Oosthuizen vs. Poulter: Talent vs. tenacity

By John HawkinsNovember 5, 2012, 3:20 pm

We've reached the bonus-golf season in the great Northeast. Any round played after Halloween is like stealing candy from Mother Nature, who tried to end things early by sending Hurricane Sandy our way last week. For all the destruction the superstorm caused, for all the people in this region whose lives were so adversely affected, we lost a grand total of one tree at the Little Brown Dog.

Less than 72 hours later, we were back out there swingin’ and cussin’, thankful to be so fortunate, at least until we reached the second tee. Some of my buddies were without electricity in their homes until the weekend. We lost power only briefly, but my short game is missing and my 60-degree wedge now lives at the bottom of the pond in front of the 10th green.

I’m sorry, but sometimes, an innocent club must bear the blame for a man’s physical inadequacies. My insurance agent has since informed me that my policy does not cover wagers lost because of chunked chips, skulled bunker shots and other various round-killers. The 60-degree has been replaced, but those 60-degree days are likely gone until April.

It leaves me wondering if I should skip the rest of the bonus-golf season and take up knitting. Golf can be a really fun game until you actually start playing it.

ALL DISAPPOINTMENT is relative. Whether it’s turning a 76 into an 82 because you never get up and down, or leading a strong field by five shots after 36 holes before finishing T-6, as Louis Oosthuizen did in China this past weekend. Or, for that matter, if you’re hosting an unofficial/official World Golf Championship without Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, as was also the case at the HSBC Champions.

Let’s address Oosthuizen first. We’re talking about a guy who trampled the field at the 2010 British Open, joined the PGA Tour the following year and managed one top-10 (T-9, U.S. Open) in 13 regular-season starts. Heck, Oosthuizen finished 148th in the 2011 FedEx Cup standings, meaning he didn’t qualify for the playoffs, then had to come back to America for two Fall Series events just to reach the 15-tournament minimum.

His weak performance throughout 2011 revived whispers that Oosthuizen wasn’t a hard worker, that he wasn’t passionate about competitive golf and found more enjoyment doing other things. Valid or not, Oosthie rebounded nicely in 2012. The Masters playoff loss to Bubba Watson left him a whisker short of becoming a multiple major champion – a week after shooting a front-nine 41 to surrender the 54-hole lead in Houston.

He had three top-fives and made $1,832,067 in the final seven weeks of the season, however, a stretch reflective of Oosthuizen’s considerable skill. Very few players swing the club as beautifully or as efficiently. And when Oosthie gets hot with the putter, which was the case in the third round at TPC Boston a couple of months ago, then again during the first two rounds in China, he looks unbeatable.

Turns out that five-stroke lead wasn’t nearly enough. Immense physical ability can take you a long way in this game, perhaps even into the top 50 in the world ranking, but mental toughness is what wins tournaments, what turns talented players into extremely productive ones. Mental toughness is what defines greatness and allows guys like HSBC winner Ian Poulter to maximize their skills on a fairly consistent basis.

Oosthuizen has won three times since the 2010 British, all against inferior fields: tournaments with no more than a handful of competitors in his class. He’s gifted enough to dominate lesser players, but once the weekend cast was set in China – perhaps a dozen potential contenders, many of them established stars – Oosthie became a different player. As did Poulter, who bested the 36-hole leader by 12 strokes and seems to thrive on opportunities to knock off the game’s elite.

We’ve seen it in vivid detail at more than one Ryder Cup. Near the end of his Saturday night news conference at Medinah, U.S. captain Davis Love III marveled over Poulter’s ability to channel a me-vs.-the-world mentality into an otherworldly performance, saying, “On one hole, some [gallery members] were giving him a hard time about something, and he seemed to enjoy it.”

Churning negative perception into positive reality – it’s a quality that can’t be taught. It’s not easily defined and practically impossible to measure, but you know it when you see it. Poulter has it. Oosthuizen doesn’t.

AS FOR THE HSBC Champions itself, I’ve read a bunch of related stories and watched the tournament into the wee hours on numerous occasions. I’ve sifted through the literary rubble of the latest PGA Tour press release announcing the HSBC as an “official” event in 2013 – real money, real FedEx Cup credit – which I already knew. Still, I’m left to shake my head.

