Tiger continues downfall

Things have seemingly gone from bad to disastrous for Tiger Woods. After finishing T78 this weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational, Woods’ spot in this year’s Ryder Cup event seems even more in question. The 18 over par he finished with was the worst score he’s had as a professional golfer.

The one entity which has failed Tiger over the past months has been his putting. People would be naive to think Woods saves himself with his driver. In reality, Woods’ short game has been superior to anyone’s in the game. He’s arguably the greatest putter of all-time.

It’s obvious Woods’ mind is not completely right. Putting is 50% mental, yet Woods continues to struggle with it. After he finished T4 at the Masters the majority of golf fans thought Tiger had overcome his off-season problems.

When asked what needs improving, Woods’ answer was very plain.

“I need to hit the ball better,” he said. “I need to chip better, I need to putt better, and I need to score better.”

What may be even more depressing for Tiger is that Firestone is a place where he has historically played great. In his final round yesterday he was scattered all over the course, and even hit a fan in the face with one of his drives. He hit only 22 of 56 fairways this weekend, which set the tone for his poor play.

I think now we are all realizing that Tiger Woods is human. Over the past decade, we’ve built him up as this immortal figure who can’t seem to fail. Yet, even Woods himself isn’t surprised by his recent struggles.

“No, no. … It doesn’t surprise me at all, actually.” When asked why he wasn’t surprised he responded by saying, “It’s been a long year.”

Tiger is four wins off of Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record. Jack won his last major at the age of 46, a rare feat for a golfer. Therefore, Woods who is 34 seemingly has plenty of chances left to catch Nicklaus’ record. However the biggest question won’t be Tiger’s on-course talent, but his mental state. And that makes his chase for Nicklaus’ record appear even more of a stretch.

The Road Hole at St. Andrews

The world’s oldest course has perhaps the world’s most famous hole.  The course itself was first constructed in 1552, along the eastern seaboard in Fife, Scotland.  This year’s Open Championship will be the 28th time St. Andrews has hosted.

The course is filled with unique features, most notably the huge double greens.  Only the 1st, 9th, 17th, and 18th holes have their own greens.  The other greens are shared by holes.

When players approach the 17th,  they are aware of the ill-fate “The Road Hole” has caused golfers.  The hole hasn’t always been a long par 4.  It was first put into play to challenge golfers at the end of the course.  However, when players started using irons off the tee, executives of the Royal & Ancient decided to lengthen the hole.

The tee shot over the Old Hotel

Now, unless the wind is at the back of a player, a driver is required.  Thanks to the Old Course Hotel blocking the proper line, players can’t see the green or most of the fairway from the tee.  The perfect tee shot is over the hotel’s lettering written on the maintenance shed.

Perfect ball strikers will pick out a letter on the shed to hit over.

“Actually, in practice rounds I always go along the limit, so I hit it down along the hotel to see how far right I can go,” Padraig Harrington said. “It’s one of those things, you want to know how far you can go right. And it’s not that far.”

Playing the tee shot away from the hotel, which appears to be safe, will put golfers in thick rough making it virtually impossible to reach the green in regulation.  A player may be satisfied with a perfect tee shot, but the green of this hole presents an equally challenging shot.

Sitting to the left of the green is the Road Hole bunker.  The bunker itself is about 6 feet deep with a sodden wall blocking players view.  David Duvall knows all too well the difficulty of this sand shot.  While chasing Tiger Woods for the lead in 2000, it took Duvall four tries to get out of this bunker.

David Duval in the Road Hole bunker (2000)

Past the green is a paved road (hence The Road Hole), which is in play.  No drops if you land directly on the road.

With an average stroke of 4.71 in 2000, and 4.63 in 2005, The Road Hole has been the toughest hole the last two Open Championships at St. Andrews.

“I don’t mind making a 5 on the 17th,” Masters champion Phil Mickelson said.

Because Tiger Woods won the last two Opens at St. Andrews by eight and five shots respectively, the Road Hole has not been a major factor in deciding the outcome.  Will 2010 be different?

Putting will be key for Tiger at St. Andrews

When Tiger Woods tees off at 4:09 a.m. eastern tomorrow, he will have something new in his hands.  No, it’s not a new woman (sorry, I had to get at least one of those in).  For the first time since 1999, Tiger is using a new putter in hopes of winning for a third consecutive time at St. Andrews.

Woods has finished fourth at the two previous majors this year.  Historically, the strongest part of Woods’ game has been on and around the green.  However, it has been his Achilles heel this year.

“The one part of Tiger’s game this year that has been very sub-standard is his putting,” said caddie Steve Williams in an interview with PGATour.com.  “He hasn’t putted well in any of his events.”

“Putting is the key element — that’s the difference between winning and not winning, and Tiger has had a lot of ups and downs with his putter. He’s renowned as a good putter based on the fact that he holes a lot of putts when you have to, but there’s been no consistency in his putting. It’s been poor in every tournament he’s played. It has been frustrating, no two ways about it.”

Woods has left many puts short so far this season.  His switch to a new putter allows the ball to “come off faster” without Woods having to change his putting stroke.  With the slow greens at St. Andrews, Woods feels the switch was vital.

Tiger Woods is looking to become the first golfer to win three straight times at St. Andrews

“I’ve always struggled on slower greens,” he said.

“I always feel more comfortable when the greens get quick. Some of my best putting rounds were when the greens were running at 14 or something like that on the stimp.”

I think it’s good for Tiger that he is playing with a guy like Justin Rose, who is arguably the hottest player in the game right now.  Rose has won two of his last three tournaments and will push Woods throughout the first round.

Tiger has already had to take shots from the British media, now he will have to be focused on the course.  Woods is arguably the best ball striker in the game right now.  But, keeping your swing intact throughout every shot requires a great deal of mental strength.

Woods’ focus may be in question by his erratic putting, which is purely mental.  People may question his mental stability right now because of his off the course problems. But how mentally strong was he when he was winning tournaments with the knowledge of his actions perhaps haunting his conscience?

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