, so to speak, and it will be interesting to see how Camp Ponte Vedra reacts to the situation.

As much as I disapprove of some of the stuff I saw earlier in the week, I also like the idea of a World Golf Championship being won at 4 under par. It enlivens the non-existent WGC brand and gives this tournament a more distinct competitive identity. We’ve got enough 22 unders on the schedule. Tweak a few flagsticks, and Doral will be just fine.


LET’S MOVE ON to another Donald – the Englishman named Luke. As big a deal as was made of the British Invasion in 2010-11, when Lee Westwood and Donald held Nos. 1 and 2 in the world ranking, the only Brit currently in the top 10 is Justin Rose (seventh). Westwood has fallen to 36th, Donald to 25th, and neither is exactly trending north.

In Donald’s case, the numbers do not adequately explain his decline. His rise to becoming one of the game’s best was predicated largely on improved ball-striking; neither his percentages nor his rankings in those categories have fallen off much, if at all. He remains one of the game’s best putters. His short game is still much tidier than most.

As consistent as Donald was at the peak of his career, I stand by my theory that “control players” have a much more difficult time winning tournaments (and climbing to the top of the ranking), simply because every week, at least a couple of bombers are going to get hot with the putter.

You look at Dustin Johnson, who, at this point in 2014, appears on the verge of becoming a top-three player. Without question, Johnson’s mid-range putting has held him back in the past. This year, he ranks 10th in the overall putting stat and third in par-4 scoring. If a guy with that kind of length hits his wedges close and makes his 10-footers, he’s going to win tournaments.

On the average, Donald drives the ball 26.5 yards shorter than Johnson. This enormous discrepancy in distance doesn’t mean anything if Donald hits his 8-iron as close as Johnson hits his gap wedge – or if Donald holes five 10-footers per round to Johnson’s two. If Johnson converts his opportunities, however, it’s no longer a fair fight, pun intended.

When you widen the lens and see long hitters such as Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson and Scott Stallings all among the top 30 in strokes gained per round through 10 events, you begin to understand the plight players such as Donald face. Fifteen yards means a ton at this level. When you double that difference, it can seem almost insurmountable.


AS FOR MY man Patrick Reed, he has all the tools. He’s 32nd in driving distance and 23rd in putting, although the year is still young. Who cares if he’s 114th in driving accuracy? Hitting it in the fairway doesn’t mean much on the PGA Tour – Tour pros of all shapes and sizes can hit a 9-iron on the green from the rough. Simply put, long and crooked is not a bad thing to be.

What I love about Reed, however, has nothing to do with his statistical profile. This kid may not slam the door down the stretch, but he manages to shut the thing – they don’t cut your first-place earnings by 20 percent if you blow a big lead but hold on to win. I wanted to see him win a premium-field event, and he did that Sunday.

He missed a 3-footer for par at the 14th and held himself together. He made a stupid play off the tee at the par-4 16th – laying up with an iron into a lousy lie in a fairway bunker – then responded with a terrific second just off the back of the green. Reed got it done, and at the end of the day, that’s all anyone needs to remember.

I’m not sure the guy is one of the five best players in the game, but Reed has soared to 20th in the latest world ranking. And he is trending north, unlike a couple of guys I know.