Tigers Richter Scale

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ORLANDO, Fla. ' When Tiger Woods steps over a putt with a tournament on the line, the sporting world leans forward.
 
As athletic moves go, the slight rocking of Woods shoulders doesnt thrill the way Muhammad Alis jab would or Michael Jordans crossover dribble could or Reggie Jacksons corkscrew swing might, but it ranks as one of the marvels of sport just the same.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods reacts to his remarkable win last year at Bay Hill. (Getty Images)
That little pendulum stroke can make the earth quake.
 
Folks around the 18th green at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill felt it a year ago.
 
So did Palmer himself after Woods rolled in that 24-foot birdie putt to beat Bart Bryant by a shot in a dramatic finish.
 
The lingering image in the aftermath is Woods spiking his hat and roaring in unabashed delight.
 
It was a good time, it was a good memory, Woods said Wednesday.
 
With the Arnold Palmer Invitational beginning anew Thursday morning, and with the Masters just two weeks away, Woods is looking to find the putting stroke that consistently makes him the man to beat in golfs grandest events.
 
While observers still wonder how that rebuilt left knee of his will hold up in just his third PGA Tour start since reconstructive surgery, Woods is focused on his putting stroke.
 
At the WGC-CA Championship at Doral, where he tied for ninth after a sluggish start, he was encouraged that he hit so many fairways on the weekend, posting a pair of 68s despite a mostly uncooperative putter.
 
I wasnt that far off, Woods said. I hit the lip 20 times for birdie on the first three days, and thats a lot.
 
(If) just half of those, some of those, fall in, you get a little bit of momentum, you get a little feel and get some mo on your side. I didnt get any of that. To have that many lip outs and still finish in the top 10, thats a positive side for my ball striking. Now, I just need a few putts to go in. This week I worked on it pretty good, and I feel pretty comfortable with it.
 
Woods shot 4-under-par 66 in Wednesdays pro-am, equaling the low round.
 
When Woods putter is behaving, his ball striking can be mediocre and hell still win. His putter erases so many mistakes. That was the case at Bay Hill last year, when Woods was frustrated with his play and still prevailed. Same story at the U.S. Open, where hardly anyone remembers that for the first time in his career Woods looked like he was blowing a chance to win a major on a Sunday. Hardly anyone remembers that errant drive into a fairway bunker at the 72nd hole, or the sloppy layup in the rough that followed. The image thats frozen in so many minds is Woods rocking back on his heels, clenching his fists and howling to the heavens after rolling in a 12-foot birdie to force the Monday playoff he would win against Rocco Mediate.
 
For Woods, this week is mostly about getting his putter back on track.
 
Unlike other players, who seek to awaken their putting stroke by changing their grips or their putters, Woods will stick with whats always worked for him.
 
Hell be going back to the basics his father taught him as a young boy.
 
Thats what stands out most about Woods putting.
 
His full swing has evolved, from work with Butch Harmon as his swing coach to Hank Haney, undergoing almost constant change as he has sought to improve and, in his words, own his swing.
 
Woods already owns his putting stroke. He has owned it practically since he drained that putt on the Mike Douglas show as a 2-year-old.
 
When somethings wrong with his putting stroke, Woods remembers back to what he learned playing that military course with his father, Earl, while growing up.
 
Dad had everything to do with my putting stroke, Woods said. How I putt now is how Ive always putted as a kid.
 
When I go out there and practice my putting, like I did at Doral, (where) I didnt putt well, didnt make any putts, I went back to all my basics my dad taught me. Its good times, good memories, going back to all those different things and remembering all those different times. But my dad has laid the foundation of my putting stroke
 
I even remember in some of the good years Ive had in golf, like 99, 2000 and 2001. Coming back to Southern California, Id take my dad out and wed go putt, and hed routinely beat me. Anything he said about putting, Id always listen. He just had a wonderful feel, a wonderful touch, and I really understood how to make the ball roll consistently each and every time.
 
Putting wizards like two-time PGA Championship winner Dave Stockton and eight-time PGA Tour winner Brad Faxon see the magic Earl Woods passed on to his son. Stockton said he and Woods picked each others brains twice at Torrey Pines last year, once during the Buick Invitational and once at the U.S. Open.
 
Tiger is very conscious of speed control, Stockton said Wednesday in a telephone interview. A good putter always looks like the ball wants to go in the hole. That putt at Torrey Pines (on the 72nd hole) looked like it was going to miss right, but it dove in the hole. I cant remember Tiger Woods lipping out a putt that mattered. Hes always got the right pace. His fundamentals are phenomenal.
 
While Faxon acknowledges Woods looks good over the ball, he admires something else in his approach.
 
Tiger is very visual, Faxon said from the Bay Hill locker room. He is always looking for the putts break. Most people look at him and say he has a great setup, a great stroke. I see him as reactive, I see how he reacts to what he sees, how instinctive he is.
 
I dont see a guy who second guesses himself a lot. What all great putters share is confidence, more than anything else.
 
Jack Nicklaus, widely regarded as the greatest putter under pressure who ever lived, also had a very visual approach. In fact, Nicklaus used to say he didnt pull the putter back until he could visualize the ball going into the hole.
 
Of course, Nicklaus played with great confidence, but his form was so distinctive, a low hunch over the ball, with his right shoulder so much lower than his left.
 
While Nicklaus was admired, no tour pros tried to putt like he did.
 
Thats not the case with Woods. Hes a model.
 
Mike Sposa, a PGA Tour member for 13 years before becoming a Fujikura Composite PGA Tour rep, said he regularly visited putter maker Scotty Cameron for more than fittings. He visited to watch Camerons detailed videotapes of Woods stroke.
 
Everything Tiger does with a putter is perfectly sound, Sposa said. Perfect setup, perfect eye position over the ball, perfect path and release, everything. He looks perfect, he thinks perfect.
 
Of course, Woods isnt perfect, but one competitor with a good eye thinks Woods is close to regaining his best form after watching Woods hit balls at Grand Cypress last week.
 
He didnt make a lot of putts (at Doral), Rocco Mediate said. When he does, that will be the Tiger we know, and that will be the end of the game.
 
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