Looking to dad for help

Woods revisits putting advice of his late father

March 24, 2011|By Jeff Shain

It used to be the one segment of a Tiger Woods round that fans could disregard.

Whenever Woods stood over an 8-foot par putt, there was a sureness the ball would find its way into the hole. Rush over to the next tee box and stake out a prime viewing spot. Get up from the TV and grab another beer.

Now, fans are more compelled to watch. One just doesn't know.

True, the waywardness Woods sometimes has found off the tee while reconstructing his swing under Sean Foley can be a source of amusement. But it doesn't match the "huh?" factor when those par saves have turned away.

"I became more of a streaky putter," Woods acknowledged Wednesday, having taken his latest look at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Fla.

The question is whether this is a temporary condition or the sign of a less curable golf mortality.

Woods, to be sure, believes it's the former. But none other than the namesake of the Arnold Palmer Invitational admits there comes a time in every golfer's life — no matter his stature — when the putts no longer follow orders.

"I can tell you that it becomes more and more difficult as you get older," a sympathetic Palmer said. "You, as a player, begin to wonder."

From 2003, when the PGA Tour began ranking various ShotLink categories, through 2008, Woods was among the tour's top 10 in putting every year but one. He slipped to 23rd in 2009, though he still won six times.

Though Woods' eight rounds this year don't qualify for an official ranking, his average of 29.3 putts per round would stand 101st. He doesn't crack the top 30 in accuracy from any distance. Heck, he has missed four putts inside 5 feet.

"I took for granted my putting," Woods acknowledged, suggesting his inconsistency goes further back than his scandal-induced layoff 18 months ago. "I didn't really spend a lot of time doing it, and I was expecting to go out there and putt well every day."

When Woods was dominating the early 2000s, his late father, Earl, was his putting consultant. It was Earl's putting tip, you might recall, that set his son on the path that scorched Pebble Beach and kicked off the Tiger Slam in 2000.

Maybe it's no surprise, then, that Woods recently dusted off Earl's principles in a quest to regain his touch.

"I don't know what that dude saw in my game," Woods said, "but he really knew putting and he knew my stroke."

Not only that, but it matches up with the nuances Woods has been working into his overall game under Foley's watch.

"It feels natural," he said, "because I've done it for so long."

One good sign is Woods has had only one three-putt in 144 holes this season. So is the Sunday 66 he shot at Doral two weeks ago.

Is it sufficient, though, to hold off that mortality Palmer was talking about? Don't glance away just yet.

jshain@tribune.com

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