So a couple days after wrapping up an exciting finish by Daniel Nisbet at the NZ Open in Queenstown, I found myself back inside the ropes on Tiger watch in Tampa, FL for The Valspar Championship. Quite a contrast in characters to cover when it comes to my commentary duties!
Although I played alongside in the same competitive environment as a number of these guys at times it feels like a world away from my former career. I do indeed respect the privilege of being afforded the opportunity to cover the sport that’s shaped my life but the standard of which the game is being played is mind blowing when you see it up close.. For those I haven’t spoken to the scoring at Millbrook was legit and anyone who reels off a Sunday 62 to post -27 & win the largest championship of his young career deserves all the credit he’s due. And that is regardless of the perfect Central Otago weather and a course set up that was conducive to scoring. The hole was still the same size as every other week of the year!
Conversely, this last few days in cool windy conditions a guy only just ahead of NZ Open champ on the current world rankings displayed a grit and determination that was reminiscent of the former #1 player on the planet and after 2 days he’s just 4 under.
The Copperhead course is underrated. When you close your eyes and think of the genre of golf course design in Florida, you’re far from mentally challenged. But this track is quite different. I hadn’t been here since the 90’s and I could barely remember it’s features. But it’s didn’t take long for the virtues of this Larry Packard 1970’s design to shine through. The players have long lauded the tactical style of play required to compete on the Copperhead and that was challenged by some of the best in the game over the last few days.
On Thursday Rory, Rosey and Gary Woodland were all tripped up at different stages when trying to over power different holes.
McIlroy’s wedge play is deplorable right now! Despite still being one of the most impressive drivers of the ball in the modern game his ability to score at the moment is quite a way off the mark. As far as he hits the ball he has so many short irons into par 4’s that he just can’t afford to be poor in that area. Remember DJ 3 or 4 years ago.....and what he decided or was advised to worked on. This is just my opinion...but I’m not sure he’s getting the best out of himself having his mate Harry D, on his bag. He’s too talented to be playing average and making the mistakes he’s making. Just saying.
Rosey is a bit rusty after some time away. He’ll be fine come April as long as his back behaves. Gary Woodland is a ball striking machine. His iron play was exceptional so if he can capture a consistency with the putter he should win more big events before the year is done.
I also covered Sergio & Scotty for a few holes each day. In talking with Sergio he’s made a seamless transition into new Callaway clubs and it would surprise me little if his title defence at Augusta saw him in contention. He’ll be a Daddy by then so sufficient enough sleep might be his only undoing.
After interviewing Adam we discussed his current game and what he’s working on after a chance lesson with a new instructor three weeks ago. Talking technique tweaks with one of the best swingers of the club was intriguing. I’ve known Adam for nearly twenty years and he seemed genuinely refreshed with the what he’s working on and where his current game is at. His putting is still an anomaly and looks out of sorts for a player of his caliber.
But my main assignment for the week was the marquee trio of Jordan, Henrik and Tiger.
With just few weeks left before we get a true bead on the best in the game, the current Open Champ and Masters favourite of recent years is a little wobbly. Jordan’s putting is off and it’s radiating through his game as it often does for many a pro. The symptoms are: • poor alignment • inaccurate green reading, • an inconsistent tempo to his stroke and • the odd deceleration
All this in a stroke that’s as repeatable as any in the modern game. The cause I suspect is a mind that’s pushing just a little hard right now. His boy hood rival, Justin Thomas has stolen the headlines with his recent play and despite a close friendship that's full of respect the light is shining brighter somewhere else. Don’t get me wrong, Speith is not green with envy. He is merely as competitive as they come and right now rather than being the golden one he’s having to settle for silver and it burns... The shoe is on the other foot so to speak. And this week he got introduced to Tiger-mania 2.0. He’s not had to experience that before and after digesting and processing he’ll figure out his place in all of this and be back on track shortly after. How long that might take, I’m unsure.
Stenson, like Rose is short of gallop and is in need of some competitive conditioning. I also suspect that he’s at that stage in his career where it could go both ways. A motivated Stenson is as good as they come, remember Troon not that long ago.?? Whether he has that burning desire still, I’m not so sure.. The gentle reminder of that team event in Paris might be just the tonic for the Swede to rise again.
And then there is the 380 somethingth ranked player in the world...I’ll make this short and concise. He’s back. Let’s make this 100% clear he’ll never be what he was but Federer isn’t the player he was 5 yrs ago either but what he is, is enough. A month ago I listed the work on's as I saw them. He’s been to work and although two solid days does not make a season, the control he displayed I’ve seen before. The shapes, trajectory, and sound of the strike were reminiscent of his former self. The tactical awareness and competitive consciousness exhibited a player that knows his game is close to popping. The cadence of stride that comes with a rising confidence is a sign he’s at one with a number of facets of his game. He is not without fault however.. When ascending to the lead part way through his second round whether he knew it or not created a stress he’s not felt for a while and if I were honest his final hole bogey was the work of someone who temporarily felt he exceeded his daily goals... he might have even felt a competitive nervousness to round out a blemish free day at the office. So he’s human.
Regardless of how this weekend pans out for Woods fans, golf fans and sports fans around the world you have legitimate reason to feel just a little bit excited about what might be coming.
Chatting to him off line throughout the week and watching his game progress as quickly as it has makes the potential for the Masters to totally bust the internet in just a month’s time.