HUMBLE, Texas – Anthony Kim says his swing needs major renovation. Maybe returning to the site of his last victory will help turn his game around, too.
Kim is the defending champion at this weekend’s Houston Open, the run-up event to next week’s Masters. He’s one of 33 players here who’ve already qualified for Augusta, but Kim has struggled to regain his form following surgery on his left thumb last year.
He has missed two cuts in his past five starts, shot an 80 in the first round at Doral three weeks ago and has been working with swing coach Adam Schreiber in Dallas for the past week to fix the flaws.
“I told him when he first got to Dallas, I don’t want to work and put Band-Aids on my swing,” Kim said. “I want to get down to my grip, my posture, to everything any beginning golfer would start with.
“I think that really helped get me back in the mindset of playing golf again and enjoying being out there, instead of just trying to put Band-Aids on hooks and try to hit big slices to keep it in the fairway.”
Kim was erratic off the tee at Redstone last year, and still managed to shoot under par in all four rounds. He ranked 80th in driving accuracy, but tied for second in putts per round (27.75) and putting average (1.542 per hole).
“It was just a culmination of good putting and a great attitude that helped me win last year,” he said. “I’m going to try to come in with the same attitude and hopefully hit some better golf shots. Who knows? I could play better this year and score worse. It’s a funny and fickle game.”
Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Fred Couples are also in the field, using the tournament to tune up for the season’s first major.
Organizers have embraced the Houston Open’s distinction as the run-up to the Masters, setting up the tournament course with conditions similar to those at Augusta. The fairways are wide and mowed toward the tees, the rough is light, the greenside mounds are shaved and the greens themselves are fast.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen is playing the course for the first time after hearing positive feedback about it.
“A lot of the players said it’s as close as you can get it to the Augusta setting or grass,” Goosen said. “That definitely made me decide to play this year.”
The course can also boast one of the tour’s toughest holes, the water-lined, 488-yard 18th. It ranked as the 20th-most difficult hole on tour last year, with a 4.317-stroke average, and usually yields final-round drama.
In 2007, Adam Scott had a one-shot lead, but pulled his tee shot into the water. He took his drop, hit his approach safely away from the water, then holed a 48-foot par-saving putt to win.
In 2009, Paul Casey bogeyed the 18th on the final day to slip into a playoff with J.B. Holmes. The players returned to the 18th tee, Holmes found the water with his drive, and Casey won with a conservative bogey.
Last year, Vaughn Taylor rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 18 in the final round to tie Kim and force another playoff. Taylor then hit the greenside bunker to the right off the tee, while Kim made a routine par for the victory.
“It’s a tremendous hole,” Kim said. “When the wind blows, it’s as tough as it gets. You can’t bail out anywhere. Right is no good. The second shot is actually harder if you’re in that bunker than if you’re right of the bunker.
“You have to hit a couple of quality golf shots,” Kim said, “and the green’s not very easy, either.”
Westwood tied for eighth in 2010 and finished second to Mickelson at the Masters the following week, bolstering the notion that Redstone works as a suitable tuneup. Westwood is playing at Houston for the fourth time in five years.
“The main point is they try to get the greens as quick as possible which, when you get to Augusta next week, it’s not as big a shock,” Westwood said. “They’re pretty immaculate this week and run at a great pace.”