While Tiger Woods’ poor putting continues to be the talk of the Accenture Match Play Championship — despite his second-round loss to Nick Watney on Thursday — Hunter Mahan’s flawless work on the greens had gone somewhat unnoticed until he blitzed Matt Kuchar, 6&5, in an early quarter-final contest on Saturday.
Kuchar, meanwhile, was none too pleased with Nick Faldo’s recent dissing of belly putters and told him so after almost single-handedly saving the big bat from banishment. The only thing that might take the sting out of the world’s 14th-ranked golfer’s lackluster play on Jack Nicklaus’ Ritz-Carlton Golf Club outside Tucson was “just get a good punch right in the back of Nick Faldo,” he said with a laugh on his lips that didn’t quite make it up to his usually sparkling eyes. “I think that’s the only way I’d really feel better right now.”
The mild-mannered Georgia Tech grad took Faldo to task for anti-belly comments he made during a Friday night round-table confab with fellow analysts Johnny Miller and Brandel Chamblee. He also said his play Saturday should convince the haters that long sticks afforded golfers no unfair advantages.
“I made a real good case of no reason to outlaw the belly putter,” Kuchar told NBC’s Jimmy Roberts after making five bogeys in his abbreviated 13-hole tilt with Mahan. “I was terrible with the belly putter today. I probably made a case for not outlawing it. It was a rough day.”
It was the opposite for Mahan, who played his way into the tourney’s semi-final round for the first time, thanks in no small part to a new flat stick that he added to his bag on Monday.
“I felt like my stroke was pretty good [last week at the Northern Trust Open],” Mahan told NBC Sports’ Jimmy Roberts following Saturday’s thrashing of Kuchar. “I went to this putter that’s a little bit offset. It’s called a Nome, a Ping Nome. Boy, it feels really good in my hands. I just have a lot of confidence with it right now.”
Ping has put the new putter in the hands of PGA Tour golfers in the past few weeks and expects to make it available to the public in April.
Earlier in the week, Mahan spelled it out for observers who may have missed his pitch for his new BFF.
“I switched putters this week to the Ping Nome — N‑o‑m‑e, no G,” Mahan told reporters after thumping Steve Stricker, 4&3, in Friday’s third round. “This one has a little less offset and it’s helping me aim better.”
Because he had been aiming more to the left than he believed he was, Mahan said he was “pushing” his putts and not getting a “true” roll or read.
“I hit great last week, but I couldn’t make anything,” he said of the event in which he ended up ranked 20th in strokes gained-putting. “So I switched putters this week, and I have just a lot of confidence where I’m starting the ball.”
Despite the tricky greens that drove Woods to distraction — and eventually to the airport for an early departure — Mahan was pleased with how he was reading the grain and the speed of his short strokes.
“On all my putts I’ve been able to cozy it up to the hole, and inside of 15 feet I’ve been able to be aggressive,” he said. “Sometimes you have a good sense of the greens, and sometimes you don’t. Last week I had no sense of the greens and missed everything. But for some reason this week I feel confident…whenever I get on the green I’m going to make it. It’s a good feeling to have right now.”
Not so much for Kuchar, who couldn’t jar a thing Saturday with the type of wand favored by PGA champ Keegan Bradley, and a gaggle of other golfers — and one that Faldo, et al, would like to see golf’s governing bodies add to their endangered-species list.
“It’s called a golf swing, not a golf anchor,” Faldo said during Golf Channel’s “State of the Game” show with Miller, Chamblee, and Dan Hicks. “If the amateurs — for the enjoyment of the game, let them do whatever they like. But for professionals, I think we should start looking at all our rules, or quite a few on the equipment, like the size of the driver face.”
Chamblee chimed in with his opposition to the elongated hammer. “I’m glad [USGA chief executive] Mike Davis is looking at the anchor putter,” he said. “I am all for two sets of rules for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is eliminating the long putter in the professional ranks.”
And so the belly-putter war rages on — despite Kuchar’s best efforts to put it to rest.