If you’re going to call it a World Golf Championship, why wasn’t it designated as official when they slapped the WGC label on it back in 2009? It’s kind of like dressing up as a cop for Halloween, then pulling people over for speeding.

How official or unofficial will this thing be if Woods and McIlroy decide not to show up again? The fact that both had played in Asia the week before, then left after last Monday’s made-for-money challenge match, doesn’t speak highly as to the HSBC’s importance. The fact that Tiger and Rory formally apologized for their absence didn’t make things all better.

But then, who cares about the facts? “I believe that golfers have a responsibility to their sponsors,” said HSBC official Giles Morgan. “Without the sponsors, there isn’t professional golf. I speak on behalf of the industry.”

Nice try, Giles. No athlete on earth has proven more receptive to the almighty sponsorship dollar than Sir Eldrick. Years ago, Woods stopped playing Colonial because it was underwritten by MasterCard, which he considered a direct competitor to American Express. He blamed the lousy greens at Kapalua for his not participating in the season-opening Mercedes Championships, although one could see how his profitable relationship with Buick might have had something to do with it.

Bottom line? Well, uh, it’s the bottom line. HSBC might have been better off, especially in the long run, by ducking the WGC shingle and using its marketing/promotions cash to pay the players directly – appearance fees without Camp Ponte Vedra’s fingerprints all over it. To anyone who thinks the PGA Tour’s interest in expanding to Asia has nothing to do with lining its own pockets, please, pass me some of that stuff you’re smoking.

You want Tiger? Pony up, Giles. You need him a lot more than he needs you.

MY MOST RECENT conversation with Hank Haney, first referenced here last week, ultimately veered toward the same subject as do all my talks with the swing coach: the state of Tiger’s game. Haney hasn’t worked with Woods since May 2010, but that doesn’t mean he’s not watching everything the guy does. And a few things he doesn’t do.

I bring this up after casually mentioning to Haney that Woods drove the ball better in 2012 than he has in years. More fairways, far fewer second shots from the hot-dog stand. That’s how I saw it, anyway, which did not sit well with my man. “Everyone is saying that!” Haney retorted. You’ve got to look at the numbers!”

So I did, and from a statistical standpoint, Haney is right. Woods hit 63.93 percent of his fairways in 2012, compared with 64.29 in 2009, the last full season they worked together. Tiger was 1 yard longer in ’09 (298.4 per measured drive) than he was this year, which doesn’t mean anything because they still measure just two drives per round. And while the difference in accuracy was just as negligible, I would have sworn Eldrick was more precise off the tee in 2012.

It prompted me to examine other numerical comparisons between 2009 and 2012. In terms of hitting greens in regulation, Woods led the Tour this year from 175-200 yards and was second in proximity to the hole from the same distance. His GIR numbers on middle/long-iron approaches were fairly similar. One common trend stood out in both years: The farther Woods played a shot from the hole, the more likely he was to rank among the best on the Tour.

In ’09, however, Tiger’s short-iron/wedge play was considerably stronger: more greens hit, shorter putts and, presumably, more chances to make them. Across the board, however, you wouldn’t look at Woods’ 2012 putting stats and see them as the reason he won three tournaments instead of six. His rankings from each distance were a little better overall in ’09, but not by much.

Some dude on another sports network has a show called “The Numbers Don’t Lie,” which is sort of true if you employ the line in the proper context. In many cases, the numbers don’t say a thing — or don’t begin to tell the entire story. That certainly is the verdict rendered here.

SO I WAS pretty doggone stoked about a 14-year-old qualifying for next year’s Masters – until I saw him using a belly putter to hole the tournament-winner, which I find both highly amusing and maddeningly frightening. I suppose a kid has to wrap his arms around every advantage he can get, but it would be kind of funny if the R&A and U.S. Golf Association outlawed anchored putters before next April, leaving the poor child to yip his way around the cathedral.

As for Chinese prodigy Tianlang Guan making it into next year’s first major with his triumph at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, you mean to tell me he’s more deserving of a spot than, say, Jonas Blixt, who won the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open? Not that it’s worth getting in a huff about – a 14-year-old is much better copy than some winner of a Fall Series event – but seriously.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”