Woods' driver on Day 1 as solid as it's been in years

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2013, 8:10 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – In over a decade of observation, the one absolute truth about Tiger Woods is that there will always be a perpetrator or panacea, depending on how the numbers add up after 18 holes.

“I didn’t drive it well, didn’t hit my irons well and didn’t control my distances well or my trajectory,” Woods figured after a breezy 69 at Bay Hill on Thursday that left him four strokes adrift of pacesetter Justin Rose.

As it applies to Woods’ Day 1 card the statistics would suggest he missed the primary culprit – putting.

Cue Steve Stricker and his Zen putting secrets.

For the day, the world No. 2 hit 12 of 18 greens in regulation, eight of 14 fairways and needed 28 putts. You do the math.

However, for analyst, be they armchair or otherwise, whenever Woods has failed to meet expectations, it has often been his wayward driver that has been deemed deficient after a cursory study of the statistics.

It’s an understandable theme given Woods’ ability to overpower golf courses if he can find the short stuff off the tee, but scientifically misguided. Just ask Sean Foley, Woods’ mercurial swing coach who has dissected the geometry of the golf swing like an MIT scientist.

“Statistically, with Tiger, with his clubhead speed he is actually the most accurate driver in the world,” Foley said recently. “People don’t recognize that. If you look at Fred Funk (one of the most accurate drivers of the golf ball of his generation), he had 150 mph ball speed (compared with Woods’ 176-mph average ball speed).”

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Video: Woods discusses opening 69 at Bay Hill

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For those who may think Foley’s take is a tad defensive, know that Hank Haney before him made a similar claim for years and that the science of clubhead and golf ball support the theory of diminishing returns when you add distance.

Consider that Woods ranked eighth last year on the PGA Tour in clubhead speed (120.94 mph), but more importantly he was No. 175 in spin rate (2,391 rpm average).

Let Professor Foley explain, “When you lower spin a ball can really go off line. That’s why drivers go the most right or left.”

All of which makes Woods’ improvement off the tee under Foley – he finished 55th in driving accuracy last season, his best showing since he was 54th in 2000 – meaningful, particularly at Bay Hill.

The idea is that if he can drive the ball well at Arnie’s place . . . well, you know the rest.

On the five occasions Woods hit driver on Thursday at Bay Hill, he connected with fairway four times, including a towering 350-yard downwind effort at the par-5 16th that set up a 9-iron approach shot and 5-foot eagle putt that he converted.

In practical terms, that combination of power and precision led to a 5-under day on the par 5s, a benchmark statistic that suggests the key parts of his game are, if not fully engaged, trending in the right direction.

“I took care of the par 5s,” Woods said. “I didn’t birdie them the way I’d like to. Except for the eagle on 16, the other ones were not very good shots. Hitting it up on the green and making a putt.”

Still, Woods’ play on the par 5s – and specifically the drives that set the stage for his three-birdie, one-eagle line – might explain the relaxed vibe he had when he walked off the course just after lunch.

Or maybe it was his track record on the Central Florida layout that had Woods looking like a man who just clipped his playing partners for a $5 press on the last hole.

In his seven victories at Bay Hill, Woods has opened with rounds better than 69 just twice and was at the same 3-under mark at this stage last year when he went on to a five-stroke triumph.

So forgive the defending champion if a “stubbed toe” at Nos. 17 and 18 (bogeys), followed by a “bad mistake” from the bunker right of the green at the par-3 seventh hole (bogey) didn’t prompt a panicky trip to the practice tee after his round.

The truth is that despite what the misleading statistics suggest, the science of swing shows that he’s driving the golf ball as well as he has in over decade, which is a chilling thought considering his track record through the early 2000s.

If he needed any fine tuning heading into Friday’s round, it was on the putting green. Now where is Stricker when you need him?

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Kisner tops DJ, Poulter but he's more proud of ...

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 9:34 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On his way to this week’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Kevin Kisner has beaten world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and the European match play ninja Ian Poulter. But neither match could compare to his duel with Matt Kuchar early Saturday.

“I was more jacked to beat [Kuchar], really. Kuch is such a good player and our games are so similar,” said Kisner, who defeated Kuchar in the round of 16, 1 up. “We both made eight birdies this morning and I barely snuck out of there. I thought it was a lot of fun.”

By comparison, his quarterfinal bout against Poulter wasn’t nearly as electric. Kisner won two of the first four holes when the Englishman made bogey (No. 3) and when he was conceded the fourth hole, hecruised to an 8-and-6 victory for the week’s most lopsided win.

