Tigers Troubles - Number 4765

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Tiger!
 
That word alone is enough to bring in a hundred irate e-mails from those who think ANY mention of him is just too much. Im so sick of you sportswriters writing about Woods, they always begin. Isnt there anyone else you can write about?
 
A hundred more will be violently opposed to anything that is considered the least bit negative. Why do you guys always feel you have to criticize everything Tiger does? they ask. Hes the greatest player ever, and all you writers do is cut him down!
 
So, now that Ive riled up 100 percent of you, Ill continue with todays sermon. And it is ' I dont really know what has caused the hiccup in Tiger Woods' performance the last couple of years.
 
Five wins a year is quite a dropoff from the 17 he posted in the combined years of 1999 and 2000. He won five in each of the last three years. But he wont reach five this year ' at the moment he has won just once, and no stroke play tournaments.
 
Its been two years since he last won a major, straddling the past nine events. Coincidentally, that is when he and his coach, Butch Harmon, parted company. Isnt that the reason he has slipped?
 
Well, maybe yes, maybe no. Woods vehemently denies any correlation, and I certainly give some credence to his opinion. Hes a smart guy, and I just cant believe that, if Harmons absence was the true reason for his backslide, that Woods would continue to stay away just to be spiteful. Obviously two years is long enough to see a disturbing trend developing, and Tiger is bright enough to see the writing on the wall.
 
On the other hand, would it be a problem to try Harmon again, just in case? The two worked together so brilliantly for so long, and youve just got to wonder But Woods says no, that wont happen. He says he knows enough now that he should be able to correct anything amiss. And he obviously believes it.
 
Lets just suppose that Woods is right. And if we presume so, then we have to find another critical juncture where his career took a downturn. That would be when Tiger had the knee injury. He experienced continual pain throughout the 2002 season, finally having arthroscopic surgery in December of that year.
 
As he continually favored the knee, his swing got more and more out of kilter. Then after the operation, he couldnt practice for a couple of months. And theres reason to believe that this is when his fall really began. After favoring the knee through the whole 2002 season, then being forced off it into 2003, he lost the beautiful, rhythmic motion. What youve seen is what happened last year and into 2004.
 
One possible flaw in the knee theory is that he played so well immediately upon returning. He won three tournaments in his first three months back ' his debut at the Buick Invitational, the WGC-Accenture Match Play and Bay Hill. If you dont like the injury excuse, heres where you can opt out.
 
By the way, forget the Elin Theory. Some people have tried to make a case that his involvement and cohabitation with Elin Nordegren is somehow the cause of his problems. It isnt, of course. Yes, she became a housemate in 2002, but that has meant nothing as far as his golf swing is concerned. It certainly didnt hinder Jack Nicklaus when Jack was married before he turned professional. It might have some effect when Tiger decides to have children. But now ' youve got to be kidding.
 
A lot of people have pointed to Nicklaus downturn from the ages of 27 to 29 as a mirror image of Tiger. Jack didnt win a major for those three years, and some theorize that it is just a natural progression that Tiger has reached an age when he is somewhat burned out.
 
Nicklaus lost a father who was ill during this time, however, a father to whom he was extremely close. He said himself that the tragedy took away much of his desire to practice, until he finally rededicated himself and once again began practicing with the zeal of old. So dont put much credence in this comparison with Tiger. There hasnt been a burnout or anything similar.
 
Woods, it must be noted, has performed his worst this year at the biggest tournaments. At two of the majors ' the Masters and the U.S. Open ' he finished tied for 22nd and tied for 17th, respectively. At the Players Championship, he slipped back to a tie for 16th. The other place where he didnt finish top 10 or better was at Bay Hill, where he was trying to win for the fifth straight time. He finished T46 in that one.
 
Of course, he has again made every single cut and finished 22nd or better except for Bay Hill. Hes already had a good season by normal standards. Its just that, by Tiger Woods standards, it has not been good.
 
One thing that has always been admirable about Tiger, though, is his refusal to make excuses. When he doesnt win ' which he hasnt done nearly as regularly these days ' he says it is merely because he didnt hit enough good shots. None of this luck factor or the dog ate my homework. He looks you squarely in the eye and tells you why he didnt finish in first place - that he didnt hit as many good shots as the winner.
 
He does, however, come to compete every single time he shows up. The proof is in the number of consecutive cuts that he has made.
 
It (the cut streak) is important to me because there's a lot of pride involved, Woods said. There's a lot of times when I hit it just God-awful and somehow got it around and made the cut. Other times, I've gotten very lucky and made the cut, too. The scores have come back.
 
So I think it goes to show you that I always try as hard as I can. I never give up. I never bag it. I play hard from the first time I put the peg in the ground to the last putt.
 
So the reason that he has not played as well certainly cant be attributed to lack of effort. But Butch? The knee? Some other factor? God only knows.
 
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