- - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

POTOMAC, Md. | There was a noticeable lack of buzz a year ago when the Quicken Loans National moved to TPC Potomac. Kyle Stanley defeated Charles Howell III in a playoff, but the tournament lacked some of its usual luster with host Tiger Woods sitting out due to a back injury.

This week, the electricity is back.

It’s the same jolt that’s been following Woods at every Tour stop in recent months as he looks for his first win in nearly five years. TPC Potomac will pose a tough test however.

Stanley’s winning score of 7-under was the highest on Tour last season, and Woods understood why after seeing the golf course this week.

“First time playing this event here for me at the TPC, excited to compete, and this is one heck of a golf course,” Woods said. “It’s certainly a lot more difficult than what I had envisioned. They’ve got the rough up, fairways in, it’s like a mini [US] Open here. So last year, single digits won and we would be hard pressed to get to double digits again this year.”

The 14-time major champion wasn’t even cleared to putt or swing a golf club at this point last year and is grateful to be back competing, but Woods noted that his expectations shifted after a missed cut at Riviera in February.

“I made the changes after L.A., missing the cut in L.A., after not playing well and I was able to make those swing changes right away and play the Honda,” Woods said. “That to me, I stepped up another level and I put it together the very next week at Valspar, almost won the event. That’s when I knew I had something.”

Woods‘ performance has been up and down since returning to the Tour at Torrey Pines in January. He posted three straight top-20 finishes during the Florida swing and mounted a Saturday charge at The Players Championship before finishing tied for 11th.

He has played well in spurts, but Woods has not shown that clutch closing ability he was known for during his prime. Woods ranks 80thin in final round scoring average and struggled in the first two major championships of the season, finishing tied for 32nd at the Masters
and missing the cut at the U.S. Open.

But he’s been hitting the ball as well as anyone on Tour this season, as he ranks fifth in strokes gained: tee-to-green. The difficulty has come on the greens, where he ranks just 89th in strokes gained: putting.

Woods putted well early in the season, but has seen his putting form fall off dramatically in recent weeks.

“I don’t know [what changes]. That’s been the frustrating part,” Woods said. “I’ve had to just log in time and putt for hours to try to figure it out. You know, I hadn’t putted well for, what, about four tournaments now. I had a run at The Players, but I made some putts that didn’t just quite feel right but they were going in. Other than that, I’ve struggled. The west coast and early Florida I putted well, but just haven’t done it the last four events.”

Searching for a change in feel, Woods has experimented with a different putter this week. Woods has used a Scotty Cameron blade putter for 13 of his 14 major championship victories and is normally very reluctant to change putters, but is considering switching to a mallet putter to help cure his putting woes.

“You saw me experimenting with the Ardmore,” Woods said. “I’m trying to find something that I can feel again like the swing of the putter, getting my body in the right positions and seeing the lines again.”

An improvement in his putting could spell trouble for the rest of the Tour as Woods looks to put it all together and earn career PGA Tour win number 80.

“I’m pretty excited the way I’ve hit the golf ball,” Woods said. “I’ve done some things that I haven’t done in over a decade, and so to be able to hit the golf ball as well as I have hit it, if I have the same putting stroke I had earlier in the year with the ball-striking I’ve had, that would be where I want to get to. Just got to put both those things together at the same time.”

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