No 2 Tiger Swings to a New Beat

By George WhiteDecember 30, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 Stories of the Year - #2Editor's note: We are counting down the top 10 stories in golf for the 2005 season. This is Story No. 2.
 
Has he done enough yet?
 
Does nine full years qualify, six of those when he was No. 1 on the money list, the other three when he was No. 4 or better? Does 10 majors do it, the most of anyone after nine years competing in the history of the PGA Tour? Does 46 tour wins do it, more than any other player in history who has competed just nine years? Maybe three full swing changes, brought about by, (1), a movement that he didnt think would hold up under the grind of the PGA Tour, or, (2), a combination of a knee injury and a back injury that wouldnt tolerate the constant stress that the first revamped swing brought?
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods reacts to his winning birdie putt at The Masters.
Has he done enough to finally vault him to the top of the heap among the storied list of vaunted PGA Tour competitors? The critics are being silenced one by one as the years slowly tick by ' can it be 10 years since Tiger Woods completed a victory in the U.S. Amateur and turned pro at Milwaukee in late August of 1996.
 
If consistently excellent play the first nine years is your criteria, without question 2005 pushed Tiger Woods to the front. If youre going by a full career, then maybe your guy is Jack Nicklaus or Ben Hogan or Sam Snead. But by any measuring stick, 2005 proved that Tiger Woods is part of a very, very exclusive club.
 
This was Tiger in 2005: won six times on the PGA Tour in just 21 attempts; won two majors; won twice in playoffs while losing none (he now has won eight times in nine attempts); was on the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team, winning a pair of matches with Jim Furyk; won in excess of $10 million; and, in so doing, he reclaimed the No. 1 world ranking from Vijay Singh.
 
Along the way, he also learned that sometimes it doesnt turn out the way you had it figured ' he missed the cut at the EDS Byron Nelson, breaking a string of 142 times in which he had played on the weekend. And he later missed the cut at the Funai Classic in October. Still, that was only the second and third times he had missed in his nine-plus years on tour.

Tiger Woods 2005 actually began late in 2004. It was at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan where he finally won a stroke-play event after a drought of more than a year. That tournament was of huge importance for Woods as he fought to fashion his new swing under his swing instructor, Hank Haney.
 
I think the end of last year (2004) was a big step for me, to have put the pieces together and I won a tournament like I did in Japan - which was a big step for me, going through all the changes with Hank, said Tiger.
 
So I think for me the process has been arduous, a lot of work, a lot of countless hours on the range, in front of a mirror, trying to get it right and trying to teach my body to do something that it hadn't done before. And it's very similar to what I was trying to do back in the middle of '97 through '99 middle of '99. So that took me two years. This time it took me about a year to put the pieces together.
 
The changes he was making had by necessity taken a toll on his game as he struggled in 2004. During that season he won only once, and that wasnt a stroke-play event (the WCG-Accenture, which is match play.)
 
Any time you make changes in your game, it's not going to be an immediate success, and did I probably take a step back? Yeah, probably, I did in '98, too, end of '97, all of '98, and beginning of '99 - almost two years where I didn't really do anything in the game of golf, he said. But then again, once those changes kicked in, I had a pretty good run, '99 and 2000, won 17 times on our Tour.
 
But in only his second tournament of 2005 ' at the Buick Invitational near San Diego ' he nailed down a victory. And this one was in stroke play.
 
Now I know what to do, what to fix and how to fix it out there, he said then. To come down the stretch like that, and I finally hit some really good drives all of a sudden on the back nine when I really needed to.
 
It was at Doral, in a monumental struggle with Phil Mickelson, that Tiger finally reclaimed his first-place status that he had lost six months earlier ' to Vijay Singh. He then won two major championships ' the Masters in a playoff over a gritty Chris DiMarco and a dominating performance in the British Open at St. Andrews. He wrapped up the year with wins at two WGC events ' the NEC and a playoff victory in the American Express.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods now has 46 PGA Tour wins and 10 major titles to his credit.
Is he at the same juncture he was at for nearly three years, in 1999 until halfway through 2001, when he won 22 times? That was during his second swing change, remember. And the answer is no, he hasnt matched that record of victories. And he has missed two cuts this year, dont forget. But Tiger says he never looks back, and those years of greatness will forever be a part of the past ' not the present.
 
Everybody is always trying to say, you can try to get back to 2000, he says forcefully. I don't want to get back to 2000. I want to become better. I want to become better than that. That's the whole idea of making a change.
 
I won the Masters by 12 in '97. I changed my game. Do I want to go back to that? No, I don't. I want to become better than that and I was able to achieve that, and that's why I made this change. I've been scrutinized over the past year or so for doing that, and I'm starting to see the fruits of it now. I've got to continue down the path and continue working hard.
 
But he no longer is in his 20s. On Dec. 30 he turned 30 years old. He has a new bride. He has, once again, a new swing. And he has what he hopes will be an exciting new era in front of him.
 
The 20s have been certainly better than I thought they could ever be, he ventured. I have always thought that golfers' peak years are going to be in their 30s, and hopefully that will be the same for me. I've got a lot of great things I've been working on, and I see my best golf certainly being in the future, not in the past.
 
And for Tiger, the added maturity of turning 30 has had a multitude of advantages.
 
If I look back on my life at 21 versus my life here at 29, it's totally different. The things that used to worry me don't worry me. Things that I thought were important really aren't, that kind of stuff. You just understand, you've got a better grasp. Being out here enough times, enough years, you really start to get an understanding of what it takes to be out here.
 
Its been an adventure, working out here on the PGA Tour in his 20s with three different swing movements. And its a credit to Tiger Woods that he has been able to make changes while still playing at such a high level. And, the swing he has today isnt necessarily the swing he will have for the rest of his career.
 
You're always going to keep working, he said. You never get there - never. You never arrive. And you can only do better the following day.
 
And, golf is fun. Life, for that matter, is extremely enjoyable. There are negatives to being Tiger Woods, sure, but to Tiger,

I love playing. I love competing. I love the thrill of the hunt, getting out there and competing and trying to win a tournament. That's a rush, man, he said.
 
To me, that is as fun as fun gets. I enjoy going home and practicing and preparing just like I always have. I still, even to this day, emulate - whether it's Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or Lee Trevino. Late in the evening - OK, Trevino is on the green, Palmer hits his shot on the green, Tiger Woods has a chance to win another one. I still do it, even to this day. It's how I grew up, and you never let those childhood dreams ever go away.
 
And Tiger counts his blessings and enjoys his life, completely satisfied that his world is in order.
 
The best part without a doubt is being able to do something you love every day, without a doubt. To do something where you can't wait to wake up and go do it, not too many people in this world can say that. I'm blessed that way.
 
Related Links:
  • The Year in Review
  • Tiger Woods' Bio
  • Full Coverage - The Masters
  • Full Coverage - British Open
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.