He did this thing once already, you know. That was with a different friend, Butch Harmon, even with different irons, Titleist, and a different caddy, ol Fluff. And he went on a tear from the middle of 99 until early in 2003 when he won 40 times around the world. By then he was well into tearing down the swing again and bidding adieu to Harmon.
Lets peek into those two years when he first began tinkering, beginning in his second year on tour, 1997. Woods had won twice in a short eight-event start in his rookie year of 96. He had stunned the world, remember, with a 12-shot win at the Masters in 97. But, he says, he couldnt hit finesse shots, hit it 100 yards with a pitching wedge when the shot called for it. The Harley Grip, he called it. Tiger could hit it 160 yards with a 9-iron, but try to bring it back to 100 with a wedge ' uh-uh.
So, after winning the Motorola Western Open in July, Woods made the decision. While the world around him gushed about this new 21-year-old prodigy, the prodigy himself decided to toss in the old swing and change everything.
What happened over the next two years? Read on.
It started at Troon in the British Open, when he scored a triple-bogey the first day, a quadruple-bogey on the second and another triple Sunday. Not surprisingly, he finished tied for 24th while Justin Leonard took home the Claret Jug.
Tiger finished in a tie for 29th at the PGA that year, shooting a 75 in the last round. Two tournaments later, he suffered the only missed cut in his career at the Bell Canadian Open. He could do no better that a T-26 at Disney, a T-36 at Las Vegas ' two tournaments he had won as a young upstart the previous season.
Then came 1998, and Woods briefly showed promise when he finished just one shot behind Phil Mickelson at the Mercedes, then roared back from eight shots down in the final round in Thailand to clip Ernie Els in a playoff.
Tiger appeared to have it altogether when he went into a playoff at Nissan before losing to Billy Mayfair. But Pebble Beach was a near disaster ' both for Woods personally and the tournament as a whole.
Woods shot a 148 (76-72) the first two rounds, which left him 14 strokes behind co-leaders Tom Watson and Tim Herron and in grave danger of missing the cut. But the ravages of El Nino caused the tournament to be postponed until a one-day finish in August, and Tiger ' along with many others ' failed to show up for a one-round playoff.
He broke through again with a win at the BellSouth in 98. And he finished just one stroke out of a playoff at the British Open, then lost a playoff to Nick Price at the Nedbank Challenge in December in South Africa.
Remember the beginning of 1999? There was the famous rock incident at Phoenix ' Sunday Woods hit his tee shot on 13 behind a boulder. He asked if 1,000 pound rock could be moved and roles official Orlando Pope said yes, as long as it doesnt hold up play. A dozen members of Woods gallery rolled it out of the way, he took his shot and eventually finished third.
But he finished T-53 in another Pebble Beach disaster that was, of course, weather shortened. And when he came from way off the lead (nine shots on Saturday) to win the Buick Invitational, he said, I told you I was close to putting it all together. Its been this way for months, but nothing has ever jelled. Golf is a wave, and youre constantly going up and down.
Ever heard that? Oh yes ' he shot 62-65 on weekend at San Diego to win by two shots.
He finished in a tie for second at the Nissan, was tied for fifth at the Match Play, then finished outside the top 15 in four straight tournaments. During that stretch he shot in the 60s just once in 16 rounds.
Then, it happened. He was home in Orlando practicing alone when the epiphany occurred. He hit one shot just the way he wanted, then another, then another. Excitedly, frantically, he reached for his cell phone and dialed Harmons number. Ive got it! he said deliriously.
He went to the Byron Nelson and shot a 61 in the opening round. He proceeded to knock four balls in the water the remainder of the week and finished in a tie for seventh, but Woods was overjoyed by his progress. And over the next three years, until early in 2003, he would win 40 worldwide events, 24 on the PGA Tour alone. He went on a tear starting with his next event at the Deutsche Bank in Germany ' which he won. He returned to the U.S. and played the Memorial ' which he won.
He rode that wave until he got tired of that swing ' and of Harmon. He said welcome aboard to Haney and went to work again changing everything. Some think it began back in 2002, though with Tiger everything is very secretive. He suffered a knee operation in the offseason of 2002, he met his wife, Elin, and they set up house, only to be married this year.
Now, are we about to see another run like 1999-2002? No question, if you believe Tiger.
I had to take baby steps and I did that all year (in 2004), he said. I was working in the right direction.
Sometimes it might have been just three, four holes in one round that I played great, the way I know I can, and then the rest of it wasn't so good. Then eventually it became nine holes and 18, then 36 and 54, now a whole tournament. It's exciting.
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