(KMOX) – Starting with next week’s Open Championship, Tiger Woods will play three tournaments over a five-week stretch that may be his most important stretch of golf since he returned from the 2009 scandal. On all three tournament courses Tiger had significant wins, or in the case of Firestone, multiple wins.
At Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) in 2006, Woods put on a clinic in course management using the driver but once, playing long irons into most greens with few misses. His two-stroke victory over Chris DiMarco was never that close, as Woods’ strategy almost seemed to mock the rest of the field.
At Firestone in 2013 he made it his eighth win at the course, and he decorated the title with a second round 61 and a finishing seven-stroke margin.
With this year’s return of the PGA Championship to Valhalla, in Louisville, Woods can draw positive memories of 2000 when he was tested perhaps more severely than in any of his fourteen major wins, collecting the title over Bob May in a head to head struggle over 21 holes.
Historically, Woods has won at venues he has won before. That alone should be a beta test of post-surgical Tiger Woods.
Using terminology from the computer world, the Tiger we see in the next several weeks should be Tiger 3.1. We had the original Tiger; Woods 1.0 under Butch Harmon and Tiger 2.0 via Hank Haney. Sean Foley had given us Tiger 3.0 before the back problems, and the small sample size from two days at Congressional brings us the latest update.
At the Quicken Loans National, with the limitations of camera angles and only occasional replays, it appears the post-operative Woods has made concessions to his latest physical setback. CBS’ Peter Kostis weighed in with a slow-motion analysis identifying what he described as a more rounded swing.
Using same footage I would have described the swing as flatter, placing greater emphasis on the lower spine than the more upright Foley swing of last year. What came across to me as more relevant is the left to right action of Woods 3.0 appeared to be supplanted by a right to left draw – a ball flight pattern characteristic of most of his career. In fact, it is safe to say Tiger never won a major with a planned “fade” with the possible exception of that week at Royal Liverpool in ’06.
Pros will tell you this is a change that is as mentally demanding as it is physical. You literally have to envision an entirely different set of lines in the pre-shot routine and more importantly trust them.
When Woods was young, and struggling with changes he had made while with Harmon, I asked him how he would know when the new swing was close. His answer was “when I have a one way miss.” When all he had to factor in was a miss on one side of the fairway he could manage the swing and be successful.
Going into the Open Championship at Hoylake, with only 36 holes of competition in the last three and a half months, it is difficult to imagine any player, including one as talented as Woods, can have locked in the “one way miss” in such a short time.
Hogan once said the game of golf is learned in the dirt. In his younger days, with only a few of weeks between Congressional and Hoylake, Woods might have spent all that time “in the dirt,” locking things in. These are not Tiger’s younger days. We know he is not physically sound enough to place those kinds of demands on his body, and we have evidence from his own words that he is not personally committed to devote that much time to accomplishing the task.
Asked after he missed cut in DC how he would spend the time leading into the Open Championship, Woods said, “Well, I’m going to take my kids on a nice little vacation, which will be nice, next week, and start gearing up.” Not exactly the program Hogan prescribed.
Also factor in that there have been two dozen majors played since Tiger picked up number fourteen at Torrey Pines and you get the sense that the chase for Nicklaus’ major record, which once seemed inevitable, now has an audible ticking sound. Woods will be 39 in December, and without a major win at the Open or PGA, he will officially have fallen behind Nicklaus’ pace on the calendar.
When he won in Britain in 2006 he was coming off the loss of his father Earl a week after the Masters, and an underprepared missed cut at the US Open at Winged Foot. He had four rounds and a T2 at the Western Open in Chicago in between Opens. He also had a healthy body and healthy attitude. “It was good. I felt that rush. That’s part of being an athlete, to feel that rush coming down the stretch,” he said in Chicago. “It’s tough to have the nerves and control them and the adrenaline. It’s a blast. It’s actually a blast.”
At Congressional this year, he said before heading out with the kids, “A lot of positives to take away from these last two days. Even though I missed the cut by four shots; the fact that I was able to even play. I came back four weeks earlier than we thought I could. I had no setbacks. I got my feel for playing tournament golf. I made a ton of little, simple little mistakes, misjudging things and missing the ball on the wrong sides and just didn’t get up-and-down on little simple shots. Those are the little things I can correct, which is nice.”
In a little over a month we may know which of those players wears TW on his cap.
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