Tiger Making Progress

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Will the world's best be ready for 2011?

Will the world's best be ready for 2011?

POY? How about DJ? And I don’t mean Trahan. Dustin Johnson’s pursuit of the 2010 FedExCup is coinciding with his late push for PGA Tour Player of the Year honors, as a summer of lost opportunities gives way to an autumn of achievement.

Johnson earned his second title of 2010, gutting out an impressive win at the BMW to surge to second in the FedExCup chase behind Matt Kuchar heading to East Lake for the Tour Championship. It ain’t a major, but a playoff win, one that brings a $10 million bonus within reach, is a nice consolation prize.

“To finally get it done, especially after all the things I’ve gone through this summer, to finally get it done on Sunday, it can't feel any better, especially I played really good golf today,” Johnson said. “I didn’t make as many birdies as I would have liked to, but I made just enough.”

One of those birdies came on the penultimate hole, a tap-in after a monster drive and scintillating wedge to two feet. It was the highlight of a bogey-free back nine that allowed Johnson to overcome Paul Casey’s three-shot lead and continue to erase the ghosts of Pebble Beach (where he shot a final-round 82 to lose the U.S. Open) and Whistling Straits (where a rules gaffe at the 72nd hole cost him a spot in a playoff at the PGA).

“Pebble taught me a lot, I think,” he said. “That’s where I learned … after getting off to a rough start, I kind of maybe got a little fast. Everything starts moving fast in a situation like that. So I really learned to be patient and not rush things. I didn’t rush any shot today. I took my time, took practice swings, even when I — a few times I felt myself trying to rush a little bit, but I would stop, put my club back in the bag and come back and go through my routine and just take things slow.”

Johnson is putting the finishing touches on a season that has seen two wins and seven top-10 finishes in 22 tournaments. Even if you play the what-might-have-been game, it’s been a remarkable season.

“I think I’m getting a lot more consistent with my ball-striking day in and day out,” he said. “Short game is pretty good. This week is the first week I’ve really felt like my putter has come back. Even though I didn’t make a lot of putts today, I made the short ones, and all my putts I hit on line. I hit them where I was looking. You can’t read them all right; it’s just not going to happen. I hit everything exactly where I was looking.
To finally get back and feel like the putter is there, it definitely helps a bunch.”

Add a hot putter to his prodigious physical skills, and the sky’s the limit for Johnson. I’m calling it now — DJ’s a favorite at Augusta.

We’ll Call It a Draw

Popular perception would hold that Phil Mickelson melts in Tiger Woods’ presence, but Mickelson says Tiger brings out the best in him, and the numbers back that up. Woods and Mickelson have now been paired together in a Tour event a total of 26 times, and in their individual head-to-head matchups they now stand 11–11–4 after Lefty’s 67 on Sunday bested Woods’ 71. Mickelson has now won six of their last eight pairings; Woods’ last head-to-head win came in the second round of the 2008 U.S. Open. “I enjoy it,” said Mickelson. “He certainly brings the best out in me. That wasn’t the case earlier on. But I feel like he gets the best out of me now.”

Progress?

Woods will not be participating in the season-ending Tour Championship, after his tie for 15th at the BMW left him 42nd in FedExCup points. But Lefty got a first-hand look at Woods’ ever-evolving game, and he liked what he saw out of his Ryder Cup teammate. “I think his game is inches from being there,” Mickelson said. “His speed is back. He’s solid, very close. He’s hitting shots. He didn't pull off a few today, but he hit a lot of good shots there coming in.

“He made a couple of bogeys and followed up with a number of birdies there toward the end. But you can tell that his game is like inches from turning because his speed is back and his putter looks great. I mean, his game is not that far off at all. It looks very close to being right there.”

Tiger will take the three weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup to fine-tune his game with new swing coach Sean Foley as he embarks on his third significant re-build of his swing and his game. “I can practice at home with Sean in peace and away from everybody and put some work in and also work on my short game and my putting, things I have not been able to do out here,” he said “It’ll be nice to work on all these little things and concentrate on my game a little bit more and sharpen up, be ready come Friday (of the Ryder Cup).”

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