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Tiger is back! So, too, is the artist

By Rex HoggardMarch 14, 2018, 6:15 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Although it’s impossible to pick the exact moment when the artist succumbed to the scientist, the metamorphosis has been unmistakable.

Tiger Woods had always balanced his genius on the precipice between technical perfection and natural creativity, spending hours perfecting his technique, whatever technique he was invested in at the time, but reverting to the adventurous teen-ager when the situation dictated a more creative answer.

Some will point to Sean Foley, who Tiger started working with in 2010, as the genesis of a more mechanical player, but that’s unfair to Foley and ignores the fact that throughout the duo’s tenure together Woods was hampered by litany of injuries.

Chris Como, who took over for Foley in 2014, was also viewed as a more mechanical coach, but in his defense Woods made just 15 starts while he was working with Como.

Still, somewhere along the way most observers agree that Woods started playing “swing,” not golf.

“History now indicates, and Tiger might even someday admit, that over time, the artist lost ground to the scientist. As he put himself through several swing changes in the belief it would make him better, the power of his imagination dimmed,” Golf Channel’s Jaime Diaz wrote last year.

Lost amid the frenzy of last week’s runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship and the uber-hype that is building for next month’s Masters has been a much more creative approach.

Gone are the rigid practice swings of the last few years. That a swing coach is also conspicuously missing from his entourage would suggest these things aren’t mutually exclusive.

Asked last week who he is seeking advice from after splitting with Como in December, Woods said he has “friends” look at his swing from time to time, most notably Notah Begay III, and occasionally uses video to make adjustments, but it’s clear that he’s drifted away from the long math and geometry of the past.

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“I finally have gotten to the point where my back is good enough where I can let my hands tell me what to do,” Woods explained on Tuesday at Bay Hill. “My hands tell me how to shape a golf shot. And I've built this golf swing that you see me out there swinging the golf club around, with my hands.”

This notion goes back to the way he was taught the game by his father, Earl. Growing up in Cypress, Calif., there was always a time and a place for technique, but that wasn’t on the golf course.

This return to his youth, both health-wise and as a philosophical approach to the game, was on display late on Sunday at Innisbrook Resort as he played the 71st hole two strokes off the lead.

From 44 feet, Woods was at his imaginative best.

“The putt on 17 was right to left,” explained Woods, who holed the birdie attempt to move to within a stroke of the lead. “The grain goes from more dead across as it comes across, the first part of my putt then it switches to down and when it switches to down, I just kept telling myself just putt to the picture, keep putting to the picture and I did, putted to the picture.”

“Putting to the picture” is how Earl Woods taught a young Tiger to putt.

“How do you teach a kid when he's so small and he doesn't understand an inch and a mile, well you take a look and you putt to that picture and that's what I did,” Woods said. “I kept telling myself just putt to the picture, putt to the picture and I holed it.”

Part of this new artistic Tiger is born from physical necessity. Following four back surgeries and the better part of three years of competitive inactivity, Woods conceded on Tuesday that he’s no longer capable of spending countless hours on the practice tee searching for answers.

“I'm probably more restricted than I used to be,” he said of his practice routines. “I try and get my work in and get out of it. Staying there and lingering on the range for three-, four-hour sessions, that's just not happening anymore.”

And certainly not having a swing coach in his stable for essentially the first time in his professional career promotes a more esoteric approach to the game, but there’s no denying that Woods’ transition to more imagination and feel has been a calculated decision.

This approach is most evident in his short game, which has been vintage Tiger since he returned, but can also be seen in his approach to the full swing.

“I've gone back to a lot of stuff I used to do with my dad and how he first taught me how to play golf,” he said.

The golf world is abuzz with a single thought these days, Tiger is back; but while only time will tell if he’s truly returned, one thing is for certain, the artist is back.

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Watch: Reed races in 40-footer to put away Spieth

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 10:19 pm

Three up with three holes to play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Patrick Reed missed an opportunity to close out his match with Jordan Spieth when Spieth won the 16th hole with a birdie.

But Reed wouldn't let the match move to 18. Putting for birdie from the apron, 40 feet from the hole, at the par-3 17th, Reed raced in this putt to end the match.

With the win, Reed moved to 3-0-0 for the week and advanced to the weekend at Austin Country Club.

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Garcia's win-win situation: Move on or baby time

By Rex HoggardMarch 23, 2018, 9:45 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Given his status as one of Europe’s preeminent Ryder Cup players, Sergio Garcia’s record at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is nothing short of inexplicable.

In 15 starts at the event, the Spaniard has played the weekend just once – in 2010 when he lost in the semifinals to Ian Poulter – and since the event pivoted to round-robin play he’s never made it out of the group stages.

His fortunes have changed dramatically this year, with Garcia going undefeated in pool play and cruising to the Sweet 16 following a 3-and-1 victory over Xander Schauffele on Friday.

“I would love to have done a little better than I have,” said Garcia, who will play Kyle Stanley in the Round of 16 early Saturday. “I have had some good weeks here. But not probably as good as I should have. So hopefully this week it will be better.”

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Garcia made no secret of the source of his turnaround following the birth of his first child last Wednesday, a girl named Azalea. Even on Friday when he found himself 2 down through 11 holes and in danger of not advancing he kept an upbeat attitude.

“The way I looked at it, when I was 2 down, we're going to try to turn it around, but if we don't, it means that I get to spend more time with [his wife] Angela and Azalea for the weekend,” Garcia said. “I tried to look at it in a good way.”

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DeLaet: WGC's robin-robin format 'sucks'

By Grill Room TeamMarch 23, 2018, 9:20 pm

Graham DeLaet isn't teeing it up at Austin Country Club this week because he didn't qualify for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, but that doesn't mean he lacks an opinion on the event's format.

DeLaet hopped on social media Friday during Day 3 of the WGC-Match Play to torch the round-robin format that's been in place for three years, saying he much preferred the single elimination that was in place when he played in 2014.

"Played Match Play in Tucson in 2014. Early group on Wednesday, lost. Threw clubs in my car and was on my couch in Scottsdale by 2:00 pm. Collect 30K and spend the weekend at home, he tweeted. "That’s a good format. This one sucks."

DeLeat's comments may be the strongest to date, but he's not alone in his opposition to pool play. Several players lamented Friday's "meaningless" matches earlier this week, and Henrik Stenson cited the lack of a do-or-die atmosphere as his reason for skipping the event.

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Watch: Kuchar makes ace at WGC-Dell Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 9:09 pm

In his bid to advance to the weekend at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Matt Kuchar aced the par-3 seventh hole Friday at Austin Country Club.

With an 8-iron from 181 yards, Kuchar landed his ball short of the flag and watched it roll and roll ... and drop.

The hole-in-one moved Kuchar 3 Up in match against Ross Fisher. 

The last hole-in-one at the Match Play came in Sunday's consolation match last year, when Hideto Tanihara aced the same hole before later losing to Bill Haas.