Perils of prevent defense

By Rex HoggardAugust 19, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 PGA ChampionshipTiger Woods, an analytical type who likely learns more from the rare defeat than he does from those multitude of victories, was put on the spot twice last week by the assembled media masses.
First, he was asked if he ever thought he choked with a tournament on the line? The response was icy and hardly discernible almost to the point that one half imagined that Woods didnt understand the meaning of the word. Finally, the world's No. 1 offered a stoic shake of his head ' no.
On Sunday following what may have been the worst putting round of his career during a major championship Sunday jump ball, Woods was asked if hed played the final round at Hazeltine National too conservative?
Tiger Woods Hazeltine
Tiger Woods waits on the eighth tee during the final round of the 91st PGA Championship. (Getty Images)
When youve got 640-yard par 5s I really cant get there. . . .I dont know how aggressive I can play, Woods said.
Second guessing Woods is a fools errand. If your name is not Jack Nicklaus, 14 major championships and 70 Tour titles make Woods bulletproof. Woods, like Nicklaus before him, has made history by putting himself in the hunt come Sunday and waiting for those around him to fold away like banana peels (Sergio Garcia at Liverpool in 2006 comes to mind for some reason).
In fairness to Woods, Nicklaus created the game plan and did alright. We cherish his 18 majors as golf scripture, but often forget about those 19 Grand Slam runners-up, a statistic that suggests the formula worked well but it wasnt perfect.
Whether Woods played too cautiously on Sunday ' or Saturday, when his 71 gave two shots back to the field and transformed the final round from a coronation into a curiosity ' at Hazeltine National is a debate that can only be answered by Woods, and the games alpha male undoubtedly has little interest in that type of revisionist psycho-babble.
What is not up for debate is the dangers of playing 'prevent defense' on a PGA Tour Sunday.
Players, coaches and sports psychologists seem to unanimously agree on this one, playing to protect a lead is the preeminent destroyer of title dreams ' ahead of the yips, Woods and John Paramors stopwatch.
There is nothing good that comes out of playing prevent defense, said Randy Smith, who counts Justin Leonard and recent winner John Rollins among his stable of Tour players. Its a great defense because it prevents you from winning.
It is telling that the players that have given Woods a Grand Slam go are the ones with nothing to lose ' Rich Beem, Bob May, Rocco Mediate and now Y.E. Yang. No one gave the former car stereo salesman, the journeyman, the funnyman or the converted bodybuilder much of a chance and maybe thats the key ' from lowered expectations come major championships.
Things that dont last ' dogs that chase cars, golfers who putt for pars and Tour hopefuls who play prevent defense.
While Greg Norman may have never admitted as much, his Sunday Grand Slam record speaks for itself. The Sharks high-profile Sunday brushes are Exhibit A in the dangers of playing prevent defense, including his closing 77 last year at Royal Birkdale and that heartbreaking 78 on Sunday at Augusta National in 1996.
Its not so much the act of playing defensively as much as it is the undermining psychological impact of playing not to lose.
On a conceptual level if you are having that thought its going to show in the golf swing, said Dr. Gio Valiante, a Tour sports psychologist. In a golfer they say dont lose, they decel in the golf swing or hit away from the flag. What seems to work is a fearless swing and a conservative target.
Perhaps the most profound recent example of ego avoid, the psychological term for playing to protect a lead, is Greg Owens painful collapse at the 2006 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
With a commanding lead over Rod Pampling with three to play at Bay Hill, the Englishman limped home, covering the last three in 4 over par to lose by one stroke. Owen has never recovered.
The line between playing conservative and playing with fear is as thin as a missed 3 footer, and most sports psychologist try to have their players create a game plan and stay with it, regardless of the circumstances or pressure.
What you want to do is play your game, said Dr. Bob Rotella. What youre saying (if you play prevent defense) is basically you dont think you can win. If thats what you want to do you better be really luck.
Coming down the stretch with a title on the line, however, can make a mental mouse of even the Tours hardest competitors, particularly when courses are littered with electronic scoreboards that leave no room for ambiguity.
But then many of the games experts have no problem with Sunday leaderboard watching.
I want to know, Smith said. I want to make it my mindset to win, not to make a stupid mistake doing something I didnt need to do.
Lucas Glover became the poster child for scoreboard gazing at Bethpages Black Course, spending almost as much time sizing up the cast assembled around him as he did studying that 8 footer he ran in at the 16th on Sunday at the U.S. Open.
I watch (leaderboard), absolutely, Glover said in New York. A football coach doesnt coach the final quarter of a game not knowing the score.
And major champions dont play to lose, a certainty right up there with death, taxes and Woods with a 54-hole lead . . . um, you get the idea.
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    Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

    Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

    “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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    The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

    “The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

    The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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    Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

    There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

    That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

    Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

    Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

    “We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

    But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

    The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

    That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

    Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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    Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

    “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

    While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

    For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

    “I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

    But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

    Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

    They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

    “I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

     Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

    “Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

    Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

    It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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    Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

    By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

    We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

    But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

    One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

    It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

    And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

    Hey, whatever works.

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    Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

    Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

    The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

    “I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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    Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

    “I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”