Putting prowess proves key for Tiger

3/12/2013 - Golf Tiger Woods Rory McIlroy + more

Tiger Woods notches PGA Tour win No. 76 to claim his second victory in four U.S. starts this season. That 50 percent winning percentage isn't too shabby.

So who or what helped Woods turn the corner from last week? And should Rory McIlroy still be nervous about his game despite a season-best T-8 showing at Doral? Our experts tackle those topics and more in a special edition of Four-Ball.

1. What was the difference for Tiger Woods this week as compared with his T-37 last week at the Honda Classic?

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: Last week at the Honda Classic, he ranked 38th in strokes gained-putting. This week at Doral, only his new putting guru Steve Stricker was better in the category. And you thought "Drive for Show" was just a joke.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: The main difference for Tiger was the golf courses. This was his fourth win on the Blue Monster. Even though he's played well at PGA National, he's yet to win at the Jack Nicklaus course, the site of the Honda Classic.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Putting. He had the best putting performance, at least in terms of total putts for an event, that he's ever had. He needed just 100 putts. And he was terrific inside 10 feet. That's what keeps the momentum going.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Clearly his putting was top-notch, but what showed the most improvement were his short irons. Often, Woods would go wayward on a tee shot, like at the par-5 eighth hole on Saturday. So Tiger played the recovery shot back to the fairway and stiffed a short iron to just a few feet. That birdie doesn't happen a year ago because he couldn't get his approach shot close enough to get a decent look at birdie. A couple of those in a round make a huge difference in a 72-hole tournament.

2. What impressed you the most about Woods this week at Doral?

Michael Collins: His ability to judge how the ball was going to come out of the rough, which he had to do a bunch because he hit only 54 percent of his fairways. He also hit 69 percent of his greens, but if you count fringes, that percentage jumps to 77 percent.

Farrell Evans: At Doral, Tiger looked like the great putter that won 14 major championships. He ranked second in putting in the 65-man field.

Bob Harig: Distance control with his irons. Woods was pin high a majority of the time, always the mark of good control for him. It is especially improved with his short irons, a sore spot for most of last year.

Kevin Maguire: Woods didn't let anyone even feel as if he had a shot at winning Sunday, and that reminds me of the Tiger of old. Call it the step-on-their-throats philosophy if you will, but every time someone made a birdie, Woods responded with one of his own. To look at the final margin of victory of 2 shots wouldn't do the win justice. At no point was anyone truly within shouting distance of Woods, which is just how he likes it.

3. On a scale of 1 to 10, how worried should Rory McIlroy be about his chances at the Masters?

Michael Collins: Two. In the last two rounds of golf he played this past week, something clicked. He made five birdies on the back nine Saturday, then went out and shot a bogey-free 65 Sunday. All that and he still has a month to go before Augusta. I'd say he's trending in the right direction.

Farrell Evans: Four. After a 65 on Sunday to finish in a tie for eighth at Doral, McIlroy's game is on the mend. But it's too soon to say how well he'll do in Augusta. Let's wait to see how he does in Houston, two weeks before the Masters, when he hopes his game will be peaking.

Bob Harig: A 5. So much can change in a month. Doral helped ratchet that number down a few spots, but he still has some things to work through. His 65 on Sunday was shot with no pressure. And he has just one more tournament to test it under the gun.

Kevin Maguire: About a seven. His final-round 65 on Sunday with no blemishes on his card shows marked improvement over just a week ago. Yet that's just part of the problem. He won't tee it up for another three weeks on the PGA Tour, and that's a problem. All the good momentum McIlroy gained at Doral could be all for nothing because he'll play, at most, four competitive rounds between now and the Masters, which is an entire month away.

4. Steve Stricker's wife, Nicki, was on the bag this week at Doral. Thumbs up or thumbs down on having a spouse caddie for a pro at such a high-profile tournament?

Michael Collins: No way I'm sleeping on the couch this week. & It's not a fair question because Stricker's wife was a full-time caddie in the past for him, so it's not like Amy Mickelson carrying the bag for Phil for the week, which would get a thumbs down. In Stricker's case thumbs up, but it would be thumbs down for 90 percent of the field for a tournament this big. And you'd better not let your wife (Kevin!) or any tour wives see this 'cause I'm giving them your phone number!

Farrell Evans: Thumbs up. Stricker has been on the PGA Tour since 1994. He has seen everything there is to see out there. It doesn't matter who caddies for him.

Bob Harig: No problem here. Stricker is not playing a full schedule, and his wife used to caddie for him often in the early part of his career. He talked about it meaning more of the responsibility fell on him. But it didn't seem to hurt him. He now has three top-5s this year.

Kevin Maguire: Truthfully, it depends on the couple. And in Stricker's case, his wife used to caddie for him full time when he first came out on tour, so it's not that weird, so I'll go thumbs up. I just wonder what percentage of his $880,000 she's getting!