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Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Updated: April 30, 2:56 PM ET
Speculation of Woods-Haney split nonsense

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The thousands of spectators who followed Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning during their pro-am round Wednesday morning at the Quail Hollow Club did not include Hank Haney.

That could cause the conspiracy theorists to conclude that Woods' instructor of the past five years might soon have more time to spend with Charles Barkley.

Not true.

Despite a few tense moments at the Masters a few weeks ago -- leading to some conjecture about Haney's future with Woods -- and Haney's absence this week, there is nothing to it.

"It has nothing to do with Henry,'' Woods said of the frustration he felt at the Masters, where he tied for sixth, four shots out of a playoff won by Angel Cabrera.

"I didn't hit the ball the way I wanted to, and I didn't make any putts. I felt like that every day. It was [holes] 17 and 18 that hurt. I didn't finish off my rounds the last couple of days, and it cost me a chance to win the golf tournament.''

The fact that Haney is not at this week's Quail Hollow Championship is also of no significance. Reached earlier this week in Dallas, Haney said he spent time over the weekend working with Woods in Orlando and, depending on circumstances, might hook up with him next week at the Players Championship.

Hank Haney

Travis Lindquist/Getty Images

Don't fret. Renowned coach Hank Haney will continue to be by Tiger Woods' side.

Haney typically spends the week prior to and the week of a major championship with Woods. Other work may be done away from a tournament site, as was the case recently, and it is common for Haney to skip events. For example, Haney was at Doral for only a day because he had another commitment there; and he was not at Bay Hill.

"I worked with him Saturday and Sunday, and he was hitting it really good,'' Haney said. "I feel very good about how he is going to do this week. But you never know. If you tell me where he is going to finish in putting, I'll tell you where I think he'll finish in the tournament.''

The reference, of course, was to Woods' lackluster putting at the Masters. Woods averaged 1.69 putts per green in regulation to rank tied for 45th out of 50 players who made the cut. Woods also had a poor putting week at Doral, where he tied for ninth but ranked 42nd in putting.

At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Woods was first in the field in putting and he won the tournament.

It might be too simple to suggest that any deficiency in Woods' results boils down to putting, but it does put things in perspective, certainly in relation to his swing and Haney's influence.

Haney does himself little good trying to plead his case, so he refrains from doing so. He is aware that some observers noticed Woods giving him an earful on the driving range at Augusta National following a second-round 72 in which he bogeyed the 18th hole.

And when Woods finished the tournament with consecutive bogeys, he was tense in his comments afterward and referred to using a "Band-Aid'' swing in the final round. All of which led to the speculation about Haney.

"Usually you just leave me alone, let me vent for a while and then I'll be ready for focus on what I need to do to get ready for the next day,'' said Woods, who is making his first start since the Masters at Quail Hollow, where he won two years ago. "It's happened before, he's [Haney] seen it before; [caddie] Stevie [Williams] has seen it. You've got to vent.

"We don't get a chance to do that because we come off the green, we do media right away. You're constantly on, and I just need to vent for just a little bit. Give me five minutes, 10 minutes, and once that's over, it's 'What do we need to do to get ready to win this golf tournament the next day?'''

It is true that Woods dearly wanted to win the Masters and is annoyed at his inability to do so since 2005, considering he finished in the top three the following three years and sixth in 2009. A total of 12 shots over four years kept him out of a playoff each time.

And yet, when Woods tees it up Thursday at Quail Hollow, it will be just his 13th stroke-play round since returning from an eight-month layoff following knee surgery.

"The level of scrutiny that Tiger is under is unprecedented in sports,'' Haney said. "The expectations are just enormous. His greatness has created those expectations. He has only played in three [stroke-play] events. This was a pretty darn big injury and layoff. I don't think anybody would deny that. I just think he needs more play and more tournaments. People want to rush to judgment, and I guess it's understandable.''

Manning understands a thing or two about expectations and marvels at how Woods deals with them. The Indianapolis Colts quarterback has personal experience going back to his days as a prep phenom in New Orleans and son of a quarterback legend.

Those expectations followed Manning to the University of Tennessee and to the NFL, where his Colts won Super Bowl XLI during the 2006 season, and he was named league MVP last season.

"[Woods] does a great job, and there is no harder critic on him than himself,'' said Manning, who played with Woods and Quail Hollow member John Harris. "He has high goals and high expectations, and his ability to focus and block out any type of distractions is impressive. His physical abilities are obviously more popular, but his mental preparation and focus, I think, is what really separates him.''

Woods has shown an ability to play at the highest level again in relatively short order. After winning the U.S. Open in June and then undergoing ACL surgery, Woods did not work on his golf swing in earnest until January.

And yet, he has three top-10 finishes in his three stroke-play events, including a victory. Not bad, even for the No. 1 player in the world.

"It's just the nature of how I am," Woods said. "You want to try and win every event you play in, and obviously I haven't done that this year, but I've had some success this year. Sometimes it's hard to look at it that way.''

A look at this week's venue

It doesn't get much better than the Quail Hollow Club. Almost to a man, PGA Tour players swear that only a few tweaks would be necessary for the course to be able to host a major championship. You see it every year by the strong field that shows up. That's the case again this time, with all but Kenny Perry among the top 10 in the world signed up.

Quail Hollow, designed by George Cobb and opened in 1961, was home to the now-defunct Kemper Open on the PGA Tour from 1969 to 1979 when the tournament moved to Washington, D.C. The course also had a Champions Tour event from 1983 to 1988.

