By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Four weeks into the 2012 PGA TOUR season, there are still definite signs of rust.
Just ask Phil Mickelson, who fired a disappointing 77 on the South Course Thursday that left him in very real danger of missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open for just the fifth time in his career. But even among the leaders, there's some tinkering being done.
Bill Haas, for example, is fiddling with his putter. At the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he used the same belly putter that helped him win a playoff at last year's TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola -- and with that title, the FedExCup.
The magic appeared to be gone, though, as Haas ranked dead last among the field with 136 putts, including 36 on the final day. Small wonder, then, that Haas opted to banish the belly and return to a traditional length putter last week at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.
Unfortunately for Haas, the results weren't much better. He was tied for 74th -- and 75 players made the cut -- with a total of 121 putts per round and he never had fewer than 30 on any day in the desert.
So Haas decided to trim an inch from the shaft of his belly putter this week. Voila -- he used just 27 as he made 11 birdies and shot a 63 on the North Course that left him one shot off the lead at the Farmers Insurance Open.
"Great start mainly with the putter, and today it felt really good, which is surprising because these greens probably the toughest to putt on so far that we've played," Haas said.
The three-time PGA TOUR champ, who took a share of the lead into the final round at Torrey Pines last year, doesn't know if the alteration is the answer. "But sometimes just being a little different it's a little more comfortable," he said.
Besides, there was a practical reason for shortening the putter. Haas felt like he couldn't get his eyes over the ball. The inch he excised made a big difference on Thursday.
"The longer it is, the harder it is," Haas said. "The putter has to go further away from your feet. So it allows me to get over the ball a little better and maybe see the line. That's my theory."
Kyle Stanley, who is tied for the lead with Spencer Levin after both shot 62s, was looking for answers after missing the cut last week. He only hit 27 of 41 fairways and 38 of 54 greens. Two rounds of even par in what is normally a birdie fest simply did him in.
A 20-minute drive up the coast to the Titleist Performance Institute on Monday proved to be time well-spent, though. Not to mention, Stanley played the North Course in Wednesday's pro-am, and he could see there were birdies to be had.
"I didn't play very well last week, but I spent Monday up at Titleist and figured a few things out and started hitting it really well," Stanley said. "... I think it was just my alignment. I was setting up way out, so it was causing me to go really in to out on the downswing, so just squared things up a little bit."
Levin is playing with a new driver but it wasn't put in the bag out of frustration. He cracked his tried-and-true model prior to the final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii where he tied for 23rd. Levin rarely carries a back-up so he ended up using his dad's driver and shot 72.
"Last week I was fooling around with a few, and I found what I like now, and it's pretty good," Levin said. "But it was scary because I hadn't switched in two years and I hardly every switch clubs, so that was kind of a curveball."
Levin ended up hitting 12 of 14 fairways on Thursday so the new driver must be working well.
"I kind of tinker with the weights a little bit on the R11," he said. "But I got it to where my swing was today, so hopefully, I can do that again. I like it a lot. I was hitting it really straight today.”
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Spencer Levin has heard players talk about being in "the zone."
He's just not sure he's ever been in one, although the way he played in shooting 29 on the back nine of the North Course on Thursday probably came awfully close. Levin finished with a 62 that set a career low in relation to par and put him in a tie for the lead with Kyle Stanley after the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open.
"I never even know what that means, and I guess when guys do it, they don't even know they're doing it," Levin said. "Maybe that's why I shot that because I just kept trying to hit every shot as good as I could, and I just had a good rhythm going.
“My mind was pretty clear, and it just worked out good. I played really well on that back nine."
Indeed. Levin made a 15-footer at the 10th hole and almost holed a 5-iron at No. 11 to set up his second of the seven birdies on the homeward stretch. His next five birdie putts were all inside 10 feet -- and he actually had two unsuccessful eagle attempts from inside 12 feet that might have created a 59 watch.
"I had good looks and was putting well so it kind of added up," Levin said.
Levin and Stanley are one stroke ahead of Bill Haas, who shot a 63 on the North Course that included a double bogey on the par-3 sixth, his 15th of the day. The group at 8 under included Rod Pampling, Josh Teater, Vijay Singh and rookie John Huh.
Stanley's 62 was also a career-low and it included an eagle on the 18th hole. Stanley estimated his drive on that hole covered 380 yards and he coaxed an 8-iron from 173 yards to 3 feet for the tie with Levin.
