The meteoric rise of former Kansas University golfer Gary Woodland shot upward yet again Tuesday when groupings for this week’s PGA tour event were announced.
Woodland, 26 and a native of Topeka, is scheduled to tee off at 11:56 a.m. CDT on Thursday with fellow long-ball hitters Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson, an obvious marketing move to highlight the game’s power in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla., Woodland’s adopted hometown.
Johnson ranks second on the tour in driving distance and Woodland is eighth with an average drive of 299.5 yards, a stunning number considering how often he chooses to hit irons off the tee. The tour average is 285.1 yards.
Woodland hit a 337-yard drive uphill on the par-5 fifth hole in winning The Transitions Championship at Innisbrook last week. On the 18th hole Sunday, he went with a conservative play, pulling a 2-iron out of his bag, instead of a driver or a 3-wood. He blasted it 287 yards, stunning even NBC’s ultra-critical commentator, Johnny Miller.
But it was Woodland’s improved putter that was most responsible for his first PGA tour victory. During Sunday’s final round, he made a remarkable 17 of 17 putts inside of 20 feet.
“I was very conservative this week,” Woodland told PGAtour.com after the victory. “Laid back almost all day — all four days — and just tried to get the ball in the fairway, get it on the green and let the putter do the work.”
Woodland’s first victory came in his 33rd PGA tour event.
Woodland finished second in the Bob Hope Classic, losing a playoff to Jhonny Vegas and has four top 10 finishes in seven events this season. He ranks third on the money list with $1,850,064, ranking behind only Nick Watney ($2,278,000) and Mark Wilson ($2,268,825).