Wachovia stepped up to take on a sponsorship role in 2003, and a new PGA Tour event was born and has been one of the most popular since. This is the sixth straight year that the event is sold out.

Last year, Quail Hollow was the 20th most difficult on tour, with the par-72, 7,442-yard course playing to an average of 72.791.

The tree-lined North Carolina typography is appealing, but Quail Hollow also has a formidable three-hole finishing stretch known as the Green Mile. The 16th is a 480-yard, par-4, followed by a 217-yard par-3, and then a 478-yard par-4 to finish. In the tournament's six-year history, only three players have managed to get through that three-hole stretch bogey-free for all four rounds -- Justin Rose and Troy Matteson in 2003 and Ernie Els in 2007.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Birdies and bogeys

Birdies:

1. Jerry Kelly: After giving up his final round lead, Kelly came back to win at the Zurich Classic, his third PGA Tour victory but his first in seven years.

2. Tom Lehman: That didn't take long. In his first start on the Champions Tour, the former U.S. Ryder Cup captain teamed with a former European captain, Bernhard Langer, to win the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.

3. Lorena Ochoa: She held off Suzann Pettersen with a final-round 68 to defend her Corona Championship title, her second victory of the year and 26th overall.

Bogeys:

1. No LPGA TV: It was unfortunate for the LPGA that it could not showcase two of its stars, Lorena Ochoa and Suzann Pettersen, going head-to-head Sunday in Mexico. They were separated by a single stroke entering the final round and finished that way after both shot 68 -- and nobody saw it on U.S. television.

2. Charles Howell: For the third time this year, Howell had a chance to win on Sunday, and for the second time, a couple of late bogeys cost him. Howell had a two-shot lead on the back nine and couldn't finish.

3. Wells Fargo/Wachovia: Wells Fargo took over for Wachovia last year, and then in the wake of all the federal bailout talk, decided to drop its name from this week's PGA Tour event, now known as the Quail Hollow Championship. The name certainly sounds better, but wouldn't it be prudent to get some return on investment? Wells Fargo is still on the hook for its sponsorship fees this week -- as it will be through 2014, the length of the contract.

Daly's return

Another comeback begins this week for John Daly, this time in Spain, where he will compete in what is supposed to be the first of four consecutive European Tour events, concluding with next month's flagship tournament, the BMW PGA Championship.

Daly is still in the midst of an unannounced and nobody-knows-how-long suspension handed down by the PGA Tour sometime last fall. That was the end of a tough year for Daly, who, among other things, was dropped by his coach, Butch Harmon. Daly missed his pro-am tee time at Bay Hill, prompting his disqualification from the tournament.

But Daly is said to be on the way back. He had lap band surgery earlier this year to control his eating and supposedly has lost about 40 pounds. He's been working with instructor Rick Smith. And we all know he's got talent. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

Notables

• This week marks the halfway point of the PGA Tour's regular season, as 16 of the 33 weeks in the regular season have been contested through New Orleans.

• Tom Lehman became the 13th player to win in his Champions Tour debut when he captured the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf (along with Bernhard Langer). He was the first to do so since Mark Wiebe at the 2007 SAS Championship.

• Vijay Singh is the only player to have made the 36-hole cut in all six previous tournaments at Quail Hollow. There are 38 players who competed in each of the six.

• Quail Hollow offers the final opportunity to get into next week's Players Championship for those not already qualified, but only a victory will do it.

"• The Fall Series will have an opening this year, as no event has been put into the slot vacated by the Ginn Company, Nov. 5-8. There had been hope of putting a tournament in Sea Island, Ga. That week, the HSBC Championship event will be played in China and is now a World Golf Championship event. But the money will not count on the PGA Tour money list, nor will a victory get a player a two-year exemption.

Catching up with last year's champ

Quail Hollow was Anthony Kim's coming-out party a year ago. He shot a final-round 69 to win the tournament by five shots, his first PGA Tour victory, and one that stamped him as among the game's up-and-coming players.

Kim, who turns 24 in June, did little to disappoint the rest of the season. He added another victory at the AT&T National, had four other top-fives and a total of eight top-10 finishes for the year, including a tie for seventh at the British Open. He was a star of the U.S. Ryder Cup team -- defeating Sergio Garcia 5 and 4 in singles. Then he tied for third at the season-ending Tour Championship to finish the year fourth in FedEx Cup points and sixth on the money list with more than $4.6-million.

This year, Kim has been up and down. He finished second at the season-opening Mercedes but has struggled to stay healthy and contend since then. He made 11 birdies during the second round to set a Masters record and tied for 20th, his best stroke-play effort since the season-opener.

"Even though I'm getting better, it's still not there,'' Kim said. "Obviously, my game is starting to come around.''

Quotable

"I still go to see and make sure it's there.'' -- Angel Cabrera, playing in his first PGA Tour event since winning the Masters, talking about the green jacket that is safely stored in his home in Argentina.

Quail Hollow Championship picks

Birdie Buster: In three appearances at Quail Hollow, Tiger Woods is a combined 25-under-par with one victory and no finish worse than a tie for 11th.

Horse for the Course: Vijay Singh. He has played at Quail Hollow every year since its inception in 2003, with a victory in 2005 and four top-10 finishes.

Super Sleeper: Sergio Garcia. It's tough to call the third-ranked player in the world a sleeper, but Sergio has done little this year after starting it with so much promise. He tied for second at Quail Hollow in 2005.

Winner: Phil Mickelson. He's never won the tournament, but Mickelson has three top-10s, tied for 12th last year, and seemingly has confidence after his final-round rush at the Masters.