Tiger Woods should consider major prep tweak
Far be it for anyone to tell Tiger Woods how to prepare for a major championship. He's won 14 -- not to mention 17 other top-5 finishes -- suggesting that his approach has worked quite well.
Since playing his first major as a pro at the 1997 Masters, Woods has only played the week prior 10 times -- all before the PGA Championship -- and in recent times out of necessity.
But things are different now. Much different. Woods admitted as much last week when he returned from back surgery and missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National. He all but acknowledged that expectations had to be tempered in this comeback, given the seriousness of the back issues, his relatively fast recovery and lack of preparation.
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His 74-75 effort at Congressional showed plenty of room for improvement, and while Woods was encouraged that he had no physical issues, he had to be concerned about the state of his game.
And that is why he should strongly consider adding next week's Scottish Open to his schedule in the few days he has remaining to enter -- a spot that would undoubtedly be available for the marquee name in the game.
Why alter the plan now? Because if Woods wants to win the Open Championship the following week at Royal Liverpool, he needs at least a couple more tournament rounds under duress to work through the myriad issues in his game, not the least of which is his short game.
Woods can hit all the practice balls he wants in Florida, but there comes a point when even that becomes counterproductive. Woods has always done it that way -- and is likely to follow that same plan next week -- but just how much can he really accomplish given the state of his health? Woods did not say last week the degree to which he is limited in his practice sessions, but pounding balls on the range for hour after hour cannot be good.
A mixture of practice and play could very well suit him. Royal Aberdeen, site of the Scottish Open, is a traditional links course and the same style of golf that Woods will play the following week at Hoylake. While the difficulty of Royal Aberdeen is likely to be less severe, the nuances of links golf will be good for Woods to get familiar with again.
If, as Woods said, the rye grass at Congressional gave him fits because he had been practicing on Bermuda at home, imagine the difficulty in preparing for the barren links in England.
There was a time when Woods preceded his Open appearances with a visit to Ireland to practice on various layouts, including links such as Ballybunion and Portmarnock, a practice he employed on occasion, but not recently. The plan over the past few years has been to arrive on the Sunday prior to the tournament week.
Last year at Muirfield, Woods played just nine holes each day leading up to the championship, although he was coming off an elbow injury that kept him from playing since the U.S. Open. He went on to tie for sixth.
In all of his years as a pro, Woods has never played the week before the Masters, U.S. Open or Open Championship. Four of the times he played prior to the PGA at the now-defunct Buick Open. Since 2007, he has preceded the PGA by playing the WGC-Bridgestone. Twice he won the PGA in that stretch.
Of course, there are negatives to be considered as well, one of which is a very valid reason to not take this suggestion -- too much golf. If Woods were to play in Scotland next week, he'd be looking at four tournaments in five weeks, with the WGC-Bridgestone following the Open by just two weeks, the PGA at Valhalla in Louisville immediately after.
And there is the issue of the weather. Woods' back wasn't likely to suffer much in the heat and humidity at Congressional, nor at home in Florida. But what if it's rainy and cold in Scotland?
But unless Woods qualifies for the FedEx Cup playoffs -- a long way off at this point -- the Open, WGC and PGA Championship will be the only golf he plays for the rest of the 2013-14 season.
The European Tour's Scottish Open won't help him qualify for the playoffs, but playing there could very well pay off in other ways.
At the turn
The R&A's gesture to extend Tom Watson's exemption by a year so he could play at St. Andrews and -- perhaps -- end his career in the championship at the home of golf was a nice move.
Watson thought the 2010 Open and walk across the famous Swilcan Bridge was his last. He was 60, and he had another four years through this year due to his runner-up finish the year prior at Turnberry.
And it was a less-than-satisfying sendoff. Watson ended up missing the cut on a day that saw a lengthy delay due to strong winds. It meant his round didn't finish until nearly 10 p.m. -- still light out -- before sparse crowds. Watson recalled being "sad" at the time, knowing it was his last walk across the bridge.
Now that will change, as Watson (at age 65) will get to play one last Open -- unless he finishes in the top 10 this year or next.
The PGA Tour made official Wednesday that the WGC-Match Play Championship will move to Harding Park in San Francisco next May, to be played the week prior to the Players Championship, with the Wells Fargo Championship being moved to the week after the Players.
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If those rather sizable developments weren't enough, the tour also announced a format change. The straight match play system that has been in place since the event's inception in 1999 will be scrapped in favor of a World Cup style "knockout" or round robin format.
Such a system has been advocated many times over the years, the theory being that more players stick around longer while also offering more weekend viewing options.
There will be 16 four-player groups with Wednesday, Thursday and Friday matches against each player. The top player in the group advances to the 16-player knockout stage on the weekend, with eight matches Saturday morning, followed by the quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon.
Semifinal, finals and consolation matches will take place Sunday.
While this is not true match play, it is a welcome change. And it should serve any potential sponsor and television concerns, because the entire field will be there through Friday -- just like a stroke-play event -- and more matches on the weekend.
>1. Justin Rose. The Englishman came through for his first win since capturing the U.S. Open, this time on a tough Congressional course.
2. Stacy Lewis. A week after making Michelle Wie sweat it out at the U.S. Women's Open, Lewis came back to win for the third time this year on the LPGA Tour.
3. Tiger Woods. The scores weren't great, and there is a lot of work to be done with his game, but just the fact he was back 3 months after back surgery was a surprise.
1. Patrick Reed. He played his best tournament since winning at Doral and making the "top-5" remark, but imploded with three double-bogeys and five bogeys on Sunday.
2. Shawn Stefani. Chances to win don't come around too often, but Stefani was right there on Sunday, only to make a mess of the playoff hole.
3. Henrik Stenson. The Swede missed a great opportunity to win in Germany, losing in a playoff. But the No. 2-ranked player in the world is also trending in a similar direction last summer when he went on a late-season tear.
When Tiger Woods missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National, it was just the 10th of his pro career on the PGA Tour (11 overall worldwide), which is amazing when compared to others. Rory McIlroy, age 25, has missed 10 cuts on the PGA Tour. Phil Mickelson has missed 70, including three this year. Through age 38 in 1978 at a similar point in his career, Jack Nicklaus had missed 12.
With his win at the Quicken Loans National, Justin Rose now has a victory in five straight seasons on the PGA Tour. Phil Mickelson leads the list with 10, although he has no victories this year ... Rose's winning score of 280, 4 under par, was the highest in relation to par on the PGA Tour since Patrick Reed's victory at Doral was 284 and 4 under ... The Open Championship Qualifying Series continues this week with four spots available at the Greenbrier and at the French Open. The top four players not otherwise exempt who finish among the top 12 will get into the Open at Hoylake in two weeks ... Jordan Spieth, who tied for 11th at Quicken Loans, now has 15 top-25 finishes in 19 starts this season.
"I came back four weeks earlier than I thought we could. I had no setbacks. I got my feel for playing tournament golf. The one thing that I was worried about the most was going out there and hitting a driver full-out. I had not hit it in competitive speed. You can hit it at home, but that's a totally different speed than out here." -- Tiger Woods after a missed cut at the Quicken Loans National, his first tournament rounds since March 31 back surgery.