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“I don't know Ian that well, so I don't really have a history with him, other than watching him kill us in the Ryder Cup,” Kisner laughed.

Things won’t get any easier for Kisner on Sunday when he’ll play Alex Noren in the semifinals. The Swede has been dominant this week and is considered one of Europe’s top players heading into this year’s Ryder Cup.

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Hahn: 'My fault for not expecting the worst from fans'

By Grill Room TeamMarch 24, 2018, 8:35 pm

Fan behavior has made headlines all year long on the PGA Tour, and the topic of conversation doesn't look like it’s going away anytime soon.

The latest example came on Friday at the WGC-Dell Technologies March Play, when James Hahn took to Twitter to complain that a fan deliberately yelled in his backswing on the 15th hole during his match with Jason Dufner, which he lost 3 and 2.

“Whether we like it or not, this is where the game is going,” he tweeted. “My fault for not expecting the worst from fans. Just sucks to lose a match that way.”

The two-time PGA Tour winner followed up his original tweet, clarifying that he can expect bad behavior from all golf fans while still loving and respecting them.

He also pointed out a major difference in comparing golf to other sports, saying some PGA Tour players go to far greater lengths than the typical NFL star to engage with fans on a daily basis.

The incident comes on the heels of several recent player run-ins with fans, including Justin Thomas at the Honda Classic, Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Sergio Garcia earlier this week at Austin Country Club.

On Wednesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that inappropriate fan behavior related to alcohol sales is something his staff is monitoring.

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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Elite Eight

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 8:25 pm

Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

Match 105: Bubba Watson (35) def. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28), 5 and 3. This was a tight match until Aphibarnrat’s short game failed him on the back nine, with a chunked chip at the 10th, a clumsy pitch at the 12th and a heavy heavy pitch at the 13th helping Watson win four consecutive holes. Watson played his way into the semifinals of this event for the second time in his career. He ended up fourth in 2011. Watson will meet the Justin Thomas in the semifinals.

Match 106: Justin Thomas (2) def. Kyle Stanley (45), 2 and 1. Thomas moved into position to win more than the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship. He moved into position to take the world No. 1 ranking from Dustin Johnson. All that stands between Thomas and the top ranking now is Bubba Watson. If Thomas beats Watson in the semifinals, he is assured of going to No. 1. Thomas started slowly against Stanley, missing a 3-footer for par to lose the second hole. It marked the first time Thomas trailed in a match all week. All square making the turn, Thomas won the 10th, 11th and 12th holes and then held off Stanley the rest of the way. Thomas will meet Bubba Watson in the semifinals.

Match 107: Alex Noren (13) def. Cameron Smith (46), 4 and 2. With birdies at three of the first six holes, Noren took an early 3-up lead. Noren, however, made it more interesting than he would have liked the rest of the way. Noren lost the seventh hole with a three-putt bogey and lost the eighth failing to get up and down for par. Smith, though, never pressed Noren after getting that opening. He failed to make a birdie the entire round. Noren, who has won six European Tour events since the summer of 2015, has been knocking on the door to his first PGA Tour title this year. He lost the Farmers Insurance Open in a playoff in January and finished third at the Honda Classic last month. Noren will meet Kisner in the semifinals.

Match 108: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Ian Poulter (58), 8 and 6. Poulter gift wrapped Kisner an early 2-up lead, and Kisner pounced after that. Poulter, who was on such a torrid run until meeting Kisner, three-putted to lose the third hole with a bogey and then pulled his tee shot deep in a hazard to lose the fourth hole. Kisner birdied the fifth and sixth holes to race to a 4-up lead. Poulter had no answers. After making eight birdies in the morning Round of 16 , Poulter didn’t make a birdie against Kisner, who will face Noren in the semifinals.

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Garcia bounced in Austin: 'On to Augusta'

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 6:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – For the 16th time in his career, Sergio Garcia’s week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play ended earlier then he would have hoped, but this time he has plenty of distractions to ease the sting.

Garcia lost his Saturday morning match to Kyle Stanley, 3 and 1, marking the 15th time in his Match Play career he’s failed to advance to Sunday, but at least he has plenty to keep him busy with a newborn at home and his return to the Masters looming in two weeks.

“On to Augusta,” said Garcia, who is not playing next week’s Houston Open. “It's exciting. Obviously when we get there, it's going to be interesting to see how we feel and everything. But it is definitely exciting.”

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Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win last year’s Masters, his first major triumph, so his return to Augusta National will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

His duties as defending champion will include hosting Tuesday’s Champions Dinner. No word on Garcia’s menu for the event, but various sources have confirmed it will be something “Spanish.”