Archive for Thursday, December 14, 2006

A look at the 2006 season, club by club

December 14, 2006


— Golf ultimately is defined by winning and losing.

The year will be remembered in the record books for Tiger Woods missing the cut in a major for the first time in his career, then rebounding to win the next two and finishing the year with six straight victories on the PGA Tour. Phil Mickelson slipped his arms into a green jacket at the Masters, then buried his head in his hands at Winged Foot after a colossal collapse at the U.S. Open.

Behind those trophies and tears are the shots they hit, from the biggest club (driver) to the most important club (putter).

A look at the most memorable shots struck with every club in the bag:

Driver: Good drives don't get a lot of attention because they usually wind up in the short grass, which is where they're supposed to land. That's why the most memorable shot struck with a driver in 2006 was Mickelson on the 18th hole at Winged Foot, particularly because some thought he never should have hit it in the first place. The ball clattered through the trees and off a corporate tent, the first mistake in a series that led to double bogey and cost him a third consecutive major.

Fairway metal: Lorena Ochoa lost a three-shot lead in the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but she battled to the end. Needing an eagle on the 18th hole, she hit 5-wood over the water to 6 feet and holed the putt to force a playoff, which Karrie Webb won on the first extra hole.

Hybrid: In a sudden-death playoff at the LPGA Championship, Se Ri Pak popped up her drive and had 201 yards left. She hit a hybrid 4-iron that stopped 2 inches from the cup for a birdie to beat Webb.

2-iron: Woods brought his 2-iron out of retirement for the British Open, and used it almost exclusively at Royal Liverpool. It was the first time in his career he led a PGA Tour event in driving accuracy.

3-iron: Stephen Ames started the back nine of The Players Championship with a double bogey on the 10th hole, cutting his lead to two strokes. Right when it looked as though he might lose control, he hit 3-iron over the water into 15 feet for a two-putt birdie on the 11th hole that sent him to a six-shot victory.

4-iron: An argument can be made for Woods and Paul Casey.

Casey brought baseball vernacular to golf by hitting the first "walk-off" ace in Ryder Cup history. He used a 4-iron from 213 yards on the 14th hole as Casey and David Howell closed out a 5-and-4 victory in foursomes over Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson.

On one of the toughest holes at Royal Liverpool, Woods holed out a 4-iron from 209 yards on No. 14 at the British Open for eagle that sent him to a 65 and a one-shot lead. Give the edge to Woods, for earlier in the second round, he used 4-iron to chip up a steep slope and down a ridge to 3 feet for birdie on the par-5 fifth.

5-iron: The Mercedes Championships offers a car (guess which kind) for anyone making a hole-in-one on a par 3 at Kapalua. Lucas Glover got the first one with a 5-iron on the 203-yard eighth hole.

6-iron: Corey Pavin had a two-shot lead in the final round at Milwaukee when he holed a 6-iron from 172 yards for eagle, sending him to his first PGA Tour victory in 10 years.

7-iron: The best shot struck with this club belongs to Rory Sabbatini, who hit into 5 feet for birdie on the 16th hole at Riviera that secured his victory in the Nissan Open.

But the most memorable 7-iron was hit by Colin Montgomerie.

That's the club he chose for his second shot from fairway on the 18th hole at Winged Foot. Hit the green and he wins the U.S. Open for his first major. Instead, he chunked it - "What was that?" he cried out when the ball took flight - and made double bogey to finish one shot behind. For all the heat Mickelson took at Winged Foot, no one blew the U.S. Open worse than Monty.

8-iron: Michelle Wie was on the verge of falling apart at Newport Country Club when she pulled her tee shot into the bushes and took an unplayable lie on the seventh hole. She took her penalty drop in a muddy, mucky patch of grass, then blasted an 8-iron over the water to 12 feet to save par in the second round of the U.S. Women's Open.

9-iron: Woods hit a 9-iron an estimated 264 yards on the ninth hole at Firestone. The problem was he was only 167 yards from the hole. The shot went over the green, off a cement walkway, onto the clubhouse roof and over the back into a service driveway, where a kid delivering crunchy cream pies picked it up and drove away in a cart.

The clubhouse is not out of bounds, so Woods was given free relief next to the practice range and escaped with bogey. He wound up winning in a playoff over Stewart Cink.

Wedge: Webb was tied for the lead at the Kraft Nabisco when she holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards on the 18th hole, perhaps the most stunning finish on the 72nd hole of any major.

Sand wedge: Geoff Ogilvy's approach from a sand-filled divot came up short and tumbled down a steep bank into the fairway. He used a sand wedge for a delicate pitch to 6 feet behind the hole, setting up what turned out to be the winning putt.

Putter: Ogilvy thought his putt was for second place, so that was memorable only in hindsight. The significant putts this year were those that missed, so call this a tie between Fred Couples and Greg Owen.

Couples had a four-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole at the Masters to pull within one shot of Mickelson, but three-putted for bogey. Owen had had a 31â2-foot par putt at the Bay Hill Invitational to take a two-shot lead into the final hole. He three-putted for double bogey and lost to Rod Pampling.


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