Palmer finds answer in slimmest of margins

It is the thinnest line in pro sports, that difference between playing well on the PGA Tour and leaving for home on Friday afternoons.

How thin is it? Ryan Palmer would suggest it’s 1 1/2 degrees. He’s not talking not about the temperature, either, but rather his irons.

“Turns out they were 1 1/2 degrees flat,” Palmer said, and while such a tweak wouldn’t turn a 16-handicapper into a club champ, he thinks it has been the reason for his impressive turnaround against the world’s best players.

OK, there are contributing factors, like this, from caddie James Edmondson at the PGA Championship: “He’s driving it the best I’ve seen since I’ve been with him.” But both Edmondson and Palmer suggest their trip to the TaylorMade truck before the RBC Canadian Open cannot go overlooked.

Heading into that tournament, Palmer had missed 10 cuts in his previous 11 tournaments. “And the one cut I made was a top 10 (T-9 at the Valero Texas Open),” Palmer said with a laugh. “Go figure.”

Frustrating about that stretch of play is the fact Palmer opened the season with a win at the Sony Open in Hawaii and made the cut in five of the first seven tournaments.

Then, from late March to mid-August, he worked just one weekend.

Palmer, who had put new irons in the bag after Sony, was frustrated, mostly because he didn’t feel as if he was playing that poorly. When the trip to the equipment guys revealed that the irons were 1 1/2 degrees off, both Palmer and Edmondson became optimistic they had stumbled upon an answer.

So far, you could suggest they have, because Palmer finished T-24 in Canada, was second at the Bridgestone Invitational, and had it going at the PGA Championship before a third-round 75 slowed him. Still, he finished T-33 in the season’s final major and heads into the playoffs with solid standing.

He’s currently 23rd in the FedEx Cup standings, 22nd in money (at $2,239,245 he’s already established a career best), and encouraged that he’s in form and that his worst stretch of golf is far behind.

“My head’s in a right spot,” Palmer said. “But I guess if I’ve learned a lesson, it’s that I’m going to check my irons more often.”

• • •

Not that proof is needed, given how pedestrian his play has been, even to the casual observer, but here is further confirmation that Tiger Woods is in a funk like never before: For the first time in his career, he has been outside the top 20 in four consecutive tournaments.

Heck, a lot of players go months without getting inside the top 20, but by finishing T-46 at the AT&T National, T-23 at the British Open, T-78 at Bridgestone, and T-28 at the PGA, Woods has set a dubious PR – personal worst.

Only once had he been outside the top 20 for three straight weeks – and you have to go way back to 1997 when he missed the cut in Canada, went T-26 at Disney, and T-36 in Las Vegas.

In fact, whereas Woods was outside the top 20 a combined total of six times in 54 tournaments between 2006-09, he’s been outside the top 20 six times in nine starts this season alone.

• • •

If you hear someone suggest that PGA of America officials should have treated bunkers inside the ropes one way and bunkers outside the ropes another, tell them to inhale a few aspirin, take a nap, and think about waking up a curling fan.


Do water hazards outside the ropes get treated differently than those inside? Of course not, and it shows ignorance to suggest you could do that with bunkers.

What would you do with those massive bunkers where the rope line went smack down the middle? Tell players that the front half is a bunker, the back portion a waste area?

Ludicrous, and it gets away from the inherent problem at Whistling Straits: All those bunkers far away from the fairways should be grassed over.

Allowing them to stay as they are is to suggest the course is fine, but it is not – at least not for championship play worthy of the PGA.

• • •

If the bunker controversy did one thing, it deflected criticism away from the 18th at Whistling Straits, which might just be the worst championship hole in recent memory.

One could imagine Adam Scott would agree, since he played the hole in 5 over.

• • •

Asked if he thought his strong performance at the PGA Championship (69-70-69-70, T-3) caught Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin’s attention, Zach Johnson shrugged his shoulders.

“I hope I had had his attention prior (to the PGA),” he said. “But he’s a very, very good friend of mine and I support him no matter what he decides.”

Damon Green, Johnson’s longtime caddie, raved about his man’s play.

“It’s the best I’ve ever seen him hit the ball since I started working for him,” Green said. “It was impressive. Awesome.”

Here’s a guess that Johnson, 11th in the standings, can count on a visit to Wales, because with a healthy lineup of guys who can bomb it – Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, and Jeff Overton, with Hunter Mahan no slouch, either – already on the team, look for Pavin to mix and match in those who can manage a golf course, win with the short game, and make putts under pressure.

Johnson, for instance.

• • •

Moan and groan about them occupying the top two spots in the world rankings all you want, but there’s a reason why they should be. Woods and Mickelson play the big tournaments consistently well, and have for years.

Want proof? Well, of the 12 players who made the cut in all four majors, Mickelson went a combined 18 under, while Woods was next best, at 13 under. Only two others played the 16 major rounds in under par, Matt Kuchar (5 under) and Dustin Johnson (2 under).

Rounding out the list: Charl Schwartzel (3 over), Nick Watney (3 over), Robert Karlsson (9 over), Retief Goosen (16 over), Steve Stricker (16 over), Camilo Villegas (16 over), and Zach Johnson (16 over).

An asterisk is given to Ian Poulter, who made the cut in all four majors, but withdrew after 54 holes of the PGA Championship.

We could not, however, bid farewell to the 2010 majors without this final word: Give the man two swings over (that second shot into Pebble Beach’s second hole in the final round and that second shot into the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits) and Dustin Johnson wins two majors.

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