POTOMAC, Md. — The putter switch worked in the opening round of the Quicken Loans National — just not for Tiger Woods.
Andrew Landry stuck a Ping Dale Anser putter in his bag this week and made seven birdies en route to a bogey-free 7-under 63, tied with J.J. Spaun for the lead at TPC Potomac. Spaun, as a matter of fact, switched putters too, back to his old faithful — a Scotty Cameron by Titleist Newport 2 knock-off of the model made famous by Woods, his golfing idol.
“It’s like the same look, the same stampings, but my name,” Spaun said.
Billy Horschel’s 64 was nearly as spectacular. He hit 17 greens and made nearly 155 feet of putts after cutting his PXG putter down to 33 1/2 inches.
Everyone at the top of the leaderboard seemed to be thanking his putter for his torrid start. The answer to which one is different than the others is Woods, who benched his beloved Newport 2 GSS putter in favor of a TaylorMade TP Black Copper Ardmore 3 and settled for an even-par 70. Woods took 29 putts and ranked 92nd of 120 players in Strokes Gained: putting (-1.198). He didn’t make a birdie until his 13th hole of the day.
Woods kept every one guessing until shortly before his tee time whether he would actually make a putter change. He spent 90 minutes after his Wednesday pro-am round playing musical chairs with multiple putters before he committed to the change. Late in the session, before making his final decision, he returned to stroking some putts with his trusty Newport 2.
“It just didn’t feel right, wasn’t looking right,” he said. “So time for it to sit on the bench a little bit. I’m sure it will come back eventually, just one of those things.”
Lee Trevino, the six-time major winner, was never shy about changing putters and at the Greenbrier Classic media day in 2016, he may have given the most colorful explanation of why golfers change putters and the spark they are seeking.
“When you get a new putter in the pro shop it is like a kitten. They are born with their eyes closed and you get on the putting green and you make everything,”Trevino said. “Then, in about four days, the kitten opens its eyes. It recognizes you and you putt just as bad with that one as you did with the old one.”
Spaun can relate. He said he fiddled with several Scotty Cameron models of late, using different putters at the AT&T Byron Nelson and last week’s Travelers Championship before going back to the putter that has always brought him his greatest success.
The honeymoon phase for Woods and his new putter already may be over. Early in the round, he missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the fifth hole, but it appeared he misread it and didn’t play enough right-to-left break. He had another good look at the eighth and missed it to the right.
“I hit a lot of good putts today on my line with the speed I wanted, so it didn’t go in but I haven’t done that in a while,” Woods said. “So that’s the positive sign, to keep doing that. Eventually, they’ll start rolling in.”
Woods continues to sound like a man convinced he’s on the cusp of doing far more impressive things than the couple of top-5 finishes he’s recorded in 10 previous starts. For someone who has been plagued by inconsistency, he struck the ball rather well. The lone exception was the sixth hole when he pulled his driver into the trees attempting to hit a cut and his ball ricocheted back into play, traveling only 198 yards and failing to reach the fairway. Woods compounded his error by flaring a fairway wood to the right that bounced once and into a red-staked hazard of marsh and cattails. Woods took a drop and made double bogey.
On a steamy afternoon, Woods started to dial in his iron play after salvaging pars at Nos. 10 and 11 despite poor tee shots. He stuck an iron to 11 feet at 12, but didn’t read enough break on the right-to-left bender and wedged to 6 feet at 13, but didn’t touch the hole. He finally put a circle on the scorecard at 14 when he made a 3-foot putt, but blew another chance when he missed at 15 from 9 feet. Even Golf Channel’s Terry Gannon wondered on the broadcast whether this would be a one-and-done performance for Woods’ new putter?
“I am very committed to it,” Woods said after the round. “I’ve always struggled on greens that are a little on the slower side and these greens aren’t very quick right now and they won’t be quick in three weeks’ time, either (at Carnoustie). So, it was a nice thing to move to a putter that rolls a little bit quicker.”
At 16, Woods peppered the flag with his approach from 136 yards, spinning it back to 9 feet below the hole. Having misread a few putts, Woods called in caddie Joe LaCava for help and canned it for his longest putt of the day. All told, he made just 49 feet of putts.
“Overall, it was a good day,” Woods said, “but not the day I really wanted.”
It’s too early to say how long Woods will stick with his new putter, but Spaun said he wouldn’t be surprised if Woods eventually switches back.
“For someone who switches putters as much as I do I can understand the change,” he said. “It’s like a girlfriend. Sometimes you have to let her know that she can be replaced and then she figures out and starts behaving.”
Has Woods’ baby kitten already opened its eyes or will he be on the prowl with his Ardmore on Friday? If Woods doesn’t hole a few more putts in the second round, he may be packing his bags and asking for a J.J. Spaun knockoff.