"The course is in good shape, the fairways are nice, the greens are soft, but you can just be pretty aggressive with your irons," Stanley said. "You've got to hit solid putts. If you don't hit solid putts, it will bump up on you."
The top 12 players on the leaderboard all played the North Course, which is generally regarded as the easier of the two. In fact, Mark Turnesa, who shot 66, and Marco Dawson and Brandt Snedeker, who shot 67s, were the only players in the top 25 who played the South.
The field will switch courses on Friday and everyone who survives the cut will play the final two rounds on the South. The scoring average on the South was 72.846 while the North’s was 69.244.
Phil Mickelson, the hometown favorite and three-time champ at Torrey Pines, was one of the South’s casualties. He shot a 77 that was his second-highest score ever on the course that hosted the 2008 U.S. Open and left him in a tie for 147th
"The North Course, if you start on it, you've got to get off to a good start," said Rickie Fowler, who shot 68 on that layout. "You play it Friday and you feel like you can make up ground. So it is a place where you can make birdies. But the South, obviously, we play three rounds. so you have to hang in there."
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- The North Course is generally regarded as the more generous of the two at Torrey Pines, and Spencer Levin took full advantage Thursday, making birdie on the 18th hole to shoot a 62.
Levin has a two-stroke advantage over Josh Teater and Rod Pampling, who also played the North and shot a pair of 64s. Bill Haas, who set the pace until he made double bogey on the par-3 sixth, his 15th hole of the day, is also at 8 under with one remaining.
Camilo Villegas, who held a share of the first-round lead last week at the Humana Championship, has finished off a 65 on the North. He's tied with Greg Chalmers, who is also finished, and Kyle Stanley and John Huh, who are through 16 and 15 holes, respectively.
Of the top 14 players on the leaderboard only two are playing on the South Course, which hosted the 2008 U.S. Open. Marco Dawson is 6 under through 17 holes while Marc Turnesa is at the same number through 16.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Two players to watch on Sunday afternoon who aren’t vying for the title or the money lead are Spencer Levin and D.J. Trahan.
Levin is bidding to crack the top 30 on the money list and earn his first start at the Masters next spring. Levin has played 13 holes and is 6 under for the tournament – and he trails No. 30 Kevin Na by $15,209 right now.
Na won his first PGA TOUR event four weeks ago at the Justin Timberlake Shriner’s Hospitals for Children Open. Winners of Fall Series events, though, do not get Masters invitations and Na opted not to play this week. His final event of the year is the Shanghai Masters next week.
Trahan, who started the week No. 123, started on the back nine and has played eight holes. He was the bubble boy through three rounds and has dropped down to No. 126 right now.
|Top players without a win in this week's field|
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM Site Producer
Sounds like the most incongruous of golf pairings, but it wasn’t far from coming to fruition Sunday at Augusta – the Green Jacket and the long putter.
Adam Scott fell a little short of capturing his first major at Augusta National, but if he had it would have also
Tim Clark used one to win THE PLAYERS Championship last year and finished second with one in the 2006 Masters. Nick O’Hern and Scott McCarron also use long putters. Belly putters are even more prevalent, as we saw last month with Martin Laird and Spencer Levin using them while battling for the Arnold Palmer Invitational title.
When Jack Nicklaus won his signature sixth Green Jacket with an oversized-head Response ZT putter, the public bought thousands in the days afterward. Might the same thing have happened if Scott had won with his 49-inch Scotty Cameron Studio Select Kombi? Who knows.
But don’t expect to see Scott with anything else anytime soon. He put one in the bag earlier this year at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship and it has more than earned its place.
“After I saw some putts going in, it wasn't really hard to change,” Scott said. “The rhythm with the long putter is very nice, and that's something I was fighting in my putting with the short putter. So I started practicing with it, and the more I practiced with it, the better it felt and the more putts I made and eventually it was a pretty easy decision that I should give it a run.”
Scott tied for third at the Masters and had 111 putts over four days, which tied him for third in the field behind Luke Donald and the winner, Charl Schwartzel.
MORE BELLY TALK: World No. 2 Lee Westwood couldn’t hide his disgust with his work on the greens at Augusta and went to a belly putter for the final round. The 2010 runner-up finished tied for 11th, shooting 74-70 for the weekend after a Friday 67 moved him into contention.
