S-Putt-ering Cadillac


WGC-Cadillac ChampionshipDORAL, Fla. – On this the world golf ranking seems to have it right, give or take a decimal point.

Tiger, Phil and a G-Mac high card may have captivated the hearts and minds of the South Florida masses, but combined they couldn’t keep pace with Hunter Mahan, who scorched Big Blue for a 7 under total through 11 holes when Doral after Dark set in and play was called for the day.

A midday storm blew over a scoreboard, camera towers and much of the horde that was awaiting the Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell bout, but when the gale moved through, the entire affair felt less like the 2005 Ford Championship, when Woods and Lefty went toe-to-toe on a historic Sunday, than it did the 2004 Ryder Cup with America’s alpha and omega saying and adding little to the proceedings and a European making every putt.

In short, none of the three top cards did a lot to live up to the billing, although McDowell wowed his tee time mates by one-putting what seemed like his front nine. For the day, which ended on the 15th green in darkness, Mickelson was 2 under while Woods and McDowell came in at 1 under.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods missed six of seven attempts from 10 to 15 feet during Day 1 at Doral. (Getty Images)
By comparison, the day’s other marquee three-ball, world No. 1 Martin Kaymer, No. 2 Lee Westwood and No. 3 Luke Donald were 5, 4 and 5 under through 10 holes, respectively. A victory for the world ranking math by any measure.

“Not our best, but not terrible,” Mickelson said. “We didn’t shoot ourselves out of it.”

Woods didn’t stop to talk after his non-completed round. Had he been inclined he would have talked about the process, patience and putting – all familiar themes. But it is the latter that lingered as Thursday’s sub-text.

The criticism and hyperbole of Woods’ most recent swing makeover has reached a crescendo. It’s an ugly place that has no interest in the middle ground. Yet lost in the Twitter-spat and non-stop analysis and re-analysis is the simple truth that Woods never flushed the golf ball, at least not for a prolonged period of time.

In 2000 and 2006, the benchmark years of a benchmark career, he ranked 54th and 139th in driving accuracy, respectively. Similarly he is 185th in driving accuracy this year. The difference is putting. He was sixth on Tour in putting from 15 to 20 feet in ’06 and second in putting average in ’00, but is currently 98th and 146th, respectively, in those categories this year.

Thursday was a microcosm of that reality. He was wild, like at No. 12, his first driver of the day, when he pulled his tee shot 50 yards off line. Or No. 17 where his tee shot was 30 yards right . . . you get the idea.

But there were also opportunities. Opportunities he used to capitalize on like a Rolex, like at the 16th hole where he drove just short of the green, flopped his second to 8 feet and missed the putt.

All totaled, Woods needed 26 putts, which is statistically sound had he played all 18. He missed six of seven attempts from 10 to 15 feet and made nothing longer than 12 feet (11th hole). From 10 to 15 feet is where Woods won 14 majors and 71 PGA Tour titles, not the middle of the fairway.

For all the hand wringing over mechanics and methods and muscle memory, it was his moxie from 15 feet that defied logic and built a legacy.

So why retool the Mona Lisa? If Woods is to be believed it is part and parcel with the process.

“It's a release, how I release the putter, how I release the short game, how I release irons, drivers, they are all related,” Woods said on Wednesday. “You just can't have one swing and not have another; they are all interrelated. It's just something I've had to change, and you know, it takes time.”

According to Jim McLean, Doral’s resident swing guru who has overseen his share of swing makeovers, Woods is correct. “It’s natural. Part of the process. It’s always a danger when you’re dealing with Tiger, but it’s natural,” McLean said.

Dangerous indeed.

Woods used to win with a 1,000-yard stare and it won’t be the two-way miss that keeps him down now; it will be the 3 to 5 manicured yards that separate him from the cup.

If Thursday’s soggy sequel taught us anything it is that it is not the new swing that should concern us; it is the old putting stroke that needs an A.P.B.