US Open round three: Will Tiger's putter be his Achilles' heel?
Okay guys, cut the excited chatter for a minute. All this babble about Tiger Woods, anyone would think you were trying to win the game for him before he’s taken a single shot Sunday. As usual, here I stand on my lonely redoubt, my red coat glowing in the sun, against the wall of cash, now probably well into the tens of millions, backing the great man to sweep all before him down the fairways of Oakmont.
I don’t feel so alone, because if Woods really was such a shoe-in his price would be odds on by now instead of around the 2.3 mark. There is the small matter of the two-shot gap between him and leader Aaron Baddeley, although we all know that’s not really a lot. There’s also Tiger’s great statistical bogey of never winning a major from behind. But all rules and statistics are there to be broken.
I’m not even saying Tiger definitely won’t win, certainly not after Saturday’s round. But that round is the reason why I see a strong case for believing he might fall short again.
Let’s get one thing straight, for all the oohing and ahhing about what a great round it was, in my book there were better ones on the day. The most outstanding was Jim Furyk’s: first for accuracy is no surprise, but he was also 12th for putting, third for greens in regulation and 17th for distance off the tee, at more than 300ft for his measured drives. Looks like drier fairways are giving the shorter guys some help. A par round seemed a paltry reward for such effort.
Sure, Tiger’s short game was immaculate, only once failing to make a green in regulation, and that in turn was aided by finding more fairways than usual off the tee. But putting? It was the worst it’s been all week, on a day when the greens were running slightly easier. Only three players fared worse.
Tiger can hit all the fairways and greens he likes; without a laser putter Sunday he’s going to have another frustrating day.
All those talking of Baddeley as a choker have their mouths in a southerly part of their anatomy. He might have a rather dismal Majors record and looking at his Oakmont stats you wonder quite what has put him in the lead. But he’s now won twice in the space of a year and displayed considerable mettle in doing so. His composure in seeing off the likes of Furyk and Ernie Els at the Verizon Heritage last year was quite something for a first time winner.
Love it or loathe it, Baddeley has an extra weapon in his arsenal that appears to bring him huge strength: his religion. You might hate the way he waves it around in front of everyone, but you can’t take away that it is a vital prop when he’s under pressure. Mind you, he’s never been under the kind of pressure he’s going to face from the Tiger circus. That’s the one thing that even God might not be able to beat!
But on a day when the drying Oakmont course probably has more than a few horrors up its sleeve, we are entitled to expect someone to mount a charge from the back. It could again be Paul Casey, who managed to avoid post-euphoria meltdown Saturday. Justin Rose also clung on manfully and feels his putter is beginning to sing a sweet song. My worry is that this pair are undone by their anxiety to beat each other to the punch. Oh, and memo to Justin: remember Peter Alliss’s words at the Masters - “Slow down Justin, slow down".
If fortunes do see-saw as much as we have seen in the past, an on-song Furyk or hot-to-trot Steve Stricker could well enter the equation. Some people are even touting Niclas Fasth’s credentials for ending Europe’s Major drought with some more of his sharp putting. Don’t rule out Vijay Singh either. If putting is going to be the killer skill, he led the field with the flat stick Saturday.
So you see, actually Tiger’s still got it all to do.
PS: The USGA should replace the company that does its website. It’s full of links and pages that don’t work. Very amateurish.
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