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Huston discovers his game

Clearwater golfer puts his struggles behind him and trails J.L. Lewis by two at the Funai Classic.

Published October 22, 2004

LAKE BUENA VISTA - For most of his life as a pro, John Huston never gave much thought to putting. He didn't have to. The Clearwater golfer stood over the ball and stroked it, making more than his share and walking to the next hole to try again.

When those putts stopped falling this year, however, Huston started thinking. And tinkering.

He putted cross-handed. He tried the belly putter. He alternated stances.

"I putted a pretty good stretch early in the year with my eyes closed," Huston said. "I'd get the line, look down at the ball, then close my eyes. And I putted looking at a spot and not looking at the ball. I've watched the putter go back and through."

Not much worked.

Until Thursday.

Huston, 43, shot his best score of the year, 8-under-par 64 on the Magnolia course at the Walt Disney World Resort, to trail J.L. Lewis by two strokes after the first round of the Funai Classic.

It was the first time since January that Huston had a score anywhere near as close; he had 66 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

The result has been a frustrating season in which Huston is ranked 99th on the PGA Tour money list. His best finish was third at the Houston Open, and since then, he has missed seven of eight cuts.

Huston has suffered with a toe injury most of the year that has made it more difficult to play and practice, but he said the bigger problem has been his putting.

The seven-time winner led the PGA Tour putting stats last year at 1.713 putts per green hit in regulation. This year, he has slumped to 1.825. It might not seem like much, but it has meant a drop to 195th.

Some of that might mean that Huston has not hit the ball as close to the hole, either.

But Thursday, using a cross-handed stroke, Huston made 10 birdies and two bogeys.

"I got away with a couple of pretty wild drives, but it was by far the best putting round I've had all year," Huston said. "I missed one little short putt (at the 10th hole), but it wasn't a bad putt and I've been missing three or four of those a day."

The problem is, Huston will need to keep going low. Disney is traditionally one of the lowest-scoring events on tour. Last year, Vijay Singh finished 23 under par.

Lewis shot 62 and Huston was joined at 64 by Mark Hensby and Scott Hend. Former Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal was in a group at 65, and Singh, the tour's leading money winner who has won five of his past six starts, shot 66.

Perhaps Huston could get a few tips from Singh, who has overcome putting woes over the years. Singh, who has won eight tournaments this year, actually switched back to a conventional putter after using a belly putter. That is when he went on his tear, including a victory at the PGA Championship.

"I can go home and practice on the putting green and putt fine," Huston said. "Then I go to the course and I don't know. I guess it happens to everybody eventually."

[Last modified October 22, 2004, 01:09:27]


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