NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – There’s an image that tells you all you need to know about last week’s AT&T National. Tiger Woods was walking up his final hole at Aronimink just as Justin Rose was teeing off in the last group.
Woods was back in the middle of the pack, while Rose was continuing his fantastic recent play. Their careers may be heading in different directions at the moment, but both should be considered among the favorites for next week’s British Open at St. Andrews.
Rose’s AT&T victory was his second in his past three starts. When asked if he feels he’s one of the planet’s hottest players, he simply replied, “I think it’s a fact.” Woods makes headlines no matter where he finishes, in this case tied for 46th.
Woods, who’s been his own instructor since Hank Haney quit in May, seems to have fixed his problematic driver. He swung confidently with the driver at Aronimink, and was second in the field in driving distance (324.8).
“It’s not too often that Stevie (Williams) is talking me out of hitting driver,” Woods said. “I was driving it so good, I just wanted to hit driver every hole. It hasn’t been like that in an extremely long time.”
The rest of Woods’ game wasn’t as good. He said his iron game, “wasn’t as sharp as it usually is,” and said throughout the week that he was struggling with his putter.
Part of his problems on the greens last week were caused not by his stroke, but his inability to place his approach shots in positions where he could be aggressive with his birdie putts. On several occasions, Woods even missed greens while hitting wedges from the middle of the fairway.
The second hole in the final round was a perfect example of Woods’ struggles. He ran his 15-foot birdie putt 5 feet past the hole, causing Williams to joke that Woods should get glasses to improve his green-reading. Woods said, “I have to go belly (putter), cross-handed, saw grip,” jokingly referring to several unconventional methods that could fix his woes.
Woods may have misread the putt, but he’d also left himself with a difficult birdie attempt. Even though he was only 15 feet away, he had to be delicate with his stroke because the ball had to roll down a severe slope on its way to the hole.
On other occasions, Woods hit wedges within 10 feet, but left himself above the hole on Aronimink’s slick, sloping greens. It’s hard for anyone to make putts from there.
Woods can’t be counted out at St. Andrews, though. He’s still the world’s No. 1 player, even if his grip on that position is tenuous. He’s 2-0 in British Opens at St. Andrews as a pro, winning by a combined 13 shots. And he’s saved his best golf this year for the majors, tying for fourth at both the Masters and U.S. Open.
Rose’s recent play also makes him a favorite. In addition to his two recent victories, he’s held the lead after eight of his past 12 rounds on the PGA Tour.
Next week will be the first time Rose has played a British Open at St. Andrews, the site of both good and bad memories. He won the 1997 St. Andrews Links Trophy, one of Britain’s top amateur events, and was runner-up in the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship in ’07.
But St. Andrews also was the site of one of the low points of Rose’s career. He was first alternate for the ’05 Open, but didn’t get in the field.
“That was a terrible day,” he said. “I was there from the crack of dawn waiting or hoping someone was going to pull out.
“You feel like a spare part on the driving range.”
Rose will hardly be an accessory this year. Both he and Woods should be integral parts of the Open proceedings.