“To come so close last year and get myself in good shape this year and then, on the greens, it just makes me feel like pulling my hair out,” Westwood said. “I felt a little more comfortable (Sunday) with the belly putter. At least I made one 15-footer.”
Westwood added that he “didn’t see any future in the short (putter) for a while.”
ANOTHER TIGER PUTTER?: OK, maybe not yet. But this photo from his trip to China this week is amusing. Look closely and you’ll see Woods practicing a long-putter stroke with a standard-length putter.
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM producer
The allure of the belly putter was on full display at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, as Martin Laird and Spencer Levin played in the final group all weekend with the longer flatsticks.
Are the unconventional putters a full-fledged trend on TOUR? Maybe not yet, but it’s worth noting that two of the top 30 in the world ranking now play with them – No. 28 Adam Scott (the full split-grip long putter) and Laird, who cracked the top 30 at No. 21 after winning at Bay Hill with a belly putter.
For Levin, the new putter has a complete game-changer. He switched after he secured his 2011 card late last year, and now he has three top-10s in his last six starts.
“When you're playing, you don't really think about it but looking back, I think I've obviously made more putts with it than I was before,” said Levin, who finished T2 in putts per round at Bay Hill.
“Since I got that belly putter, I've definitely noticed I've been making some more mid-range putts. Before with a normal putter, I was always good -- I was always a good short putter but I wasn't a very good 12- to 20-foot putter. (Now) I feel like I'm making a couple more a round, which is I think probably why I'm scoring better for sure.”
Reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen is getting into the act too; check out the Ping belly putter he bought at Augusta National here .
● Speaking of the Masters, world No. 2 Lee Westwood talked Wednesday at the Shell Houston Open about possible changes in his bag for the season’s first major.
“I generally keep the same stuff in, decide last minute whether it's 2-iron or 5 (wood). Augusta is generally 5 because you need to fly the ball in high,” Westwood said. “I've been doing a little bit of work with different bounces on sand irons. It's nice to take a bit of the bounce off the lob wedge at Augusta with the lies you get there and the firmness of the sand in the traps. It's nice to get under the ball a little bit.”
● Tiger Woods went back to his standard Nike VR blades at the Arnold Palmer, taking out the newer-version Nike VR Pro blades he put in the bag at the Chevron World Challenge last year. The VR blades will go to the Masters, too.
As for his continuing putter saga, Woods made an adjustment to the heel-shafted Nike Method that lately has replaced the Scotty Cameron that had been his constant through the years.
“We softened the grooves up to make sure it's not as quick, as I said, and I wanted something more suited for faster greens,” Woods said. “So we softened up the grooves, and it's coming off very similar to my Cameron and releasing obviously how I like it.”
Something more suited for faster greens … hmm. Sounds like a Masters putter.
● Laird won last week with a TaylorMade white driver, but not the more-ballyhooed R11. He used the Burner SuperFast 2.0 while ranking fifth in distance for the week.
“I put that new driver in at Doral three weeks ago, and I’m not someone that changes equipment much,” Laird
said. “I had had my driver before for three years and Taylor Made had been pushing me to try this new one, and I’m glad they did because this thing is unbelievable.”
● K.J. Choi turned heads with the three hybrids he used to finish tied for sixth at Bay Hill (read more here ), but another money club was the Odyssey putter he returned to. Choi’s trademark with putters is the SuperStroke extra-wide grip, said to keep the wrists from breaking down. He used one to win the AT&T National in 2007 and has had it ever since.
● Retief Goosen is going back to the Yes! model putter he used to win two U.S. Opens, our Melanie Hauser writes here .
● PLAYERS champion Tim Clark and others have played with Srixon’s yellow ball, which the company says offers improved visibility , not to mention a distinctive look.
On Twitter, a fan asked Titleist if they would make an orange ProV1 to match Rickie Fowler’s standard Sunday Oklahoma State-inspired outfits. The response: “Highly unlikely!”
● Jack Wulkotte, inducted over the weekend into the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Sports Hall of Fame, owns a pretty significant place in golf history. He was Jack Nicklaus’ personal clubmaker while with MacGregor. That ZT Response putter that Nicklaus won with at the 1986 Masters (and that you’ll hear plenty about over the next week)? Wulkotte put the grip on it. Read his story .