Monday, January 22, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, January 22, 2001

Driving's no longer a handicap

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

When people asked Brad Faxon this week what the difference was between himself in recent years and now, he responded with a handful of one-liners.

"It’s all the weightlifting I’ve done," he’d say, flexing an underdeveloped arm.

"I’m older," the 39-year-old would deadpan.

For four days, Faxon fashioned a pretty good comedy routine out of it, laughing all the way to the bank with a $720,000 paycheck for a wire-to-wire victory yesterday in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

The new-and-improved Faxon kept them in stitches all right and himself in eagles for a tournament-record 20-under-par 260 at Waialae Country Club.

They were four days that stamped Faxon as something more than the best putter on the PGA Tour the past two years. Over 72 holes on a course that has for the past five years underlined his every weakness and thrown it back at him, Faxon showed himself possessed with enough of a well-rounded game to hold off Tom Lehman and Ernie Els on payday.

An improved swing, the result of working with a coach, and the change to a different ball, Faxon said have buoyed his confidence off the tee and put him in early position to make this a breakthrough year.

There was never any question about Faxon’s putting touch and iron play. When somebody asked Lehman, the runner-up, who he’d want putting if his life depended upon it, Faxon — along with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus — was among the names Lehman came back with.

"If your life depended upon it, you’d feel pretty confident you’d live to see another day," Lehman said.

But there have been doubts aplenty about Faxon competing off the tee, a place where he ranked 171st last year in driving distance.

He still won’t threaten John Daly on that account, but by adding 20 yards this week to the 264.4 average of last year, Faxon has given himself a much better opportunity to compete. At least when it comes to Waialae’s inviting 7,060-yard layout, where he missed three of the previous four cuts and cost himself a title in 1996 in the one cut he did make.

So, when Faxon began his spree of four eagles this week, the rest of the Tour took quick notice. "He’s gotten longer," Lehman said.

"He looks a lot more compact and is striking the ball much better," Els said. "He’s always been a great putter, now he’s put together a better combination."

Lehman said Faxon is "getting it out there further than he used to. He’s always been a good iron player but I think he’s got to be hitting the ball 20 yards further than the last time I played with him. He’s moving it out there pretty far so that’s giving him shorter clubs to hit into the green."

After four days, even Faxon’s best one-liners could not obscure the bottom line of him becoming a much better golfer.

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