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Hawk's Nest: Woods, Stricker too friendly in competition

Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker
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Spring forward, fall back. It’s a splendid premise with far-reaching implications to many golfers, but with all the respect I can muster for George Vernon Hudson, the man who conceived of daylight saving time more than a century ago, I do have a couple of questions.

Couldn’t we use that extra hour of sunshine in the dead of winter, when it gets dark at like 4:30 in the afternoon?

Nothing beats those summer evenings when you can make double-bogeys until 9 p.m., but Hudson was from New Zealand, where a Kiwi summer is actually our winter. Did my man GVH get it all backwards?

Hey, no biggie. You know it’s a cool world when all you have to do is spin your clock ahead one hour – and an eight-month surplus of brightness immediately follows. Not that I’m afraid of the dark or anything. What you don’t see can’t hurt you, and there are days when my bunker play might be described as “lights out” in a very negative sense, but that big yellow ball in the sky is my friend.

I want him around for as long as he will stay. An empty golf course in the early evening translates into a spiritual experience one cannot define with mere words, so I won’t try. I do have one more question, however. Hudson was an astronomer who collected bugs in his spare time. Couldn’t he have just gathered a jar full of fireflies and called it a day?

AS MUCH AS I like and respect Steve Stricker, a guy I’ve had an excellent working relationship with since the mid-1990s, I’m not a big fan of one premier player helping another with something like a putting stroke, especially on-site during tournament week. Maybe Tiger Woods would have holed a bunch of putts at Doral without Stricker’s assistance, seeing how he’d won there three previous times.

Still, it seems like a pretty obvious conflict of interest to me. Having spent significant time on PGA Tour practice ranges and putting greens over the years, I’m fully aware that players help each other all the time. And I’ll admit that if some dude with 14 major titles walked up and asked me for help, I’d probably drop what I was doing.

So I suppose I’m contradicting myself, which makes this far more of a contemplation than a rant. And as soon as I finished typing that last sentence, Stricker addressed the issue in his post-round interview: “Sometimes, you kind of kick yourself,” he said jokingly before adding, “It’s the nature of the game. Everybody helps one another – the older players did it with me. You’re friends out here even though you’re competing against each other.”

Understood, but that doesn’t quell my wondering. Is it noble? Of course. Is it healthy in terms of its effect on the game’s competitive disposition? You tell me – I’m curious as to what readers think. Is pro golf too brotherly for its own good? By no means am I suggesting we pour sugar in the gas tanks of courtesy cars or sabotage a guy’s chances.

Golf’s habits, traditions and code of conduct all are steeped in the highest of honor – far more so than any other sport – but at the end of the week, you’re still playing to win the game. How high is too high? In final analysis, Woods is too driven not to ask for help, and Stricker is too nice a guy not to oblige. Perhaps that makes them the perfect team, so to speak.

GRAEME MCDOWELL IS growing on me, although not in the literal sense. In a league topped by bigger guys with better careers and smoother swings, G-Mac often hangs tough with T-Woo, P-Mick and S-Strick, which isn’t so much a compelling observation as it is an indictment of shortening a man’s handle and calling it a nickname.

As a writer who tries to make a living by being honest, even when it translates to others as sheer stupidity, I thought McDowell’s victory at the 2010 U.S. Open was much more of a loss by several others, including Woods and Mickelson. If nobody handed that major to McDowell, nobody put up much of a fight. And though I saw him make a bushel of putts at the Ryder Cup that fall, it happened in a team-match event in an individual-stroke world.

I haven’t seen the man win since, but McDowell keeps showing up on the game’s most important leaderboards. His tenacity is quite admirable, his savvy at finding the hole better than most. Is his inability to finish predicated by one of the speediest swings in golf – a hyper-kinetic lash that might avail itself to tempo issues under intense pressure?

When you look back on the modern era’s top performers, very few looked like they were in a hurry to the ball. Nick Price was a fast swinger – and an awesome ball-striker – but his rise to No. 1 came about during a two- or three-year stretch when his putting reached unprecedented levels of efficiency. Jose Maria Olazabal swung the club at an accelerated pace and always had an enviable short game, but his inconsistency on his way to the green prevented him from winning more often.

Tempo adjustment is an extremely tricky business, regardless of how well you play, and McDowell has accomplished more than many tour pros with the swing he has. You dance with whom you brought, or so they say, but some dances are bigger than others, and where I came from, you couldn’t get anywhere until it was time for the slow dance.

I’m sure there’s a double mixed metaphor in there somewhere.

FOR ALL THE crying I’ve done about slow play this winter, Doral’s star-studded leaderboard got to the scoring trailer about 10 minutes before the end of NBC’s allotted TV window. My point? A majority of the game’s very best players don’t horse around. They generally don’t engage in 2 ½-minute conversations with their caddie when it’s time to hit a shot.

They are decisive alpha males with a lifetime full of success and a finger glued to the focus button. Thus, they do what they can not to over-complicate things. Greatness trusts instinct. Instinct breeds emotional freedom. Emotional freedom may not lead you straight to the trophy ceremony, but it points you in the right direction.

At the 2005 Masters, which evolved into a thrilling, flaw-filled duel between Woods and Chris DiMarco, I could have sworn Tiger took his sweet time doing everything on Sunday. Woods had wiped out a four-hole deficit during the completion of the third round that morning, leaving the two men paired together that afternoon, and certainly, Tiger was aware of DiMarco’s jumpy, almost impatient disposition.

So the Dude in the Red Shirt was in no rush to claim his fourth green jacket – even his ball took forever to tumble into the hole at the 16th, punctuating one of the greatest chips in golf history. Did Tiger’s slowdown tactics, however intentional, amount to dirty pool, or was it simply more strategic genius from an ultra-decorated champion?

All I know is, if Stricker showed Woods how to make putts, shouldn't Woods show Stricker how to win a major?