Tiger says he is going to be a better golfer than he's ever been - including, by the way, 1999 and 2000. Of course, those were the years he combined for 17 victories ' eight in 99, nine the next year, winning all four majors in a row over a two-season period which ended in 2001. He was nothing short of unstoppable, and I dont have to tell you that.
He also had a different swing coach ' Butch Harmon. He learned Butchs swing very well, obviously. But this year he has a new coach, Hank Haney, and he believes he can become a better golfer. Jumpin Jehosephat - does he really think thats possible?
Woods just finished a season in which he won one only tournament, a match play event. He just completed the Tour Championship, in which he was brilliant in the middle two rounds, rather mediocre in the first and last.
Now, I dont want to say its impossible for Woods to get any better than he was in 99 and 2000. To be honest, I dont want to look stupid again - which I and just about everyone else would have done if Tiger had told us before those two unbelievable years when he was about to win the four majors in succession.
But surely he will pardon us if we seem a little skeptical. He was the best golfer the planet has ever seen when he was playing in 2000. And try as I might, I cant conceive of him being better next year. It's just human nature to be a doubter.
Trust me, he says, I've been down this road before, so it's nothing new. I'm starting to see some of the fruits now.'
Yes, hes done this before.. He won the Masters by 12 shots the first year he played it as a pro, in 97. Then he chucked it all, completely re-did the way he swung the club. And he went through a one-win season in 98 when he and Harmon were changing his swing.
If I had 153, he said he of the Tiger pre-98, I couldn't hit it 153 time and time again. I may hit it short or long of that. The whole idea is to hit the number you've got to hit.
Then Harmons instructions finally sunk in, and Woods went on the run where he undoubtedly, undeniably, was the best a lot of people joined me in believing he was the greatest player in history, despite the fact he was just 24 years old.
But that wasnt good enough for Tiger Woods. Who knows what he spotted that didnt please him? But apparently there was that one shot that he hit in August or some such that wasnt flush by Tiger standards. Golf by its very nature is a game of imperfection. But that is contrary to the Woods philosophy. That is the reason we find him today tinkering with a swing that we all thought was perfect.
I thought that I could become more consistent and play at a higher level more often, he says simply. Hes like a man who bowls a 300 game, but he has one toss that doesnt quite suit him. It may have looked perfect, but somehow it just didnt feel right.
Hmmmm OK. He must know that, not just the commoner such as myself, but a whole lot of tour pros are completely befuddled.
Now, Im through doubting Tiger Woods. But from here on in, it will have to be done completely blind to the world of golf. Hes onto something which has everyone else completely in the dark.
You have to be honest with yourself and you have to understand that there are risks to getting better, Woods says in explaining this one-win season. I've always taken risks to try and become a better golfer, and that's one of the things that's got me as far as I have.
Actually, hes been searching for answers for awhile now. It didnt become clear to him what he could do to improve until he started working with Haney in earnest. He said that he has been a Haney student for about a year and a half. But its only been the last half of the year, says Woods, that Haneys methods have really sunk in.
Tiger still cant understand why there are so many non-believers out here. But then, maybe he really doesnt understand how good he was. The year he won nine times, he finished second four other times. And he only played in 20. Three of his wins were majors to go with the Masters he won in 2001. His 68.17 scoring average was the greatest in history. He won six tournaments in a row.
Any one of these would be lifetime accomplishment. But Tiger Woods did it all in one year.
But - Im a believer. Next year may be the year when he is going to win 10. He is going to win all four majors in one year. He is going to average 68-flat. He is going to have a better year than 2000. If it isnt next year, then look out in 2006.
Maybe its realistic ' Woods certainly believes it. They say he doesnt even reach his physical peak until he is in his 30s, and he hasnt even reached 29 yet. But, oh my goodness, he is going to have those two exceptional years to live down. And he has a bunch of good ones after that.
But he says he is going to be better, and though I dont know how that is possible, I ceased the doubting routine long ago. He obviously doesnt want to take a step back when he is on the verge of hitting his peak physical years. All I can say is, I wonder what can possibly be better?
But better he says it will be, and for that, there is nothing we can do but buckle our seat belts. Be ready to be awed.
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