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Johnson Wagner looking to build confidence, especially with putter

By Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr., a former Observer staff writer, will write golf columns occasionally for the newspaper.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. Johnson Wagner paused in the 10th fairway at the Harbour Town Golf Links during a casual practice round before the RBC Heritage and tried to explain the underlying frustration of a season in which he’s missed as many cuts (five) as he’s made.

“I’m better than I was a year ago. I just need to believe it,” said Wagner, a three-time tour winner. “I’m hitting more quality shots.

“It seems like every tournament, I’m either right on the cut line or I miss the cut by a mile. I haven’t gotten into any kind of contention. I want to feel the heat again.”

Having won the Sony Open in January 2012, Wagner said the full exemption he has through 2014 has eased what would have been a growing sense of urgency.

He finished tied for 13th in the limited field at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions but otherwise doesn’t have a top-25 finish this year. Wagner played a solid weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a good round on Friday to make the cut at the Valero Texas Open.

Having identified a problem in his putting stroke (he was hitting too many putts in the heel), Wagner feels he’s headed in the right direction on the greens.

“I’m a great putter but I’m inconsistent,” Wagner said. “When I putt well, I don’t think anyone putts better. But when I don’t putt well, I’m awful. I want the putter to be my friend again.”

Wagner spent a good portion of last season among the top 30 in FedEx Cup points but faded late in the year. It cost him spots in the World Golf Championship events and the Masters. Now he’s trying to play himself back into those events.

“My career has always been one of peaks and valleys,” Wagner said. “Every time I hit a peak, those peaks are getting higher. But it sometimes takes a while to get out of the valley.”

Wagner’s first-round scoring average of 71.83 ranks 158th on tour. His second-round average is 71.95, 166th on tour. That doesn’t work.

“I need the spark of a good start to make me believe it a little more,” Wagner said.

Standing on the 10th green, Wagner’s coach, Bobby Heins, said the same thing.

“He just needs to go out and shoot 31 or 32 on the first nine on Thursday and he’ll be fine,” Heins said.

Five swing thoughts

•  The Wells Fargo Championship begins two weeks from Thursday at Quail Hollow Club and tournament officials are hopeful the greens at No. 8 and 10 will be ready when play begins.

The par-5 10th green was resodded recently, a late-hour fix necessitated by poor grass cover.

The new green at the slightly redesigned par-4 eighth hole was not resodded and officials are hopeful thin areas on the heavily contoured green will have satisfactory grass cover.

Club officials plan to begin the conversion from bent grass to Bermuda one week after the Wells Fargo Championship concludes.

•  The RBC Heritage field features several of the main characters from the Masters, minus Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera. Jason Day, who led with three holes remaining, Brandt Snedeker, Marc Leishman and Matt Kuchar are playing Harbour Town this week.

This is one of the strongest fields at Harbour Town in several years with 14 of the top 29 players in the world rankings competing.

•  The last hour of the Masters on Sunday was spectacular, rescuing the tournament from being relatively dull. The rules issues dominated the storyline too often and for too long and there were no great runs up the scoreboard by players as has happened so often in the past.

Players wrestled with the green speeds all week, which impacted the scoring.

At the end, though, the Masters delivered as seemingly only the Masters can. The Scott-Cabrera duel was brilliant, and that’s what will be remembered.

•  I suspect Scott’s victory using the long putter won’t impact the impending decision on anchoring. It gave long and belly putters a career Grand Slam, the Masters being the only major championship not won by a player using one of the controversial clubs.

Asked Sunday night if he thought his win changes anything within the game’s ruling bodies, Scott said he didn’t think it would.

•  Pat Summerall may have been best known for his work as a football broadcaster but he was a giant among golf announcers. He called 26 Masters, working the 18th tower for many years and hosting the green jacket ceremony after the tournament.

Summerall excelled at minimalism in his broadcasting. He allowed the picture to tell much of the story the way the best broadcasters do.

And he had that voice.

“(NFL analyst) Tom Brookshier joked that if he were dying, he wanted Pat to tell him because that voice would make him feel better,” said Lance Barrow, coordinating producer for CBS golf broadcasts.

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