Notes: Poulter works on putting; Eyes on Olympics

By Doug FergusonFebruary 10, 2015, 7:18 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The golf world has seen Ian Poulter making five straight birdies in the 2012 Ryder Cup to win a pivotal match and swing momentum toward Europe. It has seen him holing key putts in winning a pair of World Golf Championships.

Poulter has seen the statistics. And he didn't like what he saw.

For a guy reputed to be among the best with the putter, Poulter spent the last eight weeks working harder than ever on the one part of his game that wouldn't seem to need much work. Except that when Poulter studied his putting statistics for 2014, he wasn't happy.

''I think too many people comment on putting that's happened probably in the Ryder Cup and seem to think that I'm a great putter,'' he said. ''When you actually dissect the stats like I did at the end of last year, my putting was nowhere near acceptable.''

He was No. 172 on the PGA Tour in putts holed from 10 to 15 feet. And on par 5 scoring performance – a large part of that is putting for players who can't routinely reach the green in two – Poulter ranked No. 122.

Perhaps more disturbing was to realize how much it was costing him.

Poulter added a little mystery to self-analysis by mentioning an unidentified player whose statistics were eerily similar from tee-to-green. This player doesn't hit it further off the tee. They both hit about the same percentage of greens in regulation.

''But he holed more putts from 10 to 20 feet than I did,'' Poulter said. ''He won $3 million more than me last year.''

Poulter wasn't clear on which statistics he was using – he mentioned 10 to 15 feet, 15 to 20 feet and 10 to 20 feet for his putting statistics – but one possibility for this mystery player is Chris Kirk. Poulter said the player was in the top 10 in the area where the Englishman did poorly. Kirk was in the top 10 on putts made from 10 to 15 feet and par 5 scoring performance. He made about $3.2 million more than Poulter last year.

Poulter's broader point is that his putting has been poor and he is determined to fix it. He said some big tournaments where he made a lot of putts can be a ''smoke screen.''

''I am a good putter,'' he said. ''But I miss putts, and that's a problem. I'm addressing that right now. ... The numbers don't lie. You have to take it on the chin sometimes. You think an area is good and you find out something different from the numbers. They are unacceptable numbers and they will be worked on.''

OLYMPIC GOLD AND THE TRICOLOR: Rickie Fowler drew chuckles when he referred to playing in the Olympics as ''a dream come true that I haven't ever dreamt of.'' That makes sense. Golf hasn't been in the Olympics since 1904, and Fowler was still in college when the sport was voted in for the 2016 games in Rio.

Carlos Ortiz never dreamed of being an Olympic athlete, either. But the PGA Tour rookie from Mexico is close to making it a reality. And he has reason to like his chances.

''Of course, I want to play. I'm really excited about that,'' Ortiz said. ''It's a little easier for me than some of the guys out here to get into that.''

Countries can only send a maximum of two players – four players if they are in the top 15 in the world – until the field reaches 60. Mexico only has three players listed anywhere in the world ranking, and the other two are nowhere near Ortiz at No. 135. He won three times on the Tour last year and already has three top 20s in his rookie season on Tour.

Ortiz currently is No. 43 in the Olympic ranking. Fowler is No. 12 in the world, behind four Americans, and thus is not listed.

''If I keep playing good, I believe I'm going to be in the Olympics,'' Ortiz said. ''And I believe that's going to be another major. It's very exciting. I grew up watching Winter Olympics, Summer Olympics, the normal sports. With golf, it's a dream come true. Any guy dreams of getting a gold medal for their country.''

TIGER AND TORREY: The wild final round at Torrey Pines on Sunday, where seven players had at least a share of the lead at some point in the final round and Jason Day won in a four-hole playoff, was a reminder of how Tiger Woods once dominated the PGA Tour, especially this golf course.

In the last 15 years of what is now the Farmers Insurance Open, the tournament has been decided by one shot or in a playoff 10 times.

Those five exceptions were Woods winning by four shots in 2013, by eight shots in 2008, by two shots in 2007, by three shots in 2005 and by four shots in 2003.

PGA AWARD: Ron Sirak has been selected to receive the 2015 PGA Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism that honors the media for steadfast promotion of golf on the local and national levels.

Sirak is a senior writer for Golf Digest and previously was executive editor for Golf World. He spent 18 years at The Associated Press and was the golf writer prior to leaving for Golf World in 1998.

He will be honored April 8 at the annual Golf Writers Association of America awards dinner in Augusta, Georgia. Sirak is a past president of the GWAA.

''Ron Sirak has brought readers to the heart of a story, connecting us with many of the amazing personalities in our game while also delivering balanced reporting on issues affecting our industry,'' PGA of America President Derek Sprague said.. ''Ron is one of the most trusted voices in golf and a friend to all who play the game.''

DIVOTS: Rory McIlroy is playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the first time this year, and the King was thrilled. ''I have talked to Rory about playing here, and it didn't work into his schedule in the past, but he told me that when it did work into his schedule that he would be here,'' Palmer said. ''And he is making good on his word. We look forward to having him.''... Thomas O'Toole was re-elected to another one-year term as USGA president during the annual meeting over the weekend in New York. ... Anirban Lahiri of India won the Malaysian Open and moved to No. 37 in the world. ... Tiger Woods is likely to be out of the top 70 in the world when – or if – he plays in the Honda Classic after the West Coast swing.

STAT OF THE WEEK: The five players who have won PGA Tour events in 2015 had an average world ranking of 24. The seven players who won PGA Tour events during the fall start of the wraparound season had an average world ranking of 167.

FINAL WORD: ''He's got 79 wins. Of course, second sucks.'' - Jason Day, when asked what he thought about Tiger Woods' famous comment as a PGA Tour rookie.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”