The State of the Tiger

March 16, 2011 in Golf by Chris Chaney

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Here we are, three weeks away from the eve of the first major of the year and we still have not seen Tiger Woods string together four rounds of top-quality golf to win a tournament since November of 2009.

Where does the former world No. 1 stand? What’s missing from his arsenal? How close is he really? How’s that insane house with the executive golf course in the backyard coming?

Luckily for you, I’m here to give a State of the Tiger address, just in time for Augusta. Less than a month away.

Coming off a encouraging final round 66 at the WGC Cadillac Championship, Woods seemed excited about where his game is and where it would (hopefully) be going.

But first, let’s take care of some Tiger housekeeping, specifically the house he is now keeping.

Woods addressed a few different topics last week when he took to his blog to “let the world in.” Among the housekeeping in the post was his announcement that he would be moving into his new Jupiter, Fla. home.

“Pretty soon, I’ll be moving into my new home in Jupiter, Fla. I’m excited about that and even more excited about my new practice facility. It’s phenomenal. Working with my team, I designed the short-game facility and oversaw its construction. It features four greens, six bunkers with different depths and kinds of sand, a video center and a putting studio. If no wind is blowing, the longest club I can hit is a 7-iron. It’s also set up so I can hit shots out of my second-story studio.”

Seriously, how cool is that? Yeah, we all know about the four greens and the six bunkers filled with sands from all over the world and different courses. We even knew a while back that he has special heaters under his greens to allow him to grow different types of grasses on each one, but a second-story studio? That’s brilliant. Just going to go hit some balls while the kids are brushing their teeth and getting ready for How to Train Your Dragon.

Just an FYI, it’s still good to be Tiger.

On a more personal note, talking to the media at Doral and asked about his schedule leading up to The Masters (beginning April 7), Tiger said he can’t add more tournaments to his schedule because of his new, more “at peace” personal life.

Asked why he won’t play more, he responded, “Because I have a family. I’m divorced. If you’ve been divorced with kids, then you would understand.”

That’s unfortunate for golf fans who would like to see more of Woods, but definitely fortunate for Sam and Charlie. It seems Tiger does want to be the father he always talked about being. Even if he hasn’t always lived up to his words, hopefully, for his kids’ sake, he will start to.

On the course, we have seen some strides from Tiger over the past week. After a rocky start at Doral that saw him shoot even-par through the first two rounds, Woods put together two solid rounds to go eight-under on the weekend, including that 66 I talked about above, to card his first top-10 of the season (t-10). After the round, Woods clearly please with seeing some of the progress he had seen talked to the media.

“Today I hit a lot of good golf shots and when I did mishit one, I knew what the fix was right away — boom and I got right back on my run of hitting good shots again,” said Woods. “That feels good.”

“It’s definitely getting better, there’s no doubt. I’m putting the pieces together. Everything is kind of shaping up and heading the right direction, which is good and peaking right at the right time, right for the Tavistock Cup,” Woods said with a smile.

It was nice to see Tiger show a little humor talking about the inter-country club schmooze fest. Woods didn’t do too bad at the Tavistock Cup, either. Paired with Arjun Atwal on Team Albany (remember he’s in Jupiter now, no longer at Isleworth), they shot a combined eight-under on day one and he shot a 69 playing his own ball on day two.

If anybody watched the matches, it was clear that Woods wasn’t there yet, but there were flashes of some good things. And that’s progress in Tiger’s eyes.

“Overall, it feels really good,” he said. “My trajectory is becoming better. My shapes of my shots are getting tighter. The driver is still not quite there. I’m not quite shaping the golf ball like I want to yet. But I’m hitting it flush again, which is good, so that’s just a matter of time before that comes around.”

The whole swing overhaul has clearly been tough on Woods, but it’s not unchartered territory. He struggled initially as he learned the fundamentals with his new swings under former coaches Butch Harmon and Hank Haney and Woods believes it’s only a matter of time before it all comes together.

I’m glad he thinks that because the thing that troubles me most about the new Tiger: Foley edition, is his revamped short game. Phil Mickelson has always been considered the short-game king with his flop shots and creativity around the greens, but make no mistake, Tiger is no slouch. Throughout those previous changes and even when he didn’t have his “A” game, his ability to scramble and get up and down were what allowed him to win tournaments when another facet of his game was letting him down.

There used to be a time when you could watch Woods stalk a 13-foot, left-to-right curler and you could tell your buddies, “he’s making this one,” and have no doubt in your mind. It seems now, whether it be because of his new approach to his putting stroke or the simple notion that his killer instinct is gone, relatively straight five, seven and 10-foot putts can almost as confidently be predicted as a miss. He looks like a different person over putts.

Maybe it’s because he’s using a different stroke.

“I changed my entire release and how I did it with Hank,” Woods said. “You want to have the same type of swing with the putter all the way up to the driver. It’s the same motion just smaller, and the pitch shot is the same.”

Woods, according to Foley, is simplifying everything. In that vain, Woods is attempting to to have the gist of the same swing from driver to putter. This is my main cause for concern. A stroke that had not been changed under Haney, and most likely not under Harmon either, means he is changing the same putting stroke he’s used for most of his professional career.

In case you’ve forgotten, that stroke got him 14 major championships.

It just seems a little drastic and throughout the previous changes, it seemed that his short game was the only thing that kept him steady. The short game concerns were first written off as neglected because everyone assumed Tiger was working so hard on revamping his full swing, the usual practice time spent around the greens was taking a hit. The common thought was that once he got ahold of the full swing, he would be able to go back to giving equal time to his short game.

While he still hasn’t mastered the full swing, it seems that not only has the short game fallen by the way side, but it is also under construction.

With all that being said, I like Tiger to win at Bay Hill.

I know what you’re thinking. “Chris, you just spent around 1,200 words explaining what was wrong with Tiger’s game and gave the impression that he is no where close.”

Yeah, maybe I did, but in my opinion, I was a little nit-picky. However, this is arguably the greatest player to ever step foot on a golf course, his success has forced us to wonder, doubt and write him off.

I refute those criticisms, doubts and wonderings with: it’s Tiger Woods. Are we really ready to write him off? I won’t, yet. I believe the second half of this year will tell us a lot about Woods going forward.

David Feherty said during the Tavistock Cup that Woods would win the Masters. I’m disagree. His driver is erratic and to play Augusta National you need control off the tee, something Tiger hasn’t proven he consistently has with his new swing. I can’t remember the last time, probably because there was no last time, when Tiger was double-crossing and hitting balls so far off target. He claims when this happens that he knows what he is doing and as a result can make the quick fix on the fly.

That’s all well and good, but two or three of those a round at Augusta won’t allow you to stay above water for long, much less win the tournament. I don’t hate Tiger at Augusta next month, however. I see a finish around the 12-18 range. Close, but not all the way there.

Augusta National is one of those courses that you need to know to play it well. Tiger knows the Georgia Jewel, but there are 10 or more other players who are familiar enough with their game peaking that can beat him without his “A” game.

Woods’ next tournament is Arnie’s Bay Hill Invitational next week and as I said above, it’s a tournament I think Tiger can break through on. The real reason for the pick is just a hunch, a gut feeling that he’s coming around and he’ll need something going forward. A win would do that for him. I believe that if it weren’t for Graeme McDowell sinking those putts at the Chevron, Woods would have won already this year having gotten the monkey off his back before the new year.

Now each week, we wait to see when the old Tiger will resurface.

Why not at Bay Hill?