Putting woes keep Woods out of major winner's circle
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
All that’s missing is a major. But when you’ve won 14 of them, the standard is a little higher.
So what has kept Tiger Woods, who has won five times this season, mostly in dominating fashion, from doing so at any of the last 17 major championships?
It would be short-sighted (or short-sided) to pin it on one part of his game, just as it would be inaccurate to credit one aspect for success in the others.
But if there’s been a notorious culprit it has been his putter, which has often betrayed Woods on the weekends of the last half-dozen majors. It’s an oddity given his largely fantastic play with his flat stick the rest of the year.
To wit, Woods went into last week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational ranked fourth in strokes gained-putting, second in total putting and 15th in putting average. You must dig deeper, though -- in other words, some of that can be traced to his ball-striking.
Take last week at Firestone, where Woods averaged an impressive 25 feet, 8 inches on his approach shots, which in turn made it a whole lot easier to roll the ball into the hole in fewer strokes.
But then there are these daunting numbers: Prior to last week, Woods ranked eighth and 12th in putts per round in Rounds 1 and 2 this season. On the weekend? He was 147th and 151st with his average putts per round increasing by at least 1 1/2 on Saturdays and Sundays. Even at Firestone he was off with the putter on the weekend, averaging two putts per green in regulation in the final round.
Stuff like that won’t win a major (unless, say, you’re leading by seven shots).
“If you’re not comfortable with a certain part of your game, it’s going to be hard to fix,” says Dave Stockton, who was largely responsible for Rory McIlroy’s turnaround on the putting surface last summer. “With putting, if your rhythm gets destroyed you’re going to slow down or speed up and it affects how much success you’re going to have.”
From where Woods stands, that’s exactly what has happened this year. He cited an inability to adjust to the green speeds at Merion and Muirfield, specifically, in the last two majors and it showed in his results.
At the U.S. Open, he was 20th in greens in regulation but 53rd in total putts, taking at least 32 putts in a round three times, which included a whopping 36 in the third round.
At The Open Championship, he was fifth in greens hit and 29th in putts. Three times he took 30 or more putts, twice taking 33. In the final round at Muirfield, he had two three-putts in his first four holes -- not exactly a confidence builder.
In some cases, he wasn’t giving himself many opportunities by leaving his approach shots farther from the hole than usual, but he also missed plenty of putts from inside 10 feet.
“I just didn't get the feel of those greens the last few days, and I didn't make the adjustments,” Woods said of the latter. “That's my fault for not making the adjustments. You've got to make the adjustments and I didn't do it, and consequently I didn't win the tournament.”
That’s easier said than done, though.
“Almost impossible,” says Stockton of making a mid-round adjustment. “I saw a lot of players have a lot of trouble getting the pace right. That just messes with your mind.”
Three years ago, what Stockton saw in Woods was someone who was thinking too much and being overly mechanical in his swing and putting stroke.
This season, he doesn’t see a thing wrong with Woods’ putting.
“Someone asked me what’s wrong and I said as soon as he forgets about thinking and starts to visualize the shot or putt,” Stockton said. “Then all of a sudden he was winning tournaments early this year.”
What those wins have done, however, is create expectation, Stockton says. And every passing major adds pressure as Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 career major championships continues to hang over Woods, whose last major victory came on a broken leg five years ago at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
Back then, Woods’ putter was an enormous asset.
At Torrey Pines, he was 14th in greens hit, 11th in total putts and 10th in putts per green in regulation. His total putts over four days went like this: 29, 30, 25 and 31. Saturday was the key day that week.
A year earlier at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, Woods was fourth in greens in regulation, ninth in total putts and seventh in putts per green in regulation. Again, he had at least one spectacular day of putting with 24 in the second round with 30, 31 and 29 sandwiched around it in the other three rounds.
In his dominating performance at the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, Woods was second in greens hit. He ranked 31st in total putts that week but was 15th in putts per green in regulation and opened the week with 27 and 28 putts the first two rounds to take the lead at the halfway mark.
At the 2005 Masters, it was the weekend when Woods did his damage, especially on Saturday when he shot 65 on the strength of just 26 putts. For the week, he was second in greens in regulation and in the top 10 in both total putts and putts per green in regulation.
This year at Augusta, Woods was 17th in total putts but just 43rd in putts per green hit. And even when it hasn’t been the putting, it has been the putting. At last year’s PGA, Woods was 56th in greens in regulation, and he hit just 10 and 11 greens, respectively, on the weekend. Both days he took 30 putts.
Already Woods has talked about the greens at this year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill being “spotty” during a recent practice round, when he said they were running at about a 9 on the Stimpmeter.
Nonetheless, Woods has reason to be confident going into the year’s final major and his last chance to end the drought.
The last time he won by at least six shots the week before a major was in 2007, and he went on to win the PGA Championship the next week, too.
“This week I felt like I had the same type of control this week as I did at the British Open,” he said. “Only difference is I had one hot putting day.”
He could use another next weekend.