Tiger Woods' putting problems continue
DORAL, Fla. -- They are even on the scoreboard to this point, but Tiger Woods might be getting a tad annoyed at this point seeing so many putts from Graeme McDowell drop into the cup while his own efforts fail to fall.
Thursday's weather-delayed get-together at Doral was the first time Woods and McDowell played together since their memorable final-round duel in December at the Chevron World Challenge where the Northern Irishman came from four strokes back and then prevailed in a sudden-death playoff.
McDowell holed two huge putts that day, one to force a playoff and then another to win it on the first extra hole, rallying for a victory and denying Woods a much-needed win on his home turf.
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So there was McDowell rolling in another birdie putt on the first hole Thursday (the par-5 10th) on Doral's Blue Monster course, and Woods following up with a miss from closer range.
And while they both are 1 under par through 15 holes of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, it sure felt like Woods should have been lower, given the number of opportunities he gave himself.
While McDowell had 10 one-putt greens, Woods had only four, and just one was for a birdie. On his first nine holes alone, Woods missed birdie putts from 8, 13, 11, 8 and 15 feet.
Often overlooked in the scrutiny of Woods' game is his putting.
The guy who seemingly made everything in winning 14 major championships and memorably holed the putt he had to have to force a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open where he defeated Rocco Mediate is nowhere near as automatic these days.
Statistics, particularly in golf, can be misleading, and Woods' putting numbers were not terrible last year when he failed to win a tournament over the course of a season for the first time. He was 17th in putting average, 58th in putts per round. But in 2008, he was third in putting average, 20th in putts per round. In 2007, he was fourth and 48th.
Again, the numbers don't tell the entire story. Woods has had a cold putter at times, but anecdotal evidence suggests he is not making as many putts, and Thursday appeared to be a good example.
"Every phase of your game is in question when you are struggling," said Hank Haney, Woods' former instructor, when asked about Woods' short-game issues prior to Thursday's play.
"I have never felt that Tiger's chipping was nearly as good as people thought it was so I don't see a big change there. His pitching and sand game were quite good and don't appear to be as good as they were in the past.
"Probably the biggest [issue] he has had is with his putting. He doesn't look like he is hitting terrible putts, but they aren't going in like they used to. I expect this to change and to see him have a great putting tournament soon."
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Last year, for the first time in more than 10 years, Woods switched putters, going from his Scotty Cameron model to a Nike putter at the British Open. He went back and forth a few times the rest of the year, but is now using the Cameron model again.
Woods admitted earlier this year that he simply had not put in the time in 2010.
"I didn't focus on my short game as much as I needed to and I have in the past," Woods said at Torrey Pines. "It's because I was making so many swing changes, and it's hard to allot as much time as I needed to that.
"That's what was nice about this offseason, is I was able to work on my putting and my stroke and go back to my old keys and old feels. Just putting in the work. It takes thousands of balls, and I was able to do that. Last year, I really didn't do much of that, and consequently I had probably one of the worst putting years I've had."
Woods' long game, however, remains a work in progress. He hit just five of 12 fairways on Thursday but did hit 11 of 15 greens. With three holes to go in his first round, he and McDowell trail Hunter Mahan by six strokes.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.