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#AskLav: Talking Tiger and Phil ... and more Tiger

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Last week’s episode of Survivor: PGA National helped reinforce a few ideas. 

Russell Henley is a fearless, tenacious competitor with a lot of upside.   

Rory McIlroy is close, very close, to being a prolific winner once again on the PGA Tour.

And that Tiger Woods’ record as a closer won’t ever be matched.

Winning a tournament on the PGA Tour is no easy task, despite how routine Woods has made it look for so many years. With McIlroy kicking away a third-round lead at the Honda, he became the eighth player in 14 events this season who has failed to convert a 54-hole lead into victory. Last year, only 17 players in 38 tries were able to slam the door after holding the Round 3 lead.

Granted, math was never a strong suit, but in the past year and a half that’s just a 44 percent success rate.

Tiger’s career record with the lead, including the PGA and European tours? A superhuman 89 percent (58 of 65).

Indeed, it appears that he is the last of golf’s shutdown closers.

This week’s mailbag: 

Instagram#AskLav: What does Woods have to gain by playing this week? – Oliver Graham, via Instagram

A ton – provided he can stay upright for 72 holes. Playing (and finishing) this week would give him confidence that his back won’t limit him going forward. And, to use of his favorite Tigerisms, he needs the reps – desperately – after teeing it up in only 10 ½ rounds so far in 2014. With the Masters only five weeks away, he wouldn’t compete here if he was seriously worried about re-injury.


 

 

Sure, a few of the story lines have been ridiculous – Tiger, after all, will never return to his 2000 self, neither personally nor professionally, so it’s best to stop waiting. But generally, everyone loves a story in which a player overcomes obstacles (real or imagined) to return to glory. Drama makes for compelling reading or television, no?


 

 

A little concerned, no doubt, since his only encouraging round of the year was that Saturday 65 at the Honda … which he followed by withdrawing the next day. He has yet to string back-to-back rounds together, and there isn’t much time to get it sorted out, unless he makes the desperate move and adds an event. That said, Tiger has shown in the past that he can play his first tournament of the year at Augusta and still be a factor, as he did in 2010. Since 2005, the guy has finished outside the top 6 there only once. Injured, rusty, whatever – he’ll probably find a way to contend.


Instagram#AskLav: What is the best thing about the “new” Doral? Hit or miss with the Tour? – Clayton Swanner, via Instagram

We’ll have to wait until Sunday for a more definitive answer, but most early reports indicate that the players are enjoying the new-look Doral. Make no mistake, it’s essentially a brand-new golf course. The routing is the same, but most holes have a different look. The rough is thick. There is more blue – as in water – at the Blue Monster. The greens, however, are the bigger difference-maker – they’re larger and more undulating. Add it all up, and it’s a more difficult test. Keep in mind, of course, that doesn’t always mean it’s a better test.


Instagram#AskLav: Does Tiger have any chance this week if he doesn’t get a practice round in on this new Doral track? – Will Wente, via Instagram

Well, he at least walked the course Wednesday afternoon, which is progress, but he’s still outside the top 10 in my personal Power Rankings. Despite his well-documented success at this track (four wins, five other top 10s), he’ll still be teeing it up semi-blind Thursday – he only chipped and putted on Wednesday – relying mostly on the notes and charts made by his caddie, Joe LaCava. He’s a terrific looper and can adequately guide his man around the course, but Tiger is still putting on brand-new greens and playing shots from different angles. Everyone in the field needs a few early spins around Trump Doral. Woods is no different.


Instagram#AskLav: What is going on with Phil right now? He is missing a whole lot of cuts. – Jack Costello, via Instagram

Actually, the Honda trunk-slammer was his first missed cut since last July, but I see where you’re going with this. Lefty has gone nine starts on the PGA Tour without a top-10 finish … which is not the kind of performance you’d expect from a player who said in January that 2014 had the potential to be a career year. Phil said that he’s hitting his driver longer and straighter than ever before – and he’s currently ranked 137th in total driving. He said last year that he’s figured out the secret to putting – and he’s currently ranked 114th. He’s also outside the top 100 in proximity to the hole from 50-75 yards, 75-100 yards, 100-125 yards, 125-150 yards, 150-175 yards and 175-200 yards. Notice a pattern? He’s not doing anything particularly well right now.


Instagram#AskLav: Should Tiger change his swing again? – Bradley Wonka, via Instagram

Hmm, that same swing seemed to work last year, when he won five times and earned Player of the Year honors, right? A swing change is not the answer, not at this point in his career. Getting 100-percent healthy – or as close as an oft-injured 38-year-old can be – is of greater importance.


 

 

You’ll have to ask my boss. Actually, don’t bother. I already know the answer.