By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
Sean Foley looked at me like I had just asked the most stupid question in the world.
I thought I had seen something different in Tiger Woods’ putting set-up at the PGA Championship last summer, and so I asked Foley -- his coach -- if Tiger had worked on getting his eyes directly over the ball.
Foley responded with a quizzical look and then laughter. I still remember his response.
“Over the ball? Better than 90 percent of players out here work hard on getting their eyes inside the golf ball at address.”
Inside the golf ball?
I like to think I have a pretty high golf IQ. I understand swing plane and zero quotients. You want to talk about ball speed, loft and coefficients? Let’s have a conversation.
My wife, Kristi, played more than 20 years on the LPGA Tour. I have caddied, listened, announced and talked golf for the last 30 years and I can’t begin to tell you how many hours I spent dropping a golf ball off the bridge of Kristi’s nose to see if her eyes were directly over the ball.
Eyes centered over the golf ball while putting -- it's one of the tenants of the game.
So now it turns out our comical exercise was not only a waste of time, it was actually damaging to her putting?
Foley went on to say that although it used to be the model, “the paradigm has changed.” (I love a golf instructor who can just flip the world "paradigm" into casual conversation.)
Foley says centering your eyes over the ball distorts the putting line. When you stare down that line, the cup appears to be to the left for a right-handed player, creating a pull. The ideal setup has the golfer’s eyes lining up inside the golf ball.
I like to tease Foley. My question was the genesis for a February instruction article of his in Golf Digest. Guess he owes me a residual.
Which brings us to Woods' putting.
His ball striking has certainly improved but it was his putting that made him unbeatable at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship two weeks ago.
He had 100 putts in the victory and is sixth on TOUR in strokes gained-putting this year. Entering this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, Woods' strokes gained-putting is at .995 this season, meaning he picks up almost a full stroke on the field every round just with his putter.
We obsess with Woods' driving, the constant tinkering with his swing, his health and personal life.
If you want to know how Tiger is playing, look at strokes gained-putting.
From 2007-2009, he ranked no worse than third in strokes gained-putting. During that three-year stretch, he won 17 PGA TOUR events.
Compare that to 2010 when he ranked 109th in strokes gained-putting and did not win.
Woods rarely divulges intimate information about his putting stroke and practice routine. In fact, sometimes I think Tiger purposely misleads us. He is such a competitor, I don’t think he wants to give any advantage to any opponent.
I don’t know if having his eyes inside the line while putting is a key to his revitalized stroke or if a tip from Steve Striker was the reason.
I do know with absolute certainty, when Woods putts well he is just about unbeatable.
This year’s stats tell us to expect a monster year from Tiger.
Mr. Palmer: I asked players last week what they thought of when I mentioned Bay Hill and to a man, everyone responded with the same answer: Mr. Palmer. Arnold Palmer is held in such high regard it’s almost a reverence. It’s as if his charisma is evident as soon as you step foot on the grounds. He has gone from dashing player, to ambassador of the game to the lovable grandfather you can't wait to see. And it’s not just the players. From the gallery, to the volunteers to the officials, every one respects Mr. Palmer and this tournament.
Bunkers: Tournament officials have worked hard to improve the bunkers at Bay Hill. When the course was re-done in 2009, the bunkers received extra sand that is still troublesome since it can lead to plugged lies. If the sand remains moisture, the ball will pop out of its divot on entry, but the Florida sun tends the bake the bunkers making moisture retention difficult.
Bermuda: There is plenty of grass on the golf course. Bay Hill has Bermuda greens and fairways. It’s a warm-weather grass that will only grow if the temperature stays above 50 degrees at night. It has been an unusually warm winter in Florida and the bermuda is lush. The rough will become very difficult if it is not cut during tournament play.
Pace of play: Early rounds took more than five hours to play last week at the Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank and I think you can expect a similar pace at Bay Hill. The field has been increased to 132 players and the course is loaded with water hazards. Rain is a possibility every day, all of which leads to extended rounds. It is very difficult for a player to retain his concentration when rounds exceed five hours.
Winner, winner: You can’t pick against Tiger Woods this week. He’s entered three stroke-play events on the PGA TOUR this season and won two of them. Tiger is a seven-time winner at Bay Hill. If you want to go “chalk,” then Tiger is your pick. I am looking a little deeper into the talent pool and like Justin Rose. He’s coming off a Top 10 at Doral and has a nice track record at Bay Hill with a T15 last year and T3 in 2011.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.