So cutting to the chase, this will be the question on everybody’s mind as Sunday’s final round at Liberty National Golf Club unfolds: can Tiger Woods, playing with a wincing bad back, catch a guy with a 4-stroke lead who can hit a 9-iron 190 yards out of a bunker?
If you haven’t been following Tiger’s latest drama, he woke up Thursday morning with a bad back inflicted by a too soft hotel mattress:
It starts off great every day, and then it progressively deteriorates as the day goes on. Hopefully tomorrow it will be one of those days again and fight through it and see if I can win a tournament.
He’s been receiving treatment for it every night, but he’s had to adapt to the daily progression:
You know what, whatever that shot shape is, some days it’s a big, roping draw and other days it’s a slap slice. You just figure out something to get it around, and I did. I figured out some shots that I knew I could play today, and just relied on my putter.
Late in the round, he was stooping like a flight attendant just to get the ball out of the hole. A straight back is a safe back and it allowed him to keep roping and slapping.
The guy — actually it’s two guys, but we’ll get to the other one in a minute — is long-hitting, co-leader, Gary Woodland. Woodland has had a lackluster year coming back from a wrist injury and has been slowly putting the pieces together to get there:
There’s been a lot going on. Obviously I made a lot of changes last year. Really I’ve made a lot of changes this year, too, but the key was getting healthy. I got healthy there in March. I started working with Claude [Harmon, Butch’s son]. Started swinging a little more similar to what I was in 2011 when I was working with Randy [Smith at Royal Oaks in Dallas].
Then I really was struggling short game‑wise. I hired Pat Goss [Director of Golf at Northwestern] the week of Augusta and my short game has been phenomenal ever since. Led scrambling a couple weeks this year which I’ve never done in my life. Pat’s really helped.
Then I hired Julie Elion [prominent sports psychologist] Wednesday of Reno, and really, just kind of cleared my head. Obviously I had made a bunch of cuts, kind of forcing it a little bit, trying to get back to where I was really with every golf shot and she helped me just let it go and relax. I’m in a great mental state right now and I’m playing pretty well.
Elion helped him to see that he was getting in his own way and instead of forcing good play, allowing it to happen:
I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, I knew I was playing well and put myself in position and just tried to force it on the weekends. Now working with Julie the last couple weeks, I’ve really let my game take over. I’m playing beautifully and I’m controlling the ball.
Claude Harmon and I really feel like we have got my game in a pretty good spot right now with the golf swing. If I can just get out of my own way and relax, I’m playing pretty good.
The “other guy” is Matt Kuchar who is tied for the lead with Woodland at 12-under par:
I’ve been playing some nice golf these three days. Today was really difficult this afternoon, even this morning, the restart, it was blowing 15 or 20 miles an hour. Felt like it was definitely blowing all of 15, 20 miles an hour this afternoon, as well.
The course seemed to play a good two or three shots harder I think today than it did the first two days.
He managed to shoot 1-under on the day in those conditions and hang with one of the longest players in the game. Kuchar is not known for his length, but rather for his ability to keep the ball in play and get it around the course. And in the oddest of turns, both Kuchar and Woodland revealed in their interviews that they are fast friends and play almost all of their practice rounds together. When Kuchar won the right to represent the United States in the World Cup, he selected Woodland to round out the then two-man team. With the course in China stretching out to some 7,800 yards according to Kuchar, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to make that choice.
And the fourth player in Sunday’s Playoff drama is Kevin Chappell. Out of UCLA in 2008, he had one of those banner days. Yesterday, Keegan Bradley set the new course record for Liberty National, a sizzling 63. And today, Chappell went one better shooting a 62. With the conditions, everybody is sort of scratching their heads.
His reward for his effort is 3rd place by himself at 11-under and a date with Mr. Tiger Woods who is at 8-under; they will be paired together in the next to last tee time and right behind Kuchar and Woodland. History would dictate that Chappell doesn’t have a chance of shooting another low round after a 62 — it so rarely happens — because guys try to replicate what worked for them the day before rather than just being completely present to what’s happening in their swings on this day.
So those are four good reasons to watch the finish. There’s a load of big-name talent lurking three or four shots back. A dark horse in that category would be rookie Jordan Spieth who literally carved his PGA Tour career out of sponsor exemptions and his popular win at John Deere.
The Golf Channel, 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm (ET) and shifting to CBS, 3:00 – 6:00.