Hale Irwin, left, tips his cap after his eagle chip into the 18th hole with his son Steve Irwin, right, during the first round of the Father/Son Challenge golf tournament in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.)
Willie J. Allen Jr.
December 15, 2015

The popular ''strokes gained'' statistic was not introduced until four years ago, although the PGA Tour has data to track putting performances dating to 2004. Tiger Woods was No. 2 that year, followed by Brad Faxon and Steve Stricker. All have reputations as being great putters.

So it's worth noting, statistically, who was the No. 1 putter in 2004 - Adam Scott.

And that's why Scott is bemused, and a little irritated, when he's often cited among players facing an uncertain future when the ban on anchored strokes used for long putters starts on Jan. 1.

''People don't like facts? It's a good starting point to an opinion - a fact,'' said Scott, with a grin. ''Maybe because me changing to a long putter was quite a drastic change. Maybe that's why it got a lot of attention. Beats me. I've tried to downplay it the whole time. I don't think it's that big of a deal going back to the short putter.''

He switched to the long putter at the Match Play Championship in 2011, contended for the first time at the Masters two months later, nearly won the British Open the following year and then became the first Australian to win the Masters in 2013.

What often gets overlooked is that Scott won 18 times worldwide before switching to the long putter, including The Players Championship and the Tour Championship. He has won seven times in five years with the long putter.

Scott refers to 2015 as a ''transition'' year, yet when he talked about change - a daughter, a new caddie, tinkering with equipment - his putting was almost an afterthought.

What might have hurt him this year was putting so poorly. He started with a short putter, only to switch back to the longer putter before the Masters. The change back to a short putter for good began at the Presidents Cup. He had one match where he missed everything, and a Sunday singles rout of Rickie Fowler when he made everything.

''I think the focus on putting is probably the least impactful thing,'' he said. ''I haven't had the consistency with my striking this year because it's one of those things where when your putting suffers, eventually it catches up with your ball striking.''

Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson have used long putters their entire careers, and Clark used it all the way to the end of 2015. Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley, who used belly putters their entire PGA Tour careers, went to a short putter at the end of 2014. Both now are well out of the top 50.

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JORDAN & THE KING: Jordan Spieth returned to Augusta National last week for the first time since his four-shot victory in the Masters. He saw his name on the permanent Masters trophy. He was treated like an honorary member. And he checked out the new Champions Locker Room.

Augusta National has champions share a locker, and the 22-year-old Texan was curious.

''I walked up to see who I was with,'' Spieth told Golfweek magazine. ''And I share a locker with Arnold Palmer. So it was a very special moment there.''

He might have recognized one other thing in that locker room - his 60-degree wedge that he used to win the Masters.

The club asks champions to donate one club that was meaningful in their victory. That wedge is what Spieth used to hit a flop shot over the edge of a bunker on the 18th hole in the third round for an unlikely par save to keep his lead at four shots.

After next year's Masters, the club will be brought down to the Grill Room with the rest of the clubs donated over the years.

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TIGER'S PUTTING: Tiger Woods wasn't making as many putts before his back surgeries or at least it seemed that way because he used to make everything.

He had a reason for that in his interview with Time magazine.

''Here's the deal,'' Woods said. ''When my back was bad, anytime I bent over, my whole upper body and neck would start to cramp up, and so putting was the most painful, and so I never practiced it. It hurt too much. It's just a matter of getting healthy enough to where I can do that again.''

Woods didn't play enough to be eligible for a ranking in strokes gained in 2014 and 2015. In his last two full seasons, he was 35th in 2012 and tied for 22nd in 2013.

''I know I can putt,'' Woods said. ''I proved that to myself this year that I can still putt. I haven't lost my nerves. My hands don't shake. I don't feel any of those sensations, unless my back was acting up. But then bending over would cause my neck to go, and eventually other parts of my body would start to go.''

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KOEPKA'S LONG BREAK: Brooks Koepka, who rarely describes his personality without mentioning the word ''chill,'' should be plenty rested by the time the Florida swing starts on Feb. 25 with his hometown event at the Honda Classic.

Koepka will have played three tournaments during a three-month stretch.

He missed the cut in Las Vegas on Oct. 23. He didn't play again until the Hero World Challenge. He will tee it up at Kapalua at the start of the year. And he will defend his title in the Phoenix Open.

''I love golf,'' he said. ''But not every single day.''

He didn't touch a club from Las Vegas until a week before going to the Bahamas and said he felt excited, a feeling he had not had since after the PGA Championship. That's understandable considering Koepka played 13 times in a 16-week stretch from the Scottish Open through Las Vegas. Part of that was the FedEx Cup schedule, along with his bid to make the Presidents Cup team.

''You take time off when you can,'' Koepka said. ''All we try to do is have everything click at the beginning of April. That's when you want your game to peak.''

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DIVOTS: Fifteen players are expected to be added to the 2015 Masters when the world ranking is finalized next week. The only tournament on the schedule is the Philippine Open, which will not affect the top 50. Lee Westwood reached No. 50 with his tie for second in the Thailand Open last week. ... The Copperhead course at Innisbrook is open again after a six-month restoration project that involves re-grassing all the fairways and rough, rebuilding each green and reshaping the bunkers. Jordan Spieth is to defend his title at Innisbrook in the Valspar Championship on March 10-13. ... Keith Hansen of Providence, Utah, who has worked as a rules official at more than 80 USGA championships, has been selected to receive the 2016 Joe Dey Award for volunteer service to the USGA. He will receive the award Feb. 6 at the USGA's annual meeting in San Diego.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Tiger Woods has been No. 1 on the PGA Tour's career money list for all but four years of his career.

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FINAL WORD: ''You have the smallest purse of the year with the best field of the year. Why? Because fathers are playing with their sons.'' - Jack Nicklaus on the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

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