UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – While swirling rumors of his competitive demise have been greatly exaggerated, if we’ve learned anything from two crispy and curious days at Chambers Bay it is that Tiger Woods is not nearly as close to an ascent back to greatness as he seems to think.
For the second consecutive tournament Woods signed for a card in the 80s all the while smiling his approval of the path he and “swing consultant” Chris Como have chosen.
Regardless of what you may think of Como and his philosophies, with opinions ranging from confusion to outright contempt, the tandem are now just a half dozen PGA Tour starts into the experiment and it’s a tad early in the process to start cleaning house.
But what is just as clear is there is no sign Woods has bottomed out, which many believed was the case when he went around Muirfield Village earlier this month in 85 strokes.
Friday was better with Woods turning in 2 over par but on the closing nine it was more of the same on his way to a second-round 76, but let’s face it after Thursday’s 80 there was plenty of room for improvement.
For his part, Woods is adhering to a strict diet of “been here, done that” when it comes to his current woes.
“Sometimes you have to make a shift, and I did. And short-term suffering for long-term gain,” Woods said on Tuesday at Chambers Bay. “I've done this before when I've made changes in the past I've struggled through it. I've come out on the good side.”
While that premise certainly holds true if you examine the flow chart of Woods’ career, there does seem to be a measure of revisionist history when it comes to his previous makeovers.
When he began working with Hank Haney in March 2004, Woods went 16 starts before his next Tour victory and played four majors before winning the 2005 Masters.
It was a similar transition when he made the move to Sean Foley in August 2010, with Woods going 18 starts before getting back on the board with a Tour victory, and he did go 0-for-13 at the majors during their tenure together.
While neither of those previous transitions was without a degree of discomfort, Woods missed just one cut before working out the kinks with Haney and Foley ... that’s one cut combined.
By comparison, he’s already doubled that number this season with Como and his best finish was a tie for 17th at the Masters.
Put another way, softening the rough edges with Haney and Foley was like having a cavity filled compared to the root canal treatment that the current transition has become.
It also doesn’t help that Woods’ schedule includes only the most difficult golf courses, like Chambers Bay, which only compounds the degree of difficulty and magnify the inherent dangers of a swing change.
“On a golf course like this you get exposed and you have to be precise and dialed in,” he said before bolting the Pacific Northwest. “Obviously I didn't have that. Obviously I need to get a little better for the British Open and I'll keep working at it.”
Never before, however, has that work been so scrutinized, with Woods’ celebrity creating an alarming level of hyperbole. For all the cries that he must return to the knowing embrace of former swing coach Butch Harmon – an option Harmon has all but dismissed – no one is clamoring for the former world No. 1 to bring former caddie Stevie Williams back into the fold.
Woods has never had much interest in nostalgia and backtracking simply isn’t in his DNA. Nor do observers have much interest in Como’s entire body of work.
On the same day Tiger’s picturesque sky was falling and a second-round 76 sent him packing after two days for just the second time in his U.S. Open career, another of Como’s players, Jamie Lovemark, was climbing the leaderboard with a 2-under 68.
Although Woods is certainly closer to his golden years than his golden child halcyon days, the mind, if not the body, certainly seems willing.
For Woods, optimism springs eternal.
“I hit a little bit better today. But, again, I made nothing today. I didn't make any putts the first two days; I hit it better today,” Woods said in a surprisingly upbeat assessment considering he has more rounds in the 80s this season (three) than in the 60s (two). “Hitting some spots where I could hit some putts; I made nothing.”
The reality is legends rarely fade away without a fight, it’s a byproduct of the same ego that made them great. Michael Jordan should have never slipped into a Washington Wizards jersey, Joe Montana lingered two years too long in Kansas City and Babe Ruth inexplicably wrapped up his career playing for the Boston Braves.
Whatever point along the “base-line shift,” which was this week’s talking point when he was asked about his evolving swing, he may be Woods is far from finished, but he’s certainly further from finding the tipping point than he cares to admit.