Putting is key to Woods' resurgence

By Adam BarrMarch 26, 2013, 2:30 pm

The ability to make long putts (and short ones, for that matter) is one of the strangest and most mysterious forces in all of sports. It takes obvious talents and skills, of course – touch and feel and balance and nerve and an ability to see paths through the grass. But it takes something on top of that, something harder to describe.

The young Tiger Woods had that something. Well, the young Tiger Woods had a lot of gifts. He could hit the ball farther than anyone else. He could hit his approach shots higher than anyone else.  He could hit the most imaginative shots when he was in trouble, and he could play the most relentless and sound golf when he was in the lead. As Tom Watson said at the time, “He’s the best driver, the best iron player, has the best short game and is the best competitor.”

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It was that unbeatable combination that once led Colin Montgomerie, when asked if he might win the U.S. Open, to ask only half-jokingly: “Is Woods injured?”

But, even with all that, it was Woods’ putting ability – specifically his ability to make longer putts – that took him to this unprecedented place in golf history.  Jack Nicklaus, it was always said, wasn’t a great putter until he had to be a great putter. Then, he was the best. Woods was a great putter always, and an even greater putter when he had to be. In 2001, he wrote about the feeling in his instructional book, “How I Play Golf”: “Under pressure, it seemed like I never missed.”

It really was like that. Woods has annoyed some people with his visible frustration every time a long putt does not go in – but, hey, Tiger Woods expects every one of them to drop in the hole, especially when he’s feeling good. He takes it as a personal affront when the ball disobeys. (Johnny Miller summed this up Monday when he said during the final round of theArnold Palmer Invitational that Tiger “hates making bogeys more than anyone who has ever played the game.”)

And, when a tournament is on the line, he expects even more. If you listed the 50 greatest clutch putts of all time, you would almost certainly have to put four or five or six of Woods’ putts in there, maybe more. You’d have to include: the putt he made to force a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines; the birdie putt he made at the 18th to force a playoff at the 2000 PGA Championship; his 35-footer on the penultimate hole to win the 1996 U.S. Amateur; his 60-foot birdie putt that led to victory at the 2001 Players Championship – the one Gary Koch immortalized with his “better than most” call. This doesn’t even include his chip-in at Augusta.

But something happened to Woods the last three or four years.  It’s something anyone can see. It’s also in the numbers. The PGA Tour has a cool stat called “Putting Strokes Gained,” which basically breaks down every putt by distance. Take 8 feet – the average Tour player needs about 1.5 attempts to sink that putt (meaning that about half the golfers make the putt and half two-putt it). Well, if a PGA Tour golfer makes the 8-foot putt, he essentially gains a half-stroke on the field, and if he misses he loses a half-stroke to the field. That simple.

From 2004 to 2008, Tiger Woods only once finished out of the top 10 in putting strokes gained – he was 22nd in 2006, which isn’t too bad. The other years: second, ninth, third, third and second. Every single year, he was winning on the greens.

The last three years? He finished 109th in 2010, 45th in 2011 and 38th in 2012.

Why? Everybody always has opinions about what drives and stalls Tiger Woods. Some said he had lost his mental edge and confidence after going through the tabloid scandal. Some said that his swing was so messed up that he didn’t have time to work on his putting. Some said it was age. Some said it involved some injuries. Some said that every golfer, no matter how good, has only so many long putts in his quiver, and maybe Woods simply used his up. At different points, I believed each of these theories.

But if there’s one thing we know about Tiger Woods it is that we don’t know very much about Tiger Woods. He wants it that way. So nobody really knows – maybe not even Tiger Woods himself. At times he putted well. At other times, he flailed. The only question that really mattered was this: Could he ever putt like his old self again?

Well, this year, there is something different about him … and something familiar. He’s making the long putts again. He’s burning the cup on just about every birdie and eagle chance. He’s dropping those testy par putts. He’s locked in. Again, there are theories why. He’s happier. He’s most comfortable with himself. He’s working more on his short game. He’s dating Lindsey Vonn. Again: Who knows?

