Hate to be Rude: Tiger’s Match Play prospects

Tiger Woods

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1:21:18 AM ET. 08/29/2014




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MARANA, Ariz. – Tiger Woods arrived at the WGC-Accenture Match Play on Tuesday saying his game made “progress” while practicing last week at home and that he has a “better understanding” with hitting wind shots that “exposed” him recently at the Dubai Desert Classic.

John Cook, longtime friend and Isleworth neighbor of Woods, said last week that the former World No. 1’s swing “clicked” on the range at home, that he was “feeling something special,” that you could “see the excitement on his face.”

Asked here if something “clicked,” Woods said, “I feel I have a better understanding. I didn’t have an understanding of how to hit all the shots in the wind.”

The winner of 71 PGA Tour events, including 14 majors, said he knows how to handle pressure down the stretch but that “establishing a new movement pattern takes time.”

Yes, it takes time. It takes hitting “hundreds of thousands of balls, millions of balls” for the new movements to become second nature, Woods said.

Thus, the question remains: Since he’s 35 and time probably isn’t on his side anymore, why did he change from a swing with which he won 51 percent of his Tour starts over the last 3 1/2 years of 2006-09?

• • •

Picking winners of 18-hole match play throughout a bracket is impossible. In fact, forecasting medal tournaments is risky business these days.

After all, Woods started his last tournament one stroke off the 54-hole lead and ended up being beaten by two men with the first name of Alvaro and two with a surname pronounced Han-son. 

Can you say “new era”?

• • •

Still, here’s one man’s Final Four: Steve Stricker, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey. Stricker over Kaymer in the final.

Because it’s 18-hole match play, I will make this guarantee: It won’t happen that way.

• • •

Match play is for short-game wizards and talented scatterbrains. That means it’s right up the alley of Ian Poulter, who played brilliantly in the past two Ryder Cups and won the WGC-Accenture here last year at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain.

“I’m easily distracted, to be honest,” Poulter said. “But I’m not easily distracted in match play. I just switch the button on. It goes back to my school report. It sums me up in a nutshell: 'Very easily distracted, but when he concentrates, it works fantastic.’ I just need to learn how to do that every week, but for some reason I seem to be able to do it in match play.”

The reason is, it’s easier to maintain focus over 18 holes of match play than 72 holes of medal. I give you Colin Montgomerie, perhaps the best Ryder Cup player ever, as another example of someone with occasional concentration problems who was a world beater in match play.

• • •

Latest of 1,000 pieces of evidence that it’s no longer your grandfather’s PGA Tour: Nine players were brought into the interview room Monday and Tuesday at the WGC-Accenture Match Play: Paul Casey, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Alvaro Quiros and Matteo Manassero. 

In case you are keeping track at home, that’s nine international players and no Americans. Four of them are PGA Tour members.

Woods got here today and talked for five minutes by the clubhouse. Phil Mickelson also came in late. The other American worth quizzing is party boy Anthony Kim, who partied Friday night as a part of NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles and then withdrew from the Northern Trust Open with an “illness” on Saturday morning.

• • •

World No. 1 Lee Westwood apparently has a simple goal this week: Get past Thursday.

“I’m wondering what Friday looks like in this tournament,” the Englishman said.

Westwood went undefeated in the 2004 and ’06 Ryder Cups and has won the European Tour’s match play at Wentworth. But, remarkably, he has never gotten past the second round in 10 WGC-Match Play starts. He lost in the first round in 1999, ’04, ’06 and ’07 and fell in the second round during the past three years and in 2000, ’02 and ’05.

“I’ve played pretty well here and (went up against guys) who had one of those hot days against me,” he said. “There are no easy games. Everybody expects the top 64 is capable of shooting 65, 64.”

• • •

Memo to the Bob Rotellas of the world: World No. 2 Martin Kaymer says confidence doesn’t just come from good play.

“You get it from the outside, as well,” the German said. “How people approach you, how they talk to you with a lot of respect. It’s the total package.”

To hear him, though, that respect has been slow coming in his homeland, where Bernhard Langer blazed a trail before him.

“In Germany, it’s very difficult to get their respect ... especially in golf,” the PGA champion said. “As a golf player, you barely get recognized at all. (But) it’s getting bigger and bigger. I’m trying to do what Steffi Graf and Boris Becker did for tennis.”

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