Big Play A spectacular long bunker shot kept Charles Howell alive in sudden death in L.A., but he lost when his aggressive putting let him down

March 03, 2003

CHARLES HOWELL rode an emotional roller coaster on the second
hole of his playoff against Mike Weir at the Nissan Open. After
pushing his drive into a bunker 35 yards short of the pin on
Riviera's 315-yard 10th hole, Howell, undaunted by Weir's clutch
approach shot to eight feet, recovered by hitting an
extraordinary sand wedge that stopped six feet from the cup
(above). Given the circumstances, that was one of the best bunker
shots I've ever seen, and I've worked in golf for 23 years,
including three seasons playing on the PGA Tour. But Howell's
hope was short-lived because Weir drained his birdie putt to put
Howell in a do-or-die situation: make his putt to stay alive or
lose his second Tour playoff in two attempts. His ball didn't
even graze the hole, blowing three feet past, and the miss
exposed a consistent flaw of Howell's that also beset Tiger Woods
early in his pro career: an overaggressive style on short putts.
Howell's putting mechanics are almost perfect. His hands hang
straight down from his shoulders, and the putter's shaft is in
line with his right forearm. But Howell, one of the Tour's most
aggressive swingers, displays that same vigor with the flat
stick. He needs to learn to soften his pace on short putts. On
Sunday, Howell would have won in regulation if, on the back nine,
he hadn't ripped three putts inside six feet well past the hole.
Howell is only 23, but this Augusta boy will never win a green
jacket if he putts as if he's trying to damage the back of the
hole.

THREE COLOR PHOTOS: COURTESY OF ABC (TOP) COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW GOMBERT TOO SOFT JUST RIGHT TOO HARD COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW GOMBERT

THE TIP

FOR GOOD FEEL on the greens, you must be in control of your
speed. Here's my favorite drill to develop feel: Place a club six
inches behind the hole and hit some six-foot putts. If your ball
doesn't go in, it should barely touch the club. If the ball rolls
over the shaft, your putt has too much speed. Move back in
three-foot increments and do sets of 10 putts from each distance.

OUR TOP TEACHER SAYS...
Mike Bender, 46, runs the Mike Bender Golf Academy at Timacuan
Country Club in Lake Mary, Fla., and is one of Golf Magazine's
Top 100 Teachers.

"Tiger Woods shouldn't have cursed at the fan whose cellphone
bothered him at Riviera, but Woods is so intense that such
reactions are instinctive. Like it or not, we'll probably see
such outbursts from Tiger for the rest of his career."

"Ty Tryon is a sad story. I'd be surprised if he keeps his
card this year. He belongs in school, not on the Tour."

"Annika Sorenstam's playing at Colonial will leave a black
mark on one tour. If she does well, it'll hurt the PGA Tour
because the guys will look bad. If she plays poorly, the women's
game will be confirmed as inferior to the men's."

"Drugs have poisoned other major pro sports, but in all my
years around golf I've never seen or heard a rumor about a single
player taking steroids or any other performance-enhancing
substance."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)