Golf notebook: Woods' driver remedy to 'major' drought
Tiger Woods has moved close enough to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championship victories that for most people, Woods included, his season doesn't truly start until the Masters in April.
But Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since outlasting Greensburg native Rocco Mediate in one of the most memorable duels in U.S. Open history. Since beating Mediate in 2008 — he forced a playoff by curling in a birdie putt on the 72nd hole — Woods' personal life has unraveled.
The swing changes he made also have been subjected to scorn and scrutiny.
Woods turned 37 in December. If he doesn't break a four-year majors drought this season, he figures to become a long shot to threaten Nicklaus' hallowed record.
“If he gets the driver back in play, he'll win again,” Mediate said. “Easily.”
And if he doesn't?
“Absolutely no chance,” Mediate said.
Extremes always have framed Woods' pursuit of Nicklaus, given his single-minded approach to the record. That is more pronounced than ever since a wayward driver has been one of the main reasons Woods struggles to regularly contend in majors he used to own.
Woods won the Farmers Insurance Open last month at Torrey Pines, site of his epic U.S. Open victory over Mediate. But he ranks just 102nd on the PGA Tour this season in driving accuracy, hitting a little more than 57 percent of fairways.
Mediate said that has to change, and he is rooting for it, as he has long been one of Woods' biggest admirers.
“You never know what that kid is going to do. I still call him a kid because he's way younger than me and I'm never surprised at what he does,” said Mediate, who turned 50 a week before Christmas. “I hope he wins more majors. I hope he contends for Jack's record, but with the way he drives it now, it's hard to win majors. He's shown that the last three or four years.”
Bullish on Phil
Johnny Miller has an early favorite to win the first major of the year.
“I think it's Phil's Masters,” Miller said during a recent conference call.
Phil Mickelson has won the Masters three times, including as recently as 2010, and he will be one of the players to beat at Augusta National for the reasons Miller is so bullish on him: past success, creativity, scrambling ability and a course that is forgiving to players who spray the ball off the tee.
Woods and Rory McIlroy also will be two of the favorites, but Miller said Woods is not consistently making the kind of putts he did while winning three times at Augusta from 2001-05.
That is why Miller, who won the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont, is leaning toward Mickelson over Woods — at least for now.
Miller, the NBC analyst who rankles both tour players and fans with his candid style, said in his own inimitable way that the players who best manage their nerves will be the ones jockeying for the green jacket.
“We know that all players basically choke at the Masters,” Miller said. “It's just (by) how much.”
Westmoreland Country Club in Export and Grove City Country Club are among the 111 courses hosting U.S. Open local qualifiers this year.
Westmoreland will hold an 18-hole qualifier May 9, while Grove City will stage one May 14. A select number of players from every local qualifier advances to sectional qualifiers, which are one step away from the U.S. Open.
The major will be played at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia from June 13-16.