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Woodland turns to McLean for road map back among Tour’s elite

DORAL, Fla. – Gary Woodland is one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour. Now, when he steps onto Trump National Doral’s Blue Monster on Thursday for the start of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, he might be one of the best-prepared.

Woodland’s runup to the week was a bit unusual. After an on-and-off relationship with legendary instructor Butch Harmon, Woodland switched to Jim McLean, who is based at Trump National Doral.

With Harmon located in Las Vegas, Woodland found it difficult to make frequent trips from his home in Orlando. Plus, Harmon faces other commitments with a Tour stable that includes Phil Mickelson, Jimmy Walker, Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, so his time for Woodland was limited. So, the instructor suggested that Woodland call McLean.

“Jim, I think, is the closest one out here who he and I have the same philosophy about the way we teach, about the golf swing,” Harmon said. “I like the way he teaches. I thought he would be the one that’s best suited to help Gary.”

Because Woodland comes from a basketball background – he played at Division II Washburn University as a freshman before transferring to Kansas for golf – he likes to be coached, Harmon said. Woodland agrees.

“I want somebody to tell me what to do,” Woodland said. “I’ll be able to do it. I just want somebody to tell me what to do, and I think Jim can do that. From a practice standpoint, huge; from preparation standpoint and on the golf course, it’ll be good.”

Woodland has been working with McLean since March 3 and has played at least nine holes of the Blue Monster Course every day, with the rest of his time spent working on his game. Primarily, he has focused on bunker play and lag putting.

In 2014, Woodland ranked 161st in sand-save percentage, 144th in proximity to the hole from the sand.

Woodland made 770 of 770 putts from 3 feet and in, but he ranked only 135th from 15-20 feet, making only 15 percent, and was 162nd in approach-putt performance.

“Inside 5 feet, I’ve putted pretty dang good,” Woodland said. “Outside 5 feet, it hasn’t been very good. A lot of that is speed. So it’s a lot of practicing. It’s a lot of work on the golf course, which is nice. We’re getting off the range. I’m getting out here and I’m seeing different lines. I’ve hit more bunker shots in the last week than I’ve hit in my life.”

McLean has done nothing to alter his new pupil’s swing, which Woodland appreciates. The Florida Swing represents a big stretch of golf for him: After Doral, he will play the Valspar Championship, which he won in 2011, as he prepares for the Masters in April.

“I watched him hit balls, but it’s pretty solid,” McLean said. “We worked on a couple of simple things. I try not to do too much.”

Woodland hopes to return to his form of 2011, his career peak, when he posted his first career victory and five other top 10s and earned $3.4 million. He thinks McLean can help him get there.

“A lot of stuff we talked about, as well: how to plan for a golf course, how to game plan,” Woodland said. “I had a schedule pretty much every day this week. That brings me back to days of basketball where I’m familiar with structure. I’m not very good with freedom sometimes. You give me structure and I’m pretty good with it. Jim’s had my days mapped out all week, and it’s been great.”

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