Gary Woodland Seizing the Moment

Woodland Holds Three-Shot Lead into Sunday in Hawaii

It is that time of the golf year where I have to wonder if professionals of the game have anything at all to complain about. They play on Kapalua in Hawaii, and for the likes of me, even four bad rounds of golf there make it a dream vacation. The trade winds blow, sometimes a bit more than usual, as they have this week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. However, nothing seems to be bothering Gary Woodland all that much. In an an early round, he ran off  a string of consecutive birdies to hold part of the lead alongside Rory McIlroy. On the next round, he skipped all that, with just one birdie on 18, but equaled the fireworks of the day before with an eagle putt of 65 feet. I was able to check in on the tournament from time to time, and beside the beatific Hawaiian climate, I took immediate note of the greens. They looked fast, and the breaks, sometimes several per putt, were like something out of a carnival mirror. I wondered why Bryson de Chambeau was aiming way out there, only to see that a near right angle approach was nearly perfect. Kapalua is a course where on a championship day, a bad break could take the ball behind you. Obviously, Woodland had it figured out.

A native of Kansas, Woodland played for the Kansas University Jayhawks for four years, and statistically speaking, there’s little reason he shouldn’t be winning out on this tour from time to time. One particular statistic jumps out. The Topekan has held the 54 hold lead six times since his rookie year of 2009. That’s nice work, but unfortunately, he hasn’t won a single one of them. Still, just as I was getting to write a “bridesmaid, never a bride” article, I did notice that he has won three tournaments on the PGA, and two others in other venues. Those include the Reno-Tahoe Open, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and the Transition Championship. His golf profile speaks of good, healthy all-American qualities. His scoring average is under 70 where it should be, he drives around 275 to 280, averages about 1.7 putts per hole, and he is ranked #9 on the Fed Ex rankings. He has a nice deal going with Wilson Golf and enjoys a supportive family. With a little snow, it would be all Currier & Ives, but we’re in Hawaii. There, the course has a pretty good record as well. The Tournament of Champions moved there in 1999, and since that time, no one has blown a three-shot lead at the end.

The 54-hole thing is not a statistic over which Gary Woodland needs to spend much time worrying. Regardless of that history and the archives of the present course, it is Gary Woodland, today’s golfer, that holds the best cards he has ever held. He describes his game as occupying a space in which he has no need to play conservatively. The confidence and talent to attack is a component that every pro needs if he or she is on the cusp of winning. Good clean, sensible course management is also a requirement, depending on the situation. Woodland, however, is in line to win this thing, and the rest of the field won’t oblige by shooting 72s ‘en masse.’ In some cases, conservative play holds a danger, as a second cousin to timidity. One concern may be that his next competition, trailing at three behind, is Rory McIlroy, and that one stroke behind him is Marc Leishman. Woodland knows that he can’t play the brave knight through three rounds, and cower on the fourth. I feel certain that he’ll show up.

Meanwhile, while Woodland and his colleagues are swinging away on their dream vacation, I will check the skies for snow coming over the eastern Cascades, and watch the palm trees while we see how they are all doing. Now that Gary Woodland’s name is more central in my golf lexicon this week, maybe we’ll see a new force next year.

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