One of the finest weeks of Tiger Woods’ remarkable career occurred at the 2006 British Open, where he led the field in fairways hit and held off the pesky Chris DiMarco to claim his 11th major title. Woods realized early on that he could cruise around the parched grounds of Royal Liverpool without his driver — he hit it once in the first round, then didn’t use it again. With his 3-wood or a long iron off the tee, Tiger was in complete control, better than everyone else despite the concession of length.
Coming off the death of his father and a missed cut at the U.S. Open a month earlier, the ’06 British triumph was as meaningful as any of Woods’ victories. Tiger was unusually emotional afterward, sobbing while remembering his dad during the awards ceremony, then becoming so giddy that he invited his mom and then-wife to the media center.
A lot has happened in the 63 months since. The one thing we haven’t seen is Woods gear down like he did that week in England, eschewing the driver that has caused him so much trouble over the years and employing his 3-wood to play from positions that will allow him to score. You would think this year’s career-low percentage in driving accuracy (49.03) would remind Tiger there are many ways to win golf tournaments, but his preoccupation with mechanics seems to have clouded his judgment from a strategic standpoint.
Through 36 holes at the Frys.com Open, Woods has hit just 13 of 28 fairways, a dreadful total considering he’s averaging just 270.5 yards per measured drive — 14 yards shorter than Trevor Immelman, who isn’t exactly a bomber. It’s tough to make a decent living on the PGA Tour when you’re short and crooked, and though Woods has spent the better part of 10 years hitting second shots from tough spots, his long game has become increasingly inadequate.
The old Tiger putted well enough to compensate for those errant drives. The post-hydrant Tiger is a distant cousin to the guy who seemed to hole every 15-footer that mattered. We keep waiting for the Dude in the Red Shirt to bust out, but even if he were to stumble upon some magic formula with swing coach Sean Foley and start driving the ball consistently, it’s difficult to envision his power/accuracy combination matching those of young studs such as Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson.
Basically, we’re talking about a 35-year-old pitcher who can no longer rely on his fastball. Woods has to start playing smarter and lean on his strengths, which means figuring out what’s working that day. Gone are the days when he could win six times a year from the right trees. If that means hitting the 3-wood, then hit the 3-wood and give up the 25 yards.
Remember those low-altitude guided missiles Woods used to rip off the tee when he needed something to bore through the breeze? He used to hit stingers. Now he hits stinkers that come with right-turn blinkers, leaving us to wonder if he’ll ever find a form that will allow him to win two or three times a season. When you’re hitting fewer than 50 percent of your fairways and playing a tougher golf course than almost everyone else, you shake hands with reality. You pull out the 3-wood and accept the premise that less can be more.