Stop me if you've heard this one before. "Tiger Woods wins at Bay Hill at the Arnold Palmer Invitational." And yes, you've probably heard it before, this is now the 7th time Woods has won the event.
We will all read countless articles and analysis of Tiger's game and swing and prospects for The Masters and catching Jack Nicklaus' record for majors. All I can say about that is, after watching him this week, I wouldn't bet against him at Augusta - would you?
But I do know the secret to his success at Bay Hill (again, 7 wins there!). This week, Tiger Woods played the par 5s in a stunning -12. Consider, he won by 5 shots and his total score was -13. (Incidentally, for his career, Tiger is -101 now on the par 5s at Bay Hill, on the par 3s and 4s - he's +6.) So maybe it's not really a secret. But it is something we can all learn from.
I often tell people to look mentally play a par 5 backwards from the green. A makeable birdie putt is the goal and you can get one by one of two ways. The most obvious is to reach the green in two. Tiger had nine eagle putts this week. Incidentally, he made none of them but that pretty much means short birdie putts, right? But on the par 5s he couldn't overpower, he still played extrememly smart. His course management and wedge play still meant that every par 5 was a scoring opportunity for him, one he took advantage of. This is something all golfers, even the non-long hitters can learn to emulate.
If you can go for the green in two, find the area that a miss will still give you a viable chance for an up and down birdie. And if you can't, think about your favorite wedge or short iron distance and play to get there in two shots. It may mean not hitting a driver from the tee.
But let's not oversimplify. Tiger's success, especially this week, came because everything that he's been battling seemed to get resolved, at least for a few days, this week in Orlando. He seemed healthy. His swing changes seemed to click as evidenced by his driving success and his sharp iron control. And his putting was as good as we've seen from him in a long time. He was on a course he is obviously comfortable with and knows very well. So that confidence and comfort were key.
And that underscores another important lesson this week. I saw something I haven't seen from Tiger in a long time. Smiles. Did you notice? I think it's safe to say that happy golfers are more confident golfers and more confident golfers tend to be better golfers.
And to bring it full circle, if you play the par 5s well, you're going to shoot lower scores. And when you do that, you're going to smile a lot more too.
What a great week for golf! I hope this gets us all fired up to watch more great golf, including the The Masters coming up soon, and of course, to play better golf this year too!
John Abendroth is a PGA Professional in the Northern California PGA section. He is a co-founder of Celtic Golf Management, a golf course ownership and management company and has been a co-host of the "Hooked on Golf" radio show since 1994.
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