Driving for Show and Dough
We're talking about the fact that nine events into the 2004 PGA Tour season Hank Kuehne is once again hitting it farther off the tee than anybody else. But his average of 306.2 is more than 15 yards less than his season-ending average of 321.4 in 2003.
And, please, no jumping to conclusions about the fact that voluntary testing for hot drivers is behind the drop in the numbers for Kuehne (or anybody else). This is golf, not baseball. And besides, golf manufacturers have much more to lose than players if somebody gets caught with a hot driver that has their brand on it.
'Let the sample run out,' says Joey Sindelar.
What Sindelar means to say is that it's too early in the year to draw conclusions. The players need to play on more courses and under different conditions for the numbers to come back into line.
Still, it's interesting to note that John Daly, who finished second to Kuehne last year at 314.3, has dropped to fourth so far this year at 303.8. That's more than nine yards. Yet Daly, who has already won once in 2004, is having his best year in almost a decade.
Phil Mickelson is having an even better year than Daly. He won the recently completed West Coast Swing on the strength of five top seven finishes in five events including a victory at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Last year Mickelson wound up fourth in driving distance. This year he ranks 26th.
The conclusion: Mickelson is hitting it shorter, but much straighter.
Tiger Woods, convinced in 2003 that there were drivers on Tour exceeding the legal coefficient of restitution limit of .830, has gone in the other direction. Woods finished last season 11th in driving distance. Currently he ranks second behind Kuehne at 304.7.
Woods 'flies' the ball farther than all but a very few. Wet conditions have been frequent so far on Tour in 2004. The cause and effect here is clear.
The 45-year-old Sindelar may be the most interesting case of all. He has picked up approximately 12 yards off the tee this year since switching from a TaylorMade 360 driver to a TaylorMade 510 Tour model. That gain in distance had jumped him from 109th at the end of last year to 10th so far in 2004.
'The ball,' Sindelar says, 'rolls farther in the fairway.'
In other words, he is hitting it straighter since the switch. 'For the first time,' he said Tuesday at Doral, 'I have a driver that is my 'go to' club.'
Sindelar still isn't sure how the measuring process works. And he says there are a lot of players who love the Tour's Shotlink yardage system but don't completely trust its distances yet.
'I'd also like to know if these number are for when I hit driver or not,' he said. 'Or do they count it as a driving distance stat when a player hits a 1-iron or a 3-wood off the tee?'
To that end, the Tour has requested that caddies fill out cards after rounds recording a player's club selection on every hole. Sindelar's caddie is complying with the Tour's request but said not all caddies are. The Tour has threatened to fine the caddies who don't cooperate. Sindelar's caddie said nobody he knows has been fined yet.
Expect the Shotlink issues to be cleared up by the middle of the year. But don't expect the kind of interesting stories you can find by crunching the driving stats to end any time soon.
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Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.
The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.
The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.
This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.
After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.
“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”
Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.
Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.
“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”
Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.
To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.
“More punishment,” he said.
DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.
Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.
Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.
Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.
It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.
With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.
Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.
TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:
• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.
• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.
• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery.
• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”
• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.
• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.
• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.