Putting is key to Woods' resurgence

By Joe PosnanskiMarch 25, 2013, 8:01 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 the Arnold 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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Watch: Koepka highlights from the Travelers

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 21, 2018, 3:30 pm

U.S. Open hangover? Not for Brooks Koepka. The two-time national champion has carried over his form and confidence from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands.

Koepka began his round with a par at the par-4 10th and then reeled off four consecutive birdies, beginning at No. 11.


And here is the capper at the 14th

Koepka turned in 4-under 31. Here's more action from his opening nine holes.


After a par at the first, Koepka added a fifth birdie of the day at the par-4 second.


A bogey at the par-4 fourth dropped him to 4 under, but just one off the lead.

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Lyle going through 'scary' period in cancer recovery

By Associated PressJune 21, 2018, 12:58 pm

MELBOURNE, Australia – Jarrod Lyle's wife says the Australian golfer is struggling through a ''really scary'' period in his third battle with cancer.

Lyle, 36, underwent a bone marrow transplant last December following a recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia.

''It's been 190 days since Jarrod's stem-cell transplant and we are going through a really rough patch at the moment,'' Briony Lyle wrote on jarrodlylegolf.com. ''I'm typing this blog on his behalf because he's not able to do it. Jarrod's not able to drive, struggles to prepare any food for himself, can't read stories to the girls and is not able to offer much help at all around the house.

''He is also starting to look like a very frail, sick person.''

Briony Lyle added: ''We are both very aware of the amount of drugs and medication that has gone into Jarrod's body over the years but things are starting to get really scary at the moment. It looks as if this recovery is going to be the longest and hardest one so far.''

Lyle has twice beaten acute myeloid leukemia, in 1998 and 2012, and was able to return to play professional golf.

He made an emotional comeback to the golf course during the 2013 Australian Masters in Melbourne before using a medical exemption to play on the PGA Tour in 2015. He played four seasons on Tour, where he earned $1.875 million in 121 tournaments.

Lyle has since returned to Australia permanently to be with Briony and daughters Lusi and Jemma.

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Vermeer wins PGA Professional; 20 make PGA Championship

By Associated PressJune 21, 2018, 12:42 pm

SEASIDE, Calif. – Ryan Vermeer won the PGA Professional Championship on Wednesday, overcoming front-nine problems to top the 20 qualifiers for the PGA Championship.

The 40-year-old Vermeer, the director of instruction at Happy Hollow Club in Omaha, Nebraska, closed with a 1-over 73 on the Bayonet Course for a two-stroke victory over Sean McCarty and Bob Sowards.

The PGA Championship is in August at Bellerive in St. Louis.

Three strokes ahead entering the day, Vermeer played the front in 4 over with a double bogey on the par-4 second and bogeys on the par-4 seventh and par-4 eighth. He rebounded with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-4 11th and also birdied the par-5 18th.


Full-field scores from the PGA Professional Championship


Vermeer finished at 5-under 283. The former University of Kansas player earned $55,000. He won the 2017 Mizuno Pro/Assistant Championship and finished ninth last year in the PGA Professional to qualify for PGA at Quail Hollow.

McCarty had a 68, and Sowards shot 69. Sowards won the 2004 title.

David Muttitt and Jason Schmuhl tied for fourth at 1 under, and 2012 and 2015 champion Matt Dobyns, Jaysen Hansen, and Johan Kok followed at even par.

Marty Jertson, Brian Smock and Ben Kern were 1 over, and Zach Johnson, Craig Hocknull, Matt Borchert and 2016 winner Rich Berberian Jr. were 2 over. Nine players tied at 3 over, with Shawn Warren, 2017 champion Omar Uresti, 2014 winner Michael Block, Craig Bowden and Danny Balin getting the last five spots at Bellerive in a playoff. Balin got the final spot, beating Brian Norman with a par on the seventh extra hole after Norman lost a ball in a tree.

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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.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“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.”