THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Sure enough, putting was all the rage Thursday in the World Challenge.
One day after golf’s governing bodies proposed a new rule that will ban the anchored stroke used for long putters, Keegan Bradley talked about someone on Twitter telling the PGA champion to send in his resume to Burger King in 2016, when the rule goes into effect. Bradley got so fed up with the teasing over his belly putter this week that he grabbed Tiger Woods’ putter and made three out of four from 10 feet.
The rule doesn’t affect Nick Watney, though he couldn’t say enough about his putting. He made five birdies on his last 10 holes — including his first birdie ever on the 14th hole at Sherwood — for a 5-under 67 that gave him a two-shot lead.
Woods’ putting saved his round, even though most of them were for par. That included a 12-foot putt on the 15th and an 8-footer to avoid bogey on the par-5 16th. It added up to a 70, which left him very much in the hunt at an 18-man event where he is more than just a tournament host. Without a title sponsor, Woods is underwriting most of the cost.
And yes, even Steve Stricker made news Thursday with his putter. He tried a new one.
“Mid-life crisis,” he said.
The World Challenge is not a hit-and-giggle at the end of the year, even with a short field, no cut and lots of holiday cash for all involved. The field is stronger than ever, with 13 players from the Ryder Cup, and it showed in the scores. On a cool, overcast day in the Conejo Valley, only eight shots separated the top (Watney) from Brandt Snedeker, bringing up the rear with a 75.
Snedeker drilled a fairway metal into 8 feet and made eagle on the 11th hole, only for his round to fall apart. He hit two provisional tee shots on the par-3 12th, didn’t have to use them but still made bogey, and then he snap-hooked his next tee shot and made double bogey.
Bradley and a pair of past champions at this tournament — Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell — were two shots out of the lead at 69. Woods was in the group at 70 that included Bo Van Pelt, whom Woods beat this year at Congressional, and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.
But the buzz is over the belly.
Bradley was the first player to win a major using the belly putter at the 2011 PGA Championship, and then Simpson and Ernie Els followed this year. Bradley is not happy about the rule, though he has been respectful toward the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient in their right to set the rules.
But this is a guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder, and this chip could be a big one.
He described his round as awesome, aside from a bad break on the 18th that led to bogey, the only green he missed all day.
“If I could have made a few more putts, I probably could have been a lot lower,” he said, pausing before he added, “I know people probably don’t want to hear that.”
He then revealed how much abuse he was taking on Twitter, though he knows better not to take seriously a comment from people he either doesn’t know or who don’t use their real names in social media. That would include one tweet telling him to send in an application to Burger King for 2016.
“I’ve been doing a better job lately of not reading them, but I’m going to make a switch when I feel it’s best for me,” Bradley said. “And whether that’s tomorrow or in three years, we’ll see.”
The switch earlier this week to Woods’ putter was only temporary, and it was a joke.
“I give him grief every day,” Woods said.
Too bad Bradley didn’t make Woods try a few putts with the belly.
“You don’t want to see Tiger with that putter,” Bradley said. ‘If it was up to me, I’d film him and send that to Mike Davis. I think he would take the ban off.”
Bradley did a little more experimenting after his round Thursday. He gripped his putter a little lower so that the end wasn’t anchored to his belly. He ran the putter up his left arm for a few putts, the style used by Matt Kuchar that would remain legal. But as he tinkered around, he noticed a TV camera filming him and stopped.
It’s still a sensitive subject for Bradley, and he wants everyone to know he’s a pretty good golfer with any putter in his bag.
“I feel like the USGA has really put an ‘X’ on our back and really shined a light on us, and I don’t know if that’s exactly fair,” Bradley said. “I just hope that people look at us for the type of players that we are and the accomplishments that we’ve had, and not because we use a belly putter, and now the USGA says it’s going to be illegal. When we started putting with it, they were legal. And they still are.
“It’s a sticky situation, and I hope they can see through that.”
As for Stricker?
He says he got his new putter at a golf store in Madison, Wis., which begged another question: What was he doing in a golf store?
“Looking for a putter,” he said.