The problem with Monday morning quarterbacking is hindsight’s inevitable distortion of the facts. With retrospect, it’s far too easy to forget that real-time is no place for critical analysis.
But this isn’t about Tiger Woods’ tie for 21st at the U.S. Open so much as it is an attempt to avoid a similar fate next month at Royal Lytham & St. Annes or August’s PGA Championship.
Anyone with Internet access and a basic understanding of math can add this up, putting cost Woods his fourth U.S. Open title and Grand Slam No. 15, simple as that.
He opened with rounds of 69-70 for a share of the halftime lead despite needing 60 putts to cover 36 holes (29-31) and when his ball-striking went sideways on Saturday his pedestrian putting (34 putts) led to a tournament-ending 75.
“Hit the ball really well. Unfortunately I just didn't have the speed of the greens until today,” Woods said on Sunday in San Francisco following a 29-putt final round. “The way I struck the golf ball, the way I controlled it all week is something that's very positive going forward and if I would have just hung in there a little bit better (on Saturday) and missed it on the correct side a couple times then I would have been in a better position going into today.”
Where some see denial in Woods’ postmortem we see a starting point.
For the week, Woods tied for sixth in fairways hit and tied for seventh in greens in regulation at The Olympic Club but was 61st, out of 72 players, in putting. Statistically that’s better than he hit the ball when he won the Open in 2000 (T-14 in fairways and first in GIR) and 2008 (T-56 in fairways and T-14 in GIR). Of course he ranked 33rd and 11th in putting, respectively, at those championships.
Only his 2002 U.S. Open victory – T-7 in fairways and first in GIR – was statistically superior to last week.
But this is not uncovered territory. Even his victories this year at Bay Hill and Muirfield Village were primarily ball-striking affairs, having finished T-59 and T-42, respectively, in putting.
Statistics might not be the answer, but when it comes to Woods’ newfound inability to turn 36-hole leads into trophies like he once did, the numbers should at least give him a few talking points.
Earlier this year, Sean Foley suggested Hunter Mahan, long considered one of the game’s top shot-makers, meet with Mark Roe, a European Tour player who is quickly becoming the sport’s newest short-game guru. Justin Rose, another of Foley’s students, gave Roe credit for his improved play around the greens following his victory at last year’s BMW Championship.
It may be time for Foley – who has endured a heightened level of scrutiny for his work with Woods, despite a litany of statistics that suggest Tiger’s swing is as solid as ever – to attempt a similar intervention with Woods.
Whether it is Earl Woods’ teachings, which guided Tiger’s putting earlier in his career, or a new set of eyes, it’s time for the game’s former alpha male to make a putting change.
With the exception of Steve Stricker, one of Woods’ closest confidants on Tour who has offered the occasional tidbit, Woods has eschewed putting advice. Whereas he’s on his third swing coach as a professional, when it comes to the short stick he has adhered to the less-is-more approach.
Even during tournament rounds, Woods has demonstrated a reluctance to seek advice from his caddie. Steve Williams was rarely called in to read a putt and last week Joe LaCava said his new boss may ask for his help once or twice a round.
Until recently there was no reason to look to others. For the better part of a decade it seemed Woods made every putt that counted. From 2004-09, he ranked outside the top 15 in total putting just once (2006 when he was 24th), but injuries – physical and otherwise – have taken a toll and it’s impossible not to consider last week’s Open an opportunity missed.
There are no guarantees that a new set of eyes will help, but after meat-handing his best chance at getting off the major schnied at Olympic this much is certain – it couldn’t hurt.