Has Tiger Been Hiding a Secret

By George WhiteJuly 19, 2005, 4:00 pm
The speaker was none other than Jack the Great. Jack William Nicklaus was checking in with an opinion on Mr. Tiger Woods at the British Open last week. You recall what happened at the British Open, dont you?
 
I have to say, opined Jack, this is the best I have ever seen Tiger swing.
 
That covers an enormous amount of territory. There was the Tiger of 99, who won eight times plus once in Europe. Then there was the Tiger of 2000, who won nine times plus another European win. Nineteen wins in 43 starts both here and abroad, an average of almost one in every two entries possibly the most productive swing ever. Tiger Woods was just 25 years old then, but he already had 24 wins on the PGA Tour.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods seems to be reaping the benefits of a second swing overhaul.
This is important because Tiger jettisoned the old swing ' and the old coach ' and began anew with Hank Haney in 2003. Heads suddenly jerked with the news. Youve got to be kidding! Hes changing swings? The old one that produced all those victories, that swing wasnt good enough?
 
Woods, though, said he was going to change. He subtly took little jabs at those of us ' Im including myself here ' who tried to fathom, 'Why?' Did he really think he could improve on 17 wins in two years?
 
Tiger says the events of this year have proven he was right. And he would be correct if there was an underlying problem in the swing. If he changed just because he had personal differences with his old instructor, Butch Harmon ' that wouldnt be enough of a reason. If he was just curious about Haneys methods and wanted to give someone else a try, that wouldnt be enough, either. Tiger, though, is extremely bright, and it hardly seems reasonable that he just wanted to get better.
 
But last week at the British, he dropped a very important clue. He was discussing his mother and her near proximity to the London bomb attacks. She didnt mention it at the time, he said. And that wasnt all unusual, despite the fact that she was so close to the tragedy.
 
That's kind of how our family is, Woods said. If you're injured or you're hurt or you're sick or anything, you don't tell anyone. You just deal with life and move on.
 
This is important because at the end of the 2002 season, he himself underwent knee surgery. The knee had bothered him since he had arthroscopy done in college. The old swing involved more of a torquing of the knee. The revamped swing doesnt involve the knee nearly as much.
 
Anyway, its a very plausible theory. Tiger and a few close confidants are the only ones who know for certain. But if the theory is true, it certainly is understandable to make the change.
 
However, it still doesnt say that he is an equal to the awesome machine that cut down foes so readily in 2000. He is a very good golfer now, but in 99 and 2000, he was absolutely unworldly. He was arguably the best golfer ever then. Now - he might be in the top 10 of all-time with the new swing, maybe the top five. But he hasnt quite yet matched the run of those magnificent years.
 
Im not saying that ' the records say that.
 
Tiger is averaging 14 yards more with his drives now ' 312 vs. 298 in 2000. And a part of that is because he is using a longer driver and part of it is simply improved technology. His accuracy has slipped, though. Hes only finding the fairway 57.2 percent of the time, which is down at the 168th position on the tour ranking ladder. In 2000, he hit 71.2 percent of the fairways, which was good for 54th position.
 
Of course, the lengthening of the courses comes into play here. And - of course - hitting the fairways isnt nearly as important as hitting the greens. Tiger says many of his fairway misses now are just in the first cut, and it really isnt much of a problem. And sure enough, he leads the tour in greens hit.
 
Now, for the downer ' hes hitting 71.2 percent of greens now, whereas he hit 75.2 percent in 2000. The Tiger of 2000, it seems, would still beat the Tiger of 2005.
 
Below-par holes? Both the Tiger of this year and the Tiger of 2000 rank No. 1 in birdies, though the Tiger circa 2000 has the edge ' 4.92 vs. 4.65. And Tiger 2000 made eagles at twice the clip ' one eagle every 72 holes, vs. one every 144 this year this year.
 
Scoring? That also goes to 2000, when Woods was the greatest in history with an average score of 67.79. This years Woods is still No. 1, but he averages about a stroke more per round ' 68.84. Mark that down somewhat to the longer, more difficult courses. But those are key stats indeed. I don't if they are a full stroke harder - you are free to draw your own conclusions.
 
Those numbers all tell the tale. Now, the numbers for this year havent been completed yet. They might - probably, in fact ' will still go lower. And Woods didnt say the swing change was complete until after he missed the cut at the Byron Nelson. Is he correct? Hes finished second at the U.S. Open, second at the Western, and won the British since then. And a 2-2-1 finish isnt too shabby, is it?
 
The reason he was questioned is that, entering the prime of his career, he effected a swing change which cost him a lot of victories. But there may have been no other option ' a bad knee may have been the killer. He may have HAD to make a change.
 
If so, he now appears to be close to full throttle. Will he win 19 times in two years again? It doesnt seem likely. But then, with Tiger Woods, NOTHING seems unlikely.
 
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