Wednesday 21 March 2018

Losing rub of green fatal for old guard

Karl McGinty

As Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer play pass the parcel with the World No 1 ranking, a revolution is taking place in golf.

A period of flux inevitably follows the end of every great dynasty and Tiger Woods' is no different... only he won't be the only big name to fall.

One wonders how many of those who prospered, almost pressure-free, in Tiger's shadow down the years will still have the game (or the appetite) for a tooth and nail scrap with golf's bloodthirsty young tyros in the war of succession.

From Angel Cabrera to Vijay Singh, almost all the multiple Major winners of recent years have experienced problems with the putter, the club which truly has hastened Tiger's demise.

None more so than Ernie Els (41), who was so deep in the horrors last week at Hilton Head that he tried out something in practice which a few years back he'd loudly derided as unacceptable -- the belly putter.

And if Singh (48) currently enjoys a lull in his ongoing battle with physical infirmity, the Fijian continues to wrestle with his putting demons -- the weird grip he currently employs might have been recommended by an exorcist.

While Retief Goosen (43) seems to have halted the decline of his putting powers, he is still a shadow of the man acknowledged as the world's hottest performer on fast surfaces following US Open victories at Southern Hills and Shinnecock.

Months of remedial work with putting guru Dave Stockton in the autumn of 2009 was needed to restore Phil Mickelson's confidence to where he was capable of winning a third Green Jacket last year.

Yes, Mickelson (40) won the Shell Houston Open earlier this month and still rides relatively high in the general putting statistics on the PGA Tour -- 23rd in average putts-per-hole (1.745) and 38th in putts-per-round (28.59).

Yet in common with Woods, Els, Singh and Goosen, he's feeling pain where it hurts most. Mickelson misses too many short-range putts. He ranks a lowly 155th on the US PGA Tour when it comes to holing-out from inside five feet. Els is 183rd in that category, Singh 141st and Goosen 98th.

Cabrera (41), who swings between conventional and belly putters but is doing relatively well on the greens at present, still ranks just 76th in converting the shortest putts.

Tiger's putting has gone to pot at the tender age of 35. His Tour statistics are as startling as that three-putt bogey at 12 as Woods stalled badly on the back nine on the Sunday at the Masters. Woods currently takes an average 1.794 putts per hole, leaving him a lowly 121st on Tour, while his 29.38 per round leave him in 124th.

Though he converts 96.71pc from inside five feet for a passable 51st place, Tiger's success rate of 55.32pc from five to 10 feet leaves him 102nd on Tour -- a marked decline for a player once believed invincible at this range.

In 2010 it might have been credible to associate Tiger's demise with the fallout from his troubled personal life but his putting performance is worse this year than last. One suspects that running into a brick wall named YE Yang on Sunday at the 2009 US PGA was infinitely more damaging to Woods, the player, than ramming his car into a neighbour's tree that November.


The only difference between Tiger now and the predator of old is a swing currently under reconstruction and his self-belief on the greens.

Golf's new era was exemplified by the manner of Charl Schwartzel's win at the Masters and the thrilling cut-and-thrust of sudden death last Sunday at Harbour Town, as Brandt Snedeker prevailed over Luke Donald on the third hole of sudden death at the Heritage.

Donald's hopes of the victory which would propel him to World No 1 were quashed when he was caught between clubs at the third extra hole and hit his ball into a plugged lie in a bunker just short of the 18th green.

So Westwood leapfrogged Kaymer to the top of the world rankings after his OneAsia Tour win in Jakarta. Padraig Harrington slips to No 41, his poorest ranking since 2000.

After putting "like a Womble" at the Masters, where he was hampered by a pulled neck muscle, Harrington played like a tourist in China.

One should reserve judgment on the Dubliner -- the only elite golfer to hold his own in one-to-one confrontations with Woods in his pomp. The true state of Harrington's game, especially his putting, will be best gauged at next week's Wells Fargo in Quail Hollow, a course of Major potential.

Irish Independent

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