Tiger Faces the Eternal Question
But that subject is about two years old now. Harmon is gone ' period ' and the chances of him returning are non-existent. And at last, Woods has said what everyone has suspected for quite awhile ' that he is working now with Hank Haney.
Woods held a news conference earlier this week to kick off his Target World Championship, and the conversation drifted once again to the change. Haney, it must be said, is personable, knowledgeable, and has worked with several tour pros ' including Tigers close buddy Mark OMeara. But it boggles the imagination that Woods would discard the coach and the swing that won him 39 tour events and eight majors ' in only seven years time ' to begin anew with a different move at the ball.
There is no question that he is on the verge of resuming his old winning ways. He hit almost 80 percent of the fairways in a recent win in Japan, and that is phenomenal. He has so much talent that he can take the teachings of almost any coach and turn it into a long succession of victories.
He has been under a constant barrage of questions from a disbelieving media throughout the year, journalists who find it inconceivable that he would discard a swing that brought such stratospheric successes. Were it anyone else, it would get only passing mention. But in Tiger, we are talking here about one of the two or three greatest players ever to tee it up.
How long has he been working with Haney? Awhile, said Woods. Does that answer it? It's been this year.
Turns out that at least part of the reason for his reluctance to mention the relationship is because Haney doesnt want the publicity that comes with working for a player of Woods stature. And Hank particularly does not like to be referred to as coach, says Tiger.
He says, I'm your friend, I'm just trying to help you out with your game. When he worked with Mark (OMeara) all these years, he never referred to himself as a coach. He's not on the sidelines pacing back and forth and trying to call plays. That's a coach.
He's always wanted to say, I'm your friend and I'm just trying to help you. He's a friend who's hired to help me.
Theres no question that Haney has solid credentials. And theres no question that Woods made the initial entreaties to him about working on a swing change. Tiger says he first began tinkering around early in the spring.
I felt like something needed to be changed because I wasn't having the results, he said. 'I won at La Costa (in the World Match Play), but I won because I putted great. I hit it all over the map. My iron play was not what it normally is, and I just made everything. Even though I won the tournament, I knew that I wasn't going to do it for the rest of the year, so I had to start changing a few things.
The huge question then becomes, why didnt he see Harmon and get the swing back in order? But Woods was no longer seeing Harmon. The reason? Tiger said Harmon had already imparted the knowledge to work out his own problems. But instead of working out the difficulties himself, Woods went to someone else and crafted a new swing.
And he grew testy as the year dragged on and he was having to confront the issue on almost a tournament-by-tournament basis. But the answers he gave were almost incomprehensible, they were so vague. What was going on with perhaps the greatest player to play this game? It was impossible to tell.
Yeah, just because I had to defend myself after each and every round. I was always getting questions, Singh shot 66 today, what was the difference between your 66 yesterday and 69 today? Why werent you able to shoot a much better score?
At the end of the year, my worst finish was in Ireland - I looked back on the stats, and I looked at my results from Wachovia to the end of the year, and I had two tournaments outside the top 10. That's a pretty good run. For most people that's pretty good. But I had to defend myself the entire time, What's wrong with you? Constantly through the entire year I felt like I was defending myself after each and every (event), so I was getting frustrated with that.
So, Tiger just needs to say, None of your business, and the questions will soon quit coming. But until he does, there are just too many ends here that are left untied. Why did he change to Haney? Is there a conflict with Harmon? Wasnt the swing that he had in 1999, 2000 and 2001 good enough?
He will always have periods of ups and downs ' thats just the game of golf. It doesn't feel good, but it's just part of playing sport, said Woods, and especially in our sport, longevity is just huge here. You've got a career that could literally span - for me, 30 years on the regular tour.
There's no other profession really like that, that you can play at a high level for that long. No, you're going to have periods like that. You can't win every tournament.
Understood. However, the way he went about solving this drought has been perplexing, to say the least. But Ive learned not to doubt that he will come out of it, and that he will be right back up there when he does. Just dont ask me to explain it because, after hearing his explanations all summer, Im still totally in the dark.
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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form
Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.
Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.
Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.
Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.
Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA.
New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.
Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.
Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.
Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.
Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.
Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions.
Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might
Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.
“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”
Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”
“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”
Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)
Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”
Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"
As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.
Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”
McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks
The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.
McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.
“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”
At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.”
And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.
“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.
“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic
No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.
Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.
With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.
“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”
Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.