In winning Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill again – eighth time he’s won, absurd; only Sam Snead at Greensboro so dominated a single tournament – Woods had two extraordinary putts that tell the story: one he made, one he didn’t.

The one he missed came on the first hole Sunday, before the rains rushed in. He was facing a 25-or-so-footer, and it was a lightning-fast putt. Other golfers were knocking that putt 9 or 10 feet past the hole because it was so ridiculously fast.

Woods, instead, calmly stepped up, hit the ball deliberately slowly, and watched as the ball trickled and trickled until it came to a stop about 10 inches short of the hole. How did he know to do that? Sure, he knows this course well – but so do other golfers. Sure, he’s a genius at reading the greens – but so are other golfers. If there’s one thing that you pick up watching golf week after week it is that these golfers are rarely fooled … but when there is something that fools one golfer, it usually fools everyone. That’s why you will hear announcers say, “Yeah, everybody’s leaving that putt short,” or “Everyone thinks that putt breaks left, but it actually moves a little to the right.” Woods broke out of the mold.

Which takes us to the 12th hole on Monday, and Woods’ coup de grace.  He was leading the field by three shots going into the hole, and then his playing partner Rickie Fowler drained a long putt to cut the margin to two shots. Woods stood over his birdie putt, a 25- to 30-footer that everyone thought broke to the left. The announcers made this point too. Nobody read the right break in that putt because, apparently, it was invisible.

Tiger Woods read the right break, drained the putt, and won the tournament. How did he see that? He’s Tiger Woods. He’s now the No. 1 player in the world again. He’s now five victories away from Snead’s all-time record of 82 PGA wins. He is now looking a whole lot like the Tiger Woods who dominated the golf world for a decade.

Will it last? That’s hard to say. Putting is a capricious act. Some weeks the putts drop. Some they don’t. Nobody made more long putts in the 1970s than the young Tom Watson. He made those putts by sheer force – he cracked his putts at the hole, utterly unafraid of the 5-footers coming back. And then, at some point, he stopped making the 5-footers coming back. And then he stopped hitting his first putt with the same kind of power and confidence. It’s a nasty cycle.

Maybe Woods went through his own nasty cycle. And maybe he pulled himself out of it. That’s hard to say. But right now, the way he’s putting, he’s the best player in the world again. The Masters, which tends to go to the supreme putter, is only two weeks away. There’s no doubt who is the favorite.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.


Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.


Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.

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S.Y. Kim leads Kang, A. Jutanugarn in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:24 am

SHANGHAI  -- Sei Young Kim led the LPGA Shanghai by one stroke at the halfway point after shooting a 5-under-par 67 in the second round on Friday.

Kim made six birdies, including four straight from the sixth hole, to move to a 10-under 134 total. Her only setback was a bogey on the par-4 15th.

Kim struggled in the first half of the year, but is finishing it strong. She won her seventh career title in July at the Thornberry Creek Classic, was tied for fourth at the Women's British Open, and last month was runner-up at the Evian Championship.

''I made huge big par putts on 10, 11, 12,'' Kim said on Friday. ''I'm very happy with today's play.''

Danielle Kang (68) and overnight leader Ariya Jutanugarn (69) were one shot back.


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''I like attention. I like being in the final group. I like having crowds,'' Kang said. ''It's fun. You work hard to be in the final groups and work hard to be in the hunt and be the leader and chasing the leaders. That's why we play.''

She led into the last round at the Hana Bank Championship last week and finished tied for third.

Brittany Altomare had six birdies in a bogey-free round of 66, and was tied for fourth with Bronte Law (68) and Brittany Lincicome (68).

Angel Lin eagled the par-5 17th and finished with the day's lowest score of 65, which also included six birdies and a lone bogey.