May 11, 2009

The Smart Play

The driver may be the glamour club on the PGA Tour, but competitors were keeping it under wraps at the Players

scratch GOLf satin finish: Cristie Kerr used a pair of these wedges in winning the LPGA event at Kingsmill.

scratch GOLf satin finish: Cristie Kerr used a pair of these wedges in winning the LPGA event at Kingsmill.

In an interview in the July 2002 issue Golf Digest, Pete Dye said, "I wish Tiger Woods could be forced to hit his driver 14 times a round. The distance he gets with his 2-iron is impressive, but the risk of a bad shot is cut in half. There's so little suspense to it."

But after Woods' erratic display off the tee at the Quail Hollow Championship, Johnny Miller suggested Woods should stick to 3-wood off the tee during the Players. It turned out Woods—and several other players—listened to Miller as the driver got little use at Dye's TPC Sawgrass.

Despite Woods' assertion earlier in the week that foregoing driver was not an option ("No, no. We've got par 5s out here; you've got to be able to use it," he said), the fact is Woods often kept the headcover on the driver, opting to use a 12-degree 3-wood he put in the bag for the tournament. On Friday, for example, Woods hit driver only twice—on the ninth and 11th holes, both par 5s.

The extent to which players exercised caution off the tee was considerable as only four of the 14 non-par 3s yielded driving-distance averages above the tour average of 284.5 yards. Architect Dye likes to play mind games, but players were using their heads when formulating a game plan for Sawgrass.

"I like to hit my 3-wood a lot, and that club just matches perfectly around here, a little right-to-left shape a lot of times," said Players champ Henrik Stenson, who hit driver only once Sunday, at the 11th, during a final-round 66.

Jeff Klauk, son of Fred Klauk, the long-time superintendent at TPC Sawgrass, has played more than 1,000 rounds on the Dye design and knows the value of accuracy over distance.

"You've got to hit the fairways going into these small greens, especially since they're going to be firm," said Klauk. "You're not going to hit driver everywhere, but you've definitely got to be in the short stuff."

Recent history at the Players backs Klauk. Three times in the last five years the Players champion has led the field in accuracy off the tee (Stenson was T-11). Not coincidentally, that resulted in those players also leading the field in greens in regulation. Only one of the last five champions has ranked higher than 32nd in distance for the week.

At a course known for producing fireworks, the bomb off the tee doesn't appear to be one of them anymore.

Spotted

A yet-to-be-released Scotty Cameron by Titleist putter was in the hands of David Toms at the Players. A blade-style with a channel cut out of the sole to provide Toms the sound he prefers, the putter also features what the company calls a "honey-dipped" bronze finish . "I needed something that would have a little more flow to the toe," said Toms. "I was shutting my putter coming back, so I needed a little more face rotation."

Bag Room

Henrik Stenson put his old Srixon cavity-back I-506 irons (the same clubs he used to win the 2007 WGC-Accenture Match Play) in the bag for the first time this year at the Players. Stenson had been using the company's I-701 forged blade. ... Padraig Harrington put Wilson's Smooth driver in the bag at Sawgrass--his fourth different driver in his last four events.