For Tiger Its the Short Game Stupid

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PGA Tour (75x100)Tiger Woods has hit some amazing shots in his career.
 
He drove the green on a 347-yard hole at Doral. He hit 6-iron from 218 yards out of a bunker and over the water in Canada. His most famous shot might be the chip-in at the Masters that made a hairpin turn at the top of the ridge on the 16th green.
 
But he was equally proud of the most boring shot in golf, a special gift for swing coach Hank Haney.
 
'He told me Saturday afternoon, 'Hank, you've never seen me putt good,'' Haney said Monday night from his home in Dallas. 'And I told him after he got done, 'I've seen you putt good now.''
 
The one club Woods singled out in his five-shot victory at Medinah was his putter.
 
He started his final round with a 10-foot birdie to seize the lead, then pulled away with a pair of 40-foot birdie putts, both of them tumbling into the cup with perfect speed.
 
'I just felt like if I got the ball anywhere on the green, I could make it,' Woods said. 'It's not too often you get days like that, and I happened to have it on the final round of a major championship.'
 
Oh, he's had that feeling before.
 
It lasted an entire summer in 2000, when Woods won three straight majors among his nine PGA Tour victories and shattered the tour record for lowest scoring average with a mark of 68.17.
 
That once-in-a-lifetime season has become conversation at water coolers again, especially after Woods won the PGA Championship. It was his third straight victory, two of them majors, by a combined score of 60 under par and margin of 10 strokes.
 
Is an encore around the corner?
 
Conventional wisdom holds that 2000 was a special year that will never be matched. And as well as Woods has played, three victories over five weeks is hardly enough to draw any conclusions.
 
But if he is to repeat his mastery, it starts with the flat stick.
 
'Truthfully, he hasn't putted well,' Haney said.
 
Woods hit the ball so well in 2000 that his favorite shot was a 3-wood that had 2 inches of draw on No. 14 at St. Andrews. What often gets forgotten is that he made just about every putt inside 10 feet.
 
Haney has been revamping Woods' swing the last two years, so it might seem self-serving for him to talk on the short game when everyone else is focusing 300 yards away, usually in the trees.
 
Then again, Haney gets criticized during hard times and ignored when Woods is winning majors.
 
Woods went through the 2004 season with only one PGA Tour victory, and Haney was the guy who messed up his swing. He has won 11 times the last two years, including four of the last eight majors, and now Woods is good enough to win with any swing.
 
Remember everyone saying that Woods couldn't win on courses that took the driver out of his hand?
 
Now they're saying he can only win on courses where he can leave the driver in his bag.
 
'Any time he doesn't have to hit driver, he'll hit it right down the middle,' Chris DiMarco said.
 
That was either a backhanded compliment or a bad perception, because Woods is capable of missing fairways with anything, as he showed in the third round at Medinah by hitting 3-wood that was headed for trouble until a fan swatted it back into play.
 
Haney attributes some of perception to equipment, especially as it relates to driving accuracy.
 
Woods used a 43 1/2 -inch driver with a small head and a steel shaft in 2000, and he could hit it about 290 yards in the air. Now his driver is nearly twice as large, with a 45-inch graphite shaft.
 
'You could make the argument that his driver is now just a specialty club,' Haney said. 'It's a club he uses when he can go ahead and bomb it, and there's no reason not to. Let's compare the club he hits 290 yards, which is how far he was hitting his driver in 2000. That's his 3-wood now.'
 
For all the talk about distance and accuracy, Haney believes the key lies elsewhere.
 
It's the short game, stupid.
 
And he isn't the only one in Woods' camp who feels that way.
 
'I told Tiger at the start of the week, if you don't make a double bogey and you don't three-putt, you'll win this tournament,' caddie Steve Williams said Sunday evening.
 
He had a three-putt bogey on No. 16 in the third round, and no double bogeys.
 
Woods had five three-putts at Pinehurst No. 2 when he finished two shots behind Michael Campbell in the U.S. Open last year, and Haney said he had five more three-putts at Baltusrol when he wound up two shots behind Phil Mickelson in the PGA Championship.
 
Haney is a nut with statistics, but two obscure stats he uses to state his case are eye-openers.
 
Woods is tied for first in proximity to the hole on the PGA Tour. But he ranks No. 171 in avoiding three-putts, averaging slightly less than three per tournament. Woods is No. 1 in greens hit in regulation, but 159th in average putts per round.
 
'If you look at his statistics, it's incredible what he's done this year,' Haney said.
 
Someone in New Zealand asked Williams earlier this year if he ever thought Woods could repeat a season like 2000, and the answer was somewhere between doubtful and questionable.
 
'But with what Hank has taught Tiger, and the way Tiger has taken it in, I don't think we've seen the best of this guy,' Williams said. 'The best is yet to come, and we're starting to see signs of it. I think Tiger can improve, and you'll see some great results.'