2003: Perspective - Revelations and confirmations

Carlsbad, Calif.

The WGC-Accenture Match Play revealed and confirmed truths and suspicions. So onward with revelations and confirmations after a long week at La Costa.

-A fresh Tiger Woods, at 27, looks better than ever after knee surgery. He’s stronger and more cut. He not only has more physical and mental skills than anybody else, he has more shots – even more than he had when winning three majors in 2000.

While so many other players were spinning approach shots off soft greens here, Woods often hit “dead-hands” shots, like a 120-yard 8-iron with a short follow-through, to take spin off the ball. His six matches and $1.05 million victory amounted to a clinic, blotched only by a few lipouts the last day.

-The little guy lives. The last month has reinforced that, even in this era of power ball, there’s room for non-brutes at the top. Mike Weir, 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, wins twice. David Toms, 5-10, 160, reaches the Match Play final. Shot-making and putting prowess never go out of style.

-The golf ball doesn’t know how old you are. Jay Haas, 49, and Scott Hoch, 47, reached the quarterfinals. Nick Price, 46, made the final 16. Eduardo Romero, 48, came in ranked No. 24 in the world. These guys have taken care of themselves and are still dangerous on courses not favoring bombers. And they will get rich quick on the over-50 scene.

-More PGA Tour courses should be set up like La Costa, where the rough was high (8-10 inches in spots), the greens fast (around 12 on the Stimpmeter) and pins tucked (some three paces from the fringe). That mix, combined with firm greens, is the answer to equalizing advances in equipment technology. Tougher (not longer) setups identify the better ballstrikers.

-Repeat, anything can happen in 18-hole match play. That is this tournament’s anthem. Just check the bracket. Just check Kevin Sutherland’s resume. Most matches are a coin flip, regardless of seeding.

-Bad start to the season for the Spaniards. This time last year, Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal already had won. This year, Olazabal is a mess, missing three cuts, shooting 80-78 at the Nissan Open and opening the Match Play with a front-nine 43. Garcia, who could have won both the 2002 U.S. Open and British Open had he putted well inside 10 feet, is struggling with his stroke (he has tried a mid-size putter) and apparently his confidence. He blew a 3-up lead in losing to Sutherland in the first round. He lost five holes in a row. Last time we saw him in match play, he blew a 2-up lead to Toms in Ryder Cup singles. Both Americans put pressure on him and he faltered. Is there a heart problem?

-Just check passports to see how professional golf has changed. There were more international players (35) than Americans (29) in the Match Play field. In the late 1970s, when Jay Haas joined the PGA Tour, there were at most a handful of foreign players playing over here regularly. “If we were still playing for $200,000 a week, you probably wouldn’t see them all over here,” Haas said.

-Can’t beat him, join him? It’s a compliment to both Woods and Butch Harmon that Phil Mickelson worked with Harmon the week before the Match Play. Mickelson now knows more than ever that he needs to tighten up that long swing in order to hit more fairways.

-Remember the name: Carl Pettersson. Two T’s and two S’s. Check the Tour Rookie of the Year vote at year’s end and you may see his name on top.

-History and player testimonials say it’s hard to be a broadcaster and still play well. Hope not, but nice guy John Cook might be the latest evidence.

-You want to play $100 one-downs against Kevin Sutherland, make sure it’s not at La Costa, or at any California venue with bumpy poa annua greens. “I grew up on them, so I guess they don’t bother me as much as they do others,” Sutherland said after setting a record with his eighth consecutive match victory.

-Heard somebody at La Costa say slumping David Duval is finished as a major contender. Don’t believe it. He has too much talent. And his emphatic, testy rebuttal at the Nissan Open to a suggestion that he doesn’t care shows that he does care.

-Watch Adam Scott swing. On the outside, he’s Tiger Woods without muscle and pedigree. If he’s half as strong mentally, he’ll win majors.

-In deciding to skip the Dubai Desert Classic and thus forfeiting a $3 million appearance fee, Woods proved what we already knew: He doesn’t quite need the money. He has earned more than $50 million each of the last several years.

-Visited an equipment company’s test center. If you didn’t know it before, know it now: If you don’t get fitted for equipment, you are wasting your money and hurting your game. Find a launch monitor near you ASAP.

-Best putter on Tour you don’t know about? His name is Chris Riley.

-Listen to some touring pros talk about their swing problems and, if you didn’t know better, you might think they’d have trouble breaking 85. Quarterfinalist Jerry Kelly talked about calling instructor Rick Smith eight times during the week, mainly because his hands were lagging behind his body. Fellow quarterfinalist Darren Clarke continues to work with Butch Harmon to “get out of my bad habits . . . I’ve been coming over the top and wiping it.”

We should all wipe so well.

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