Tiger Hitting Stride But Has He Hit His Peak
More evidence came from his caddie as he waited for Woods to arrive for the final round of the Tour Championship.
'He hasn't hit a practice ball since the British Open,' Steve Williams said. 'I've been with him nearly 10 years now, and this is the best I've ever seen him hit the ball.'
No practice? Not quite.
What he meant was that Woods has such command over his game that he stopped going to the practice range after his rounds since returning home from Carnoustie.
Woods confirmed as much when he left East Lake with his two trophies -- one for the Tour Championship, one for the FedEx Cup.
'Hey, there was no need to go,' he said with a shrug and a smile.
Whether this is the best he has ever played is up for debate, but don't expect Woods to participate. He is always looking forward, always trying to figure out a way to get better. That's what makes it so daunting for the guys trying to reach his level. They know they have to get better, and that's assuming Woods doesn't continue to improve himself.
So far, that hasn't happened.
Since his latest round of swing changes took root at the end of 2004, Woods has won 21 times on the PGA Tour. That's more than Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk combined over the last three years.
And the truly scary part is that Woods, at age 31, might still be years away from his prime.
'I don't know when it's going to be,' Woods said. 'The whole idea is to try and keep improving. When all is said and done, when you rack the cue and go home and retire, you can honestly say, 'These were my best years, when I was at my peak.' But when you're in it, you're always trying to improve that a little bit to get to the next level.'
As the trophies keep piling up, the numbers are simply staggering.
Woods now has won 61 times in just more than 11 full years on the PGA Tour. Jack Nicklaus was 36 when he captured his 61st tour victory. He has won 28 percent of the time since turning pro, and that if that number is hard to fathom alone, consider than Mickelson has won 9 percent of his tournaments, Singh is at 8 percent and Ernie Els at 6 percent.
Woods' final putt for par at East Lake put him at 23-under 257 for the lowest 72-hole score of his career, and six shots better than the previous record at the Tour Championship. A week earlier at Cog Hill, he broke the tournament record by five shots at 22-under 262, winning by two over Aaron Baddeley.
With his 2007 season in the books -- all he has left is the Presidents Cup and his Target World Challenge in December -- Woods finished with a 67.79 adjusted scoring average, equaling his record from the 2000 season.
And while the $10,867,052 was short by $38,114 of the record Singh set in 2004, the big Fijian played 29 times that year. Woods played in only 16 tournaments. That's an average of $172,493 per round.
Woods said the latest adjustment since the British Open, where he tied for 12th, was simply shifting the weight more toward the balls of his feet for better balance. That made it appear he was standing closer to the ball.
Swing coach Hank Haney hasn't seen much change the last two years, with one exception. What he watched with regularity on the range at Woods' home course in Isleworth, he now sees more often inside the ropes on the PGA Tour.
'I've seen him play like this and hit the ball like this the last couple of years -- for sure the last year -- but most of times I've seen that, it's been at Isleworth,' Haney said Sunday from his home in Dallas. 'It's only been bits and pieces in tournaments.'
It's still not perfect.
Woods lunged at one tee shot on the 16th hole at East Lake in the opening round, scolding himself when it sailed to the right.
'Tiger Woods!' he said through clenched teeth. 'Trust you swing.'
Haney believes that trust was evident at Oakmont in the third round of the U.S. Open, when Woods hammered a driver down the middle of the fairway on his way to perhaps his best ball-striking round of the year. He hit 17 greens in regulation that day.
'I know what that hole feels like to him. It's really tight,' Haney said. 'On the practice tee, he said, 'I'm driving the ball in the fairway.' And he piped it right down the middle, then did the same thing on Sunday. I felt that was big turning point in his confidence.'
Woods didn't see it that way.
In his eyes, the turning point came at the Western Open last July. He had just missed the cut in a major for the first time, opened with a 72 at Cog Hill, then spent hours that Thursday afternoon on the practice range. It was hard work, but enjoyable.
For the first time since his father died, it was fun.
'I got over all the things that happened earlier, and I finally got back to just playing golf again,' he said. 'That mourning period ... I felt I was done with it. Once I got back to playing golf, I felt I was back in my rhythm again. And from then, if you look at my results since then, it's been pretty good.'
No one ever thought that 2000 season could ever be topped, and it probably remains the benchmark. Woods won nine times in 20 starts, including three straight majors, and three victories of at least eight shots. But his highest winning percentage was last year (8-of-15), and his adjusted scoring average is the same as it was in 2000.
Instead of looking back, consider the future.
What if he still hasn't hit his prime?
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Koepka primed for CJ Cup win and world No. 1
Brooks Koepka wants a 2-for-1 at the CJ Cup. If he can collect his second non-major PGA Tour victory he can become world No. 1 for the first time in his career.
He’s in great position to accomplish his goal.
Koepka eagled the par-5 18th en route to a 7-under 65 in the second round at Nine Bridges in Juju Island, South Korea. At 8 under par, he is one back of 36-hole leader Scott Piercy (65).
Koepka, currently ranked third in the world, began the day three shots off the lead, but rapidly ascended the leaderboard. He birdied four of his first eight holes before finding trouble at the ninth. Koepka hooked his tee shot out of bounds, but the ninth is a par 5 and he was able to salvage bogey.
That was his only dropped shot of the day.
The reigning Tour Player of the Year birdied the 12th and 14th holes in his bid to keep pace with Piercy. Koepka was two back as he played his final hole, where he knocked his second shot to 10 feet. He deftly converted the eagle effort to tie Piercy and earn a spot in Saturday’s final twosome. Piercy later pulled a shot ahead with a birdie at the ninth, his final hole of the day.
Koepka has officially won four PGA Tour events, but three of those are majors (2017, ’18 U.S. Open; 2018 PGA). His lone non-major win was the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
He can still reach world No. 1 with a solo second place, assuming Justin Thomas, currently world No. 4, doesn’t win this week.
That will take a mighty weekend effort by the defending champ.
Thomas also eagled the 18th hole to go from 1 over to 1 under. He shot 2-under 70 in the second round and is seven shots off the lead.
'Go in'? Yes, JT wants an ace at the par-4 14th
Justin Thomas didn’t hesitate after hitting his tee shot on the 353-yard, par-4 14th in Round 2 of the CJ Cup.
“Go in,” he immediately said.
“Please go in,” he added.
Thomas’ tee shot was on a great line, but it landed just short of the green. Surprisingly, it took three more shots for his ball to "go in." After birdies on Nos. 12 and 13, Thomas parred the 14th.
Watch: Dufner makes six (!) fist pumps after birdie
Jason Dufner makes Ben Stein seem like Jonathan Winters. Dufner often looks mighty miserable for someone who plays golf for a living.
But not on Friday at the CJ Cup!
Dufner made a 20-footer for birdie at the 16th hole and “celebrated” with one-two-three-(pause)-four-five-six fist pumps. There could have been more, but the camera cut away.
That was Dufner’s third birdie on the back nine, which offset a triple bogey at the par-3 seventh, en route to an even-par 72. Good times.
Watch: Paul C-ace-y makes hole-in-one at CJ Cup
Par-par-par-par-par-par. It was a boring second round over the first six holes for Paul Casey at the CJ Cup.
And then he aced the par-3 seventh.
Casey's tee shot from 176 tracked straight towards the hole and rolled in near the final revolution. That got him to 2 under par for the tournament. He was five off the lead, held by Chez Reavie, but bogeyed the ninth and 10th holes to give back those two strokes.
Hey, it's a no-cut event and a guaranteed paycheck. Drinks on Casey!