Putts put Canucks in a hole

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

The skies are blue, the air is warm, the breezes are light and the courses are short. Hmmmm. Must be winter golf in the desert.

Let the putting wars begin.

When the big boys of the PGA Tour start assaulting the generous, perfectly manicured fairways and greens of Southern California, there is only one way to separate them: With the flat stick.

In this first skirmish, however -- the first round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic -- our Canadian contingent arrived on the field of battle unarmed.

On a day when putts were falling in from different area codes, Mike Weir, Stephen Ames and Glen Hnatiuk each had the touch of a blacksmith.

Ames used 28 putts on his way to a three-under round of 69. Weir and Hnatiuk each had 32 putts in recording scores of 71 and 72, respectively.

That leaves all three stuck miles behind the leaders heading into the second of five rounds on four very different Palm Springs, Calif., courses.

Five players -- Robert Damron, Ted Purdy, Duffy Waldorf, Joe Ogilvie and Fred Funk -- fired rounds of eight-under 64.

RED NUMBERS

Five more players --Franklin Langham, Fred Couples, Justin Rose, Nick Watney and Neal Lancaster -- were a shot back at 65. There are seven more players at six-under 66.

Needless to say, the scoreboard was a mass of red numbers. The average score for the 128 pros was 69.25. Compounding Weir's frustration was the fact he was playing Bermuda Dunes, considered the easiest of the four courses. At a stroke-average of 68.45, it played a half-shot easier than the next-most difficult, Tamarisk Country Club.

Hnatiuk has a perfectly good excuse. He hasn't played competitively in nearly a year, having recovered from elbow surgery through last season. He's making his first start since last April. Ames, too, still is trying to knock the rust out of his game after an hiatus in wintry Calgary.

Weir's putting woes relate to the off-season tinkering he hopes eventually will make him a more consistent putter.

To this point in his career, Weir has been a streaky putter, often brilliant but sometimes falling off the other end of the scale, as he did at the Canadian Open last fall. He spent his winter vacation working on a few subtle changes that he feels will stabilize his putting stroke, eventually. Right now, it's all still too fresh.

"The last thing you want in competition is to be thinking about any aspect of your swing mechanics," Weir said. "But it's tough not to think about something new. I've just got to be really patient because I truly believe that once it's ingrained, I'll be a better putter."

It's also possible that Weir, as a feel putter, is more vulnerable when he tries to institute even the most minor of changes.

"Sometimes when you miss putts, you still feel like your stroke was solid. Sometimes you just roll the ball all over the edges. But I have to admit I wasn't rolling it over the hole (yesterday). I was flat-out missing from a lot of makeable distances."

UNFORTUNATE

It was unfortunate because Weir's ballstriking was crisp and clean, especially his driver. Another change he made during the off-season was a switch in personal trainers, and Weir feels a bit more robust after a couple of months of altered workouts.

"I'm feeling a little stronger," he said. "And I'm noticing it in my distance off the tee. I'm getting a little more mustard on my shots."

He hit 11 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation yesterday, leaving himself as many as 10 legitimate birdie chances. Twice he was putting for eagle.

Unfortunately, he didn't sink anything longer than about six feet and in the desert, in winter, when the big boys are in town, that's not even going to get you within shouting distance of the leaders.

"If I keep hitting it the way I did (in the first round)," he said, "then I know there's a low round or maybe two or three low rounds, waiting to come out.

"I just need to get comfortable over my putts."


Videos

Photos