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Archive for Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ex-Jayhawk Woodland has what it takes

February 12, 2009

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He drives the ball farther than just about anyone on the PGA Tour. He is charismatic. He is athletic.

Twenty-four-year-old Orlando resident and Kansas University product Gary Woodland has all the raw talent to become one of golf’s up-and-coming stars.

But, for the moment at least, he often plays like you’d expect from a guy who’s spent only one month on the PGA Tour: with the inconsistency of a rookie.

The latest example came over the weekend at the Buick Invitational in San Diego, where he shot a first-round 76, followed by a second-round 70 and a third-round 78.

“I have to be more consistent,” Woodland said in a telephone interview. “There’s no doubt when I play well, I can play. I’ve proved that in the first couple of weeks.”

On Jan. 15, in his very first round on Tour, he shot a 2-under 68 in the Sony Open. The next day, he shot a 5-over 75 and missed the cut.

His next challenge will be to get off that roller coaster — and quickly. He has made the cut in two of the four events he’s entered, which is an achievement for a rookie.

But there is pressure, too.

Typically, players must win a tournament or finish in the top 125 in order to keep their Tour cards for the next year.

So far this year, he’s earned $22,514. The player who finished 125th on last year’s money list earned $852,752.

Few people believe in Woodland more than Randy Smith, a swing coach based in Dallas who also works with Tour players Justin Leonard, Harrison Frazar and Colt Knost.

“He’s probably one of the most physically talented players I’ve ever seen, bar none,” Smith said of Woodland. “Extremely strong, great deal of distance. He plays the game with a little bit different mentality. He’s an athlete.”

Such an athlete, in fact, that at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Woodland starred as a high-school basketball player growing up in Topeka, Kan.

He even played college basketball for a year at Washburn University before he transferred to Kansas University to concentrate on golf.

That athleticism and strength has enabled the former Jayhawk to drive the ball an average of 310.9 yards off the tee. Only two other Tour players have ranked higher so far this year: Robert Garrigus (314.9 yards) and Jonathan Byrd (311.9).

He occasionally pays a penalty for that distance. His driving accuracy, 47.5 percent, is far below the Tour average of 59.0 percent.

His 11th-place finish in the final qualifying tournament earned him his card for 2009. About a month later, he was in Hawaii for the Sony Open — and his PGA Tour debut.

“I walked in the locker room, and my locker’s next to Ernie Els’ and Chris DiMarco’s,” Woodland said. “That’s when it kind of really hit me. I show up, and my locker’s next to guys that I’ve seen play most of my life. That was pretty cool.

“It’s been a big thrill.”

A thrill he has no intention of letting go. He just has to get off the roller coaster first.

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