Rod Pampling was in the TPC Sawgrass locker room when another player asked him if he wanted to play nine holes in preparation for this week’s Players Championship.
The amiable Queenslander readily accepted Monday’s offer. After all, you would be a fool to turn down any chance for a practice round with a bloke who has won 14 major championships.
“I was getting some medicine from the doctor and (Tiger Woods) just walked past and we traded some comments,” Pampling said ahead of Thursday’s first round.
“Then he (Woods) said are you going to play nine holes? I said yep and he said let’s go. It was not planned.”
Pampling used to play quite often with Woods, thanks to his friendship with caddie Steve Williams, who once worked briefly for the Queenslander, before picking up the slightly higher paying gig with Woods.
Even though Woods last week played perhaps the worst round of his life, a second round 79 to miss the cut by eight strokes in Charlotte, Pampling nonetheless was delighted at the chance to pick the world number one’s brain.
“I asked what he was working on. He’s still working on stuff, although I don’t think he’s hit as many balls as he normally would lately. Obviously he’s got a lot of stuff going on in his personal life,” Pampling said.
“Besides his driver, everything else is pretty solid. He stood up on the first hole and smashed it (down the middle).
“He only hit one bad drive (at the par-four fifth). That was the only one you’d say was the way right one.
“Other than that it was pretty solid. I liked his ball flight. It was a little lower ball flight than he used to hit.”
Cracks in the armour
Pampling expects Woods to bounce back with a much better performance this week, but others are not so sure.
Woods tied for fourth at last month’s Masters in his first event back after a nearly five-month break tending to his personal problems.
But some, including Geoff Ogilvy, thought Woods got the job done with smoke-and-mirrors at Augusta, and were not surprised he struggled in Charlotte.
Frank Nobilo, a former tour pro who is now an astute analyst with The Golf Channel, is not impressed with Woods’ swing.
“I think he got through Augusta on some great memories. It was not until really Saturday that you started see the pressure,” Nobilo said.
“Pressure causes cracks, I don’t care who you are.
“His whole career he’s feared the ball that goes left, not unlike Ben Hogan.
“I know there’s a truck-load going on off the course, so it’s hard for him to focus and I think he uses a lot more emotional energy getting around than he used to, because of the way he plays these days. He can’t just play by mechanics.
“When you feel everything is going to go right but you know you might hit it left, every swing you make, you feel like you’re trying to save it. As soon as you relax a bit that hook or pull comes back.”