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Rosaforte Report: Analytic game plan helps Reed become major champ

By Tim RosaforteApril 12, 2018, 2:45 pm

On the Wednesday before Masters week, 12 days prior to sticking his burly arms into the green jacket, Patrick Reed and swing coach Kevin Kirk arrived at Augusta National Golf Club to devise a scientific game plan designed around the angles, swirling winds and treacherous greens at the course. Under those ear buds, there was a lot for Reed to process and ultimately adopt.

“It’s hard to crack the code at a place like that,” said Kirk, who floated the idea that day to Reed on the flight from Houston. “The place is complicated. You have to be innovative.”

These were not the typical practice sessions you see before major championships. Instead of playing the course, they walked the course, letting groups play through. Kirk estimates that Reed only hit 30 shots, but must have putted 5,000 times in the eight-hour shift on Wednesday. Reed took copious notes in his yardage book, indicating the pin placements, fall lines, wind directions and the best shot shapes for every scenario. At 7 p.m. ET, one of the club’s assistant pros came out to politely inform them that the course was closed. As Kirk remembered it, “The kid said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but I’ve got to ask you guys to leave.’”

Words like “multiple matrices” and “myopics” were part of the coach-player conversation. So were the teachings of Jerry Lynch, an elite sports psychologist, who had a hand in 35 world championship rings and Olympic medals, including Phil Jackson’s 11 NBA titles, and the 2015 and 2017 championships for the Golden State Warriors as a consultant to Steve Kerr.



Already a multiple winner of the Harvey Penick Award, given by the South Texas PGA as its Teacher of the Year in their section, Kirk attended a conference in Boulder, Co., called “Way of Champions” that impacted the manner in which he thought about coaching. Kirk followed up and decided to use Lynch a consultant. According to Kirk, “(Lynch) creates cultures where performances thrive.” That was the case with Reed when he stepped to the first tee eight days later, a bulldog that had become a thinking man’s golfer.

As complex as it seemed, the analytics made sense to Reed. Instead of slowing down his pre-shot flow with over-analysis, Reed and caddie Kessler Karain made decisions confidently and executed a winning score of 273,which stands third-lowest in Masters history. “It gave him the confidence around the greens that he needed on the course,” Karain said.

The best example in how it helped Reed off the tee was the shape of his ball flight on the par-5 eighth, where he played a baby cut instead of his favored draw and made three 4s on the hole. Statistically, Reed was third in strokes gained: putting, fourth in strokes gained: tee to green, and led the field with 24 birdies and eagles.

“He was always a numbers guy,” Kirk said. “He could handle the process of interpreting data quickly. In his world, it was not too burdensome for him. It allowed him to make decisions quickly.”

Josh Gregory, the other half of Reed’s coaching circle, and his coach at Augusta University, knew that Reed might have been slow to buy in but was frustrated by missing two missed cuts in his four previous Masters starts. From experience, Gregory knew that once Reed committed, he was all in.

“It was different but different isn’t bad; it can be a good thing,” Gregory said. “He realized his approach hasn’t worked very well and was open for new ideas, this new challenge.”

The timing couldn’t have been better. Motivated by not posting a victory in 2017, Reed worked in the cold rain and wind of Houston’s winter. Once he piecemealed a set of clubs from his old favorites, Reed started to build momentum through the Southern swing, with a second-place finish at the Valspar Championship, a T-7 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a T-9 in the WGC-Bell Technologies Match Play. Since his game was trending, Reed didn’t need to hit many balls when he returned to Augusta the following week. In fact, he only played Nos. 1, 2, 8 and 9 on Monday night of Masters week, and nine holes per day on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Sticking to the plan is something he struggles with all the time,” Gregory said. “Yet he was disciplined, no matter whether he had a three-shot lead, or tied for a brief time. He’d struggled in the past of deviating from the plan trying to make birdies, trying to force it, but every day, I’d hear him saying ‘patience.’”

Gregory thought Reed was best after taking the lead on Friday night and again in his post-round interview on Saturday, when he kept reiterating the same words about following his game plan. What it taught Reed is that he doesn’t have to be a hero to win golf tournaments, that the percentages and the angles do matter in playing shots and golf holes, that 30 feet away from the cup can be considered a good shot at Augusta National.

Knowing that Reed has expressed his feelings about winning the Grand Slam in 2018, Kirk confirmed the same preparation will probably be adopted for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock. Gregory wouldn’t be surprised if Carnoustie (Open Championship) and Bellerive (PGA) get the same treatment.

“Now that he’s realized,” said Gregory, “how to become an elite player and how to win majors.”

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Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.


Projected FedExCup standings

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“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”


Projected FedExCup standings

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For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Web.com Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:14 am

ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.

For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.

“I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.

Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.

“Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”

Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.

On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.

He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.


Projected FedExCup standings

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This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.

“The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”

Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.

He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.

There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.

Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”

Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.

It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.

Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.

“I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”

In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.

He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.

The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.