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Ogilvy tries to sustain his success

SBS Championship

KAPALUA, Hawaii – What figures to be a peculiar year got off to a familiar start in Hawaii.

Geoff Ogilvy was a wizard with the wedge, unflappable in the wind, found a new ally with his 5-wood and opened the PGA Tour season with another victory at Kapalua in the SBS Championship. It raised hopes for a big season, just as it did a year ago, and just as it should.

Ogilvy might only have seven PGA Tour victories, but they are quality wins – the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, twice at the Match Play Championship, another World Golf Championship at Doral, and back-to-back victories against a field of PGA Tour winners. When he plays this well, the 32-year-old Australian believes he can beat anyone.

“When it’s good, it’s really good,” Ogilvy said after closing with a 6-under 67 for a one-shot victory over Rory Sabbatini. “I like how I play when I play good, so I’m not concerned about how good I can be when I’m actually playing well, because I think I can hang with most guys. I haven’t shown that I could do well when my game is a little off. I think that’s the sign of a really great player.”

The reference is Tiger Woods, and it was one of the few times at Kapalua that a conversation about the world’s No. 1 player was about his golfing ability.

Ogilvy marvels at how Woods has played so consistently well for such a long time. He noted the times Woods didn’t have his best stuff and still managed to win, which accounts for the 82 victories worldwide.

“I think I need to get to that sort of point,” Ogilvy said. “I think I can. I think I can be a player who can win any golf tournament I play. I’ve just got to work to get through the bad days and bad patches.”

The familiar result at Kapalua – Ogilvy with the champion’s lei draped around his neck – was more about change.

Ogilvy didn’t look the same. A change in endorsement has him playing Titleist instead of Cobra, wearing Foot-Joys instead of Puma. The season began with a new regulation for grooves, with a less forgiving V-shape in wedges of every player’s bag.

The biggest difference was the discussion about Woods, mainly because no one knows when – or even if – golf’s biggest star will return from a tawdry sex scandal that has kept him out of public view for two months.

“It’s going to linger for a while,” Ogilvy said. “It’s lost a bit of sting in the tabloids, hasn’t it? Which is going to happen. He is … the best golfer ever – or appeared to be on the way there – and the most written-about golfer, and the most publicized golfer and everything. It’s going to take a long time.”

Ogilvy joined the conversation earlier in the week by suggesting No. 1 in the world might realistically be up for grabs, depending on how long Woods stays away and who plays well enough and long enough to catch him.

At the moment, Ogilvy is headed in the right direction.

Then again, he was headed that way a year ago. When he won the Match Play Championship in February, it was his third victory in seven starts worldwide, and few could find much fault with his game. Ogilvy is among the most well-rounded players – power, super touch with the wedge, a good putter and a great thinker.

He didn’t win again for more than 10 months until Kapalua.

Ogilvy attributed that to too much work, not enough patience. He became addicted to hitting balls instead of worrying about posting a score, and then he tried forcing himself to play good golf. It was a vicious cycle.

“I had it in my head that I wanted to get something done with my golf swing,” he said. “The mission becomes hitting well on the range, rather than the course. You’re happy the way it’s going. This is great when it’s finally started working. And then it’s September, October.”

His epiphany came in early October at the Presidents Cup, even as he lost to Steve Stricker in singles the final day.

“I had a moment of clarity: ‘What are you trying so hard for? Here’s a ball and there is a hole. Just hit it that way.’ Keep it simple the whole time,” Ogilvy said.

It was simple enough Sunday in the final round, especially when he saw Sabbatini post a 63 to take the clubhouse lead at 21-under 271. Ogilvy was at 20 under when he turned and saw the leaderboard leaving the 13th green, and knew where he needed to finish.

Instead of trying to drive the green on the 272-yard 14th hole, he smartly laid up with 4-iron off the tee. A driver could land in more bad places than good ones, so he trusted his wedge and hit it to 4 feet for birdie. On the par-5 15th, he hit 5-wood to about 25 feet and two-putted for the outright lead. Pars over the last three holes were good enough.

“He played very smartly,” Sabbatini said. “We all know Geoff is an excellent golfer, but his strategy around the golf course is impeccable.”

Ogilvy was headed home to Arizona before going halfway around the world to Abu Dhabi on the European Tour, with no plans to play again until he defends another title at the Match Play Championship, hopeful his third child has been born by then.

The real test comes during the summer when the majors are held, whether Woods has returned or not.