Jan
31
2011
Tinkering Tiger Still Struggling
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Tiger (Club) Slam!

It’d been nearly three years since Tiger Woods last competed at Torrey Pines when he took out Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole playoff to win the 2008 US Open. At a venue where he’s been so successful — he’d never placed outside the top-ten in his career — few would’ve predicted a 74-75 weekend showing by Tiger in his 2011 season debut at the Farmers Insurance Open. After opening with rounds of 69-69, Tiger spent much of the last two missing fairways and hacking it out of bunkers. He finished at a mediocre T44.

“I have some work to do,” said Tiger in a post-round interview. “There’s no doubt about that. I have a week to get ready.”

And the course wasn’t even set up that hard compared to US Open conditions.

“I was surprised that it would play — granted, I shot a high number today, but it played that easy today. We didn’t have the normal, typical pins,” said Woods. “We had three or four that were much easier than normal. Tees were moved up on a few holes. 18 moved up two tee boxes. It’s a bit of a shocker. But it provides more atmosphere for guys to make some birdies and then get after it. This is not a U.S. Open where you’re getting par every hole.”

Since switching swing coaches last spring, Tiger’s still adapting to new changes that he’s made with Sean Foley.

“We have some things that we need to work on,” said Tiger. “Sean and I have been talking about it every night. I can do it on the range, but it’s a little different when I’ve got to bring it out here and I’ve got to shape shots. I’ve got to hit the ball with the right trajectory.”

Interestingly enough, the world’s no. 3 elaborated on the reworking of his swing.

“Absolutely, because it’s a complete different release,” explained Tiger. “The release that you want to have for the good shots and full swings is the same and even the putting stroke. So the putting stroke is the smallest swing there is. So everything should be the same throughout the golf bag. And that’s where I was with all my other teachers and that’s what I’m trying to do here.”

Here’s what else is different: No one is scared of him. Pre-scandal Tiger walked onto the first tee with a two-shot lead every round because of his intimidation factor. When you saw Tiger’s name creeping on the leaderboard, it meant, “Watch out.” Now, rookies play alongside him and fire a 69 while he shoots 74. Believe what you want, but in my opinion, the mystique contributed to Tiger’s dominance. Obviously, he’s ridiculously talented and probably still the best golfer in the world, but he doesn’t command the same level of fear since his world came tumbling down after November 29th, 2010. His peers (Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, etc.) openly take jabs at him on Twitter — even if it’s all in good fun. Would they have done that two years ago? Probably not.

Even Graeme McDowell poked some fun, with an innocuous tweet, “Tiger giving lots away on CBS when asked about his schedule……..’Yes I will be playing again in the future’……. #cardsclosetochest” To which Chubby Chandler, who manages Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, replied jokingly (sic), “@Graeme_McDowell maybe he’s thinking of Avanta masters in Dehli!”

While Tiger wouldn’t commit to future playing commitments pre-Masters, he’s teeing it up next week in Dubai, where he’s won twice and never finished worse than fifth.

To quote McDowell’s response to Chubby, “Stranger things have happened.”

(AP Photo/Greg Bull)