Woods could use help to improve short game

By Rex HoggardJune 20, 2012, 7:23 pm

The problem with Monday morning quarterbacking is hindsight’s inevitable distortion of the facts. With retrospect, it’s far too easy to forget that real-time is no place for critical analysis.

But this isn’t about Tiger Woods’ tie for 21st at the U.S. Open so much as it is an attempt to avoid a similar fate next month at Royal Lytham & St. Annes or August’s PGA Championship.

Anyone with Internet access and a basic understanding of math can add this up, putting cost Woods his fourth U.S. Open title and Grand Slam No. 15, simple as that.

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He opened with rounds of 69-70 for a share of the halftime lead despite needing 60 putts to cover 36 holes (29-31) and when his ball-striking went sideways on Saturday his pedestrian putting (34 putts) led to a tournament-ending 75.

“Hit the ball really well. Unfortunately I just didn't have the speed of the greens until today,” Woods said on Sunday in San Francisco following a 29-putt final round. “The way I struck the golf ball, the way I controlled it all week is something that's very positive going forward and if I would have just hung in there a little bit better (on Saturday) and missed it on the correct side a couple times then I would have been in a better position going into today.”

Where some see denial in Woods’ postmortem we see a starting point.

For the week, Woods tied for sixth in fairways hit and tied for seventh in greens in regulation at The Olympic Club but was 61st, out of 72 players, in putting. Statistically that’s better than he hit the ball when he won the Open in 2000 (T-14 in fairways and first in GIR) and 2008 (T-56 in fairways and T-14 in GIR). Of course he ranked 33rd and 11th in putting, respectively, at those championships.

Only his 2002 U.S. Open victory – T-7 in fairways and first in GIR – was statistically superior to last week.

But this is not uncovered territory. Even his victories this year at Bay Hill and Muirfield Village were primarily ball-striking affairs, having finished T-59 and T-42, respectively, in putting.

Statistics might not be the answer, but when it comes to Woods’ newfound inability to turn 36-hole leads into trophies like he once did, the numbers should at least give him a few talking points.

Earlier this year, Sean Foley suggested Hunter Mahan, long considered one of the game’s top shot-makers, meet with Mark Roe, a European Tour player who is quickly becoming the sport’s newest short-game guru. Justin Rose, another of Foley’s students, gave Roe credit for his improved play around the greens following his victory at last year’s BMW Championship.

It may be time for Foley – who has endured a heightened level of scrutiny for his work with Woods, despite a litany of statistics that suggest Tiger’s swing is as solid as ever – to attempt a similar intervention with Woods.

Whether it is Earl Woods’ teachings, which guided Tiger’s putting earlier in his career, or a new set of eyes, it’s time for the game’s former alpha male to make a putting change.

With the exception of Steve Stricker, one of Woods’ closest confidants on Tour who has offered the occasional tidbit, Woods has eschewed putting advice. Whereas he’s on his third swing coach as a professional, when it comes to the short stick he has adhered to the less-is-more approach.

Even during tournament rounds, Woods has demonstrated a reluctance to seek advice from his caddie. Steve Williams was rarely called in to read a putt and last week Joe LaCava said his new boss may ask for his help once or twice a round.

Until recently there was no reason to look to others. For the better part of a decade it seemed Woods made every putt that counted. From 2004-09, he ranked outside the top 15 in total putting just once (2006 when he was 24th), but injuries – physical and otherwise – have taken a toll and it’s impossible not to consider last week’s Open an opportunity missed.

There are no guarantees that a new set of eyes will help, but after meat-handing his best chance at getting off the major schnied at Olympic this much is certain – it couldn’t hurt.

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Kim's missing clubs show up at sporting goods store

By Will GrayMarch 22, 2018, 1:58 pm

More than a month after they were lost on an American Airlines flight, the clubs I.K. Kim used to win last year's Ricoh Women's British Open turned up on the sale rack of a California sporting goods store.

Kim's clubs became lost in late January when she flew from Miami to San Diego, with the airline suggesting she simply rent a new set. A few weeks later, Kim shot a "What's in the bag" television segment which according to a Golfweek report caught the eye of three good samaritans in the San Diego area.

The three men recognized Kim's clubs for sale at a local Play It Again Sports, with the major winner's tools listed at $60 each. The store even had Kim's tour bag, complete with her LPGA player badge. Kim filmed the reunion with her bag - containing wedges and a few hybrids, minus the head covers - at the Carlsbad police station:

Kim was back in southern California this week for the Kia Classic, where she'll begin play Thursday morning at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad.

