DORAL, Fla. – Before we go hydroplaning down hyperbole highway, it seems important to stop short of announcing mission accomplished and consider the ground covered progress, not the pinnacle.
Four days before Tiger Woods completed his Doral Slam (he has four career victories at the South Florida salsa festival/WGC), swing coach Sean Foley bristled at the notion that his man now truly and rightfully owns the new action.
“Someone made that up about ‘owning it,’” Foley said. “You can’t own your swing because you can’t own your state. Your skillset is always going to be an application of your state. When they said (Ben) Hogan or Moe Norman owned their swing, who says that? Who made that up? Did he say he owned it or was trying to?
“(Woods) just understands it. I see a lot less of the old motor patterns there. But he’s just been doing it.”
As brilliant as Woods’ victory on Sunday at Doral was, and it was brilliant, the world No. 2 spoke volumes when asked this week the last time he played this well.
“Torrey (Pines),” he smiled, referring to his four-stroke triumph at the Famers Insurance Open in January. “Wasn’t that long ago.”
With apologies to those with short attention spans, as impressive as Woods’ Blue Monster blowout was, the fact is this is much closer to the norm than the exception.
Since he bolted property last year at Doral midway through his final turn with an ailing leg Woods has won five of his last 19 starts – a 26 percent clip that rivals those historic seasons in 2001, ‘02 and ‘05.
The only thing missing is major No. 15, but following Woods’ closing 71 for a statement two-stroke victory, even that Grand Slam elephant seemed less omen and more omission.
“It's more not playing by position, it's more by certain feels and what I need to do to create that type of trajectory,” Woods said of a swing that is if not owned then on the final stages of a layaway program. “Especially on the fly out there, to make the adjustments that I need to make, where if I don't quite hit one just right, I know exactly what to do to fix it.”
Of all the account keeping one could use to quantify Woods’ dominance at Doral – a career-second best 27 birdies and a statistically significant 50 of 72 greens in regulation immediately come to mind – it was his putting proficiency from 10 feet and in (61 of 64) that should send chills through the rank and file with the year’s first major fast approaching.
His ability to convert when he had to had a ring of a bygone era.
“He cleaned up everything he had to clean up pretty much. It was good stuff,” said Graeme McDowell, who played the final two rounds with Woods but faded on Sunday with a closing 72.
It’s also worth noting that Woods’ WGC-Cadillac Championship victory – career bottle cap No. 76, notable only because he is now within a half-dozen of all-time wins leader Sam Snead – was every bit a quality win based on the cast of characters assembled behind him.
Phil Mickelson, energized by a scouting trip to Augusta National on Tuesday and a range session with Butch Harmon on Wednesday, kept pace with opening rounds of 67 and pulled to within three strokes with back-to-back birdies to begin his final frame, but struggled to make a putt when it counted on the weekend and finished tied for third.
On cue as the conversation slowly turns to Magnolia Lane, Rory McIlroy managed his way through a public mea culpa for his early exit from last week’s Honda Classic and strung together four consecutive competitive rounds for the first time this year.
The world No. 1 said he found something on Thursday after his opening round and closed with a 65 to tie for eighth place and score some much needed emotional capital after a difficult start to his season.
“A day like today felt like a long way away if I'm honest,” McIlroy said. “Just goes to show, if you get something and it works OK for you, it's not as far away as you think. That's been one of my problems; I always think when I'm playing bad that it's further away than it is.”
If McIlroy scored the week’s “Most Improved” award, the week’s MVP trophy, not to mention the runner-up hardware, goes to Steve Stricker, the part-time player who moonlighted as putting guru late Wednesday and set the tone for Woods’ week on the greens.
“(Stricker) basically got me in the same position that I was at Torrey,” Woods said of his impromptu putting lesson with Stricker. “Once he put me in there where I felt comfortable, I said, well, this is not too foreign; this is where I was a month or so ago and I started rolling it and it felt really, really good.”
Not sure Stricker felt as good after posting four rounds in 60s (67-67-69-68) only to get lapped. He is now three starts into a season that will include just 11 events and already has a pair of runner-ups (Hyundai Tournament of Champions and Doral) to bookend a tie for fifth at the WGC-Match Play.
At the turn on Sunday Woods was five strokes clear and despite messy bogeys at the 16th and 18th holes he won for the 50th time in his career when leading going into the final round out of 54 attempts.
McDowell, who has spent as much time going head to head with Woods on a Sunday as anyone in recent years, didn’t use the “ownership” word to describe the world No. 2’s action, but the appreciation was implied.
“He doesn't have those kind of off-the-radar balls anymore,” McDowell said. “In '10, '11, when I was playing with him, he would hit the odd shot where you just would kind of blink twice and go, really, that's wide. He's got the ball under control now. He knows exactly what his golf swing is going to produce.”
Maybe Woods doesn’t own the new action, maybe he’s just renting, moving through on his way to bigger and better things.
“I don't want it to be as good (as 2000). That was never the intent,” Woods said on the eve of this week’s final round. “I want it to be better.”
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