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New dad Garcia removes shoes, wins match

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 12:48 am

AUSTIN, Texas – In one of the day’s most explosive matches, Sergio Garcia rolled in an 8-footer for birdie at the 18th hole to defeat Shubhankar Sharma, 1 up, at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The duo halved just nine holes on Day 1 at Austin Country Club, with Garcia going from 2 up through four holes to 1 down with five holes to play.

But the Spaniard rallied with five birdies over his final eight holes and pushed his record to 20-17-1 in the Match Play. He also gave himself his best chance to advance out of pool play since the format began in 2015.

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The victory continued what has already been a memorable week for Garcia, whose wife, Angela, gave birth to the couple’s first child last Wednesday.

“I already feel like I’m a winner after what happened on Wednesday,” Garcia said. “Obviously, it's something that we're so, so happy and proud of and enjoying it as much as possible.”

The highlight of Garcia’s round on Wednesday came at the 12th hole when he took a drop on a cart path. After considering his options, he removed his shoes and hit his approach from 212 yards to 29 feet for a two-putt birdie to halve the hole.

“I have spikes. So if I don't take my shoes off, I'm going to slip. It's not the kind of shot that you want to slip,” Garcia said. “I had tried it a couple of times on practice swings and I was already slipping a little bit. So I thought I would just take my shoes off, try to get a little bit in front of the hole and it came out great.”

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On a wild Wednesday, DJ, Rory, Phil saved by the pool

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 12:39 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Call it black Wednesday, but then the one-and-done aspect of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was dulled three years ago with the introduction of round-robin play that assures every player at least three matches in pool play.

Otherwise Wednesday at Austin Country Club would go down as one of the championship’s darkest hours for the top of the dance card. In order, world No. 1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson dropped his Day 1 match, 3 and 1, to world No. 56 Bernd Wiesberger; last week’s winner Rory McIlroy lost to PGA Tour rookie Peter Uihlein, 2 and 1, and Phil Mickelson, the winner of the last WGC in Mexico, dropped a 3-and-2 decision to Charles Howell III.

All told, 11 lower-seeded players pulled off “upsets” on Wednesday, although it’s widely held that the Match Play is more prone to these types of underdog performances than the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

But if it wasn’t March Madness, it was at the least March Mayhem, particularly for those who shuffled around Austin Country Club in a state of mild confusion.

Although there were plenty of matches that went according to plan – with top-seeded players Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Sergio Garcia all winning – it was still a tough day for chalk with three of the top 10 players in the world ranking either losing or halving (world No. 3 Jon Rahm halved his duel with Keegan Bradley) their matches.

At least McIlroy made things interesting after finding himself 5 down through 13 holes. The Northern Irishman played his last six holes in 5 under par to push the match to the 17th hole, but Uihlein closed out the bout with a par.

“If he birdies seven straight on you, hats off to him. It is what it is,” Uihlein said of McIlroy’s late surge. “I felt like if I just kind of kept giving myself a chance, I didn't want to give him any holes. He made me earn it, so hats off to it.”

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Johnson couldn’t say the same thing.

After not trailing in any match on his way to victory at last year’s Match Play, Johnson hit a ball in the water, two out of bounds (on the same hole, no less) and began to fade when he made a double bogey-5 at the 11th hole. Although scoring is always skewed at the Match Play because of conceded putts, Johnson was listed at 9 over through 17 holes before his day came to a merciful end.

“We both didn't have a great day. I think we only made three birdies between us, which is not a lot out here,” Wiesberger said. “Obviously it wasn't his best day. It wasn't the best of my days. I think we both have to do a little bit of work this afternoon.”

Although not as scrappy as Johnson’s round, Mickelson has also seen better days. Lefty made just a single birdie and played 17 holes in even par to lose just his second match in pool play.

But then this event hasn’t exactly been kind to Lefty, who has advanced to the weekend just twice in 13 starts.

“I was fortunate today, obviously, to get past him,” said Howell, who is the second-lowest seeded player to advance out of pool play when he did it in 2017 as the 61st player in the field. “But with this pod play the way it goes now, you never know. You've got to keep playing good. Last WGC we had, he won. So he's never out of it.”

That will be the solace those high-profile players who find themselves on the wrong side of the round-robin ledger now cling to. There is a path back.

Since pool play began, just four players have lost their Day 1 matches and went on to win their group. One of those players is Johnson, who lost to Robert Streb on Wednesday in 2016 but still advanced to the quarterfinals.

But if that helps ease the sting for those who now embrace the Match Play mulligan, it did little to quiet the crowds on what turned out to be a wild Wednesday.