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.
Three of world's top 5 MC; not 60-year-old Langer
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three of the top five players in the world missed the cut at The Open.
Bernhard Langer did not.
The 60-year-old, who is in the field via his victory in last year’s Senior Open Championship, shot even-par 71 on Friday. At 2 over through 36 holes, he safely made it under the plus-3 cut line.
"You know, I've played the Masters [this year], made the cut. I'm here and made the cut. I think it is an accomplishment," he said. "There's a lot of great players in the field, and I've beaten a lot of very good players that are a lot younger than me."
Langer had three birdies and three bogeys in the second round and said afterwards that he was “fighting myself” with his swing. He’s spent the last few days on the phone with his swing coach, Willy Hoffman, trying to find some comfort.
Despite his score, and his made cut, Langer the perfectionist wasn’t satisfied with the way he went about achieving his results.
"I wasn't happy with my ball-striking. My putting was good, but I was unlucky. I had like four lip-outs, no lip-ins. That part was good. But the ball-striking, I wasn't really comfortable with my swing," he said. "Just, it's always tough trying stuff in the middle of a round."
Langer, a two-time Masters champion, has never won The Open. He does, however, have six top-3 finishes in 30 prior starts.
As for finishing higher than some of the top-ranked players in the world, the World Golf Hall of Famer is taking it in stride.
"I'm not going to look and say, 'Oh, I beat Justin Rose or beat whatever.' But it just shows it's not easy. When some of the top 10 or top 20 in the world don't make the cut, it just shows that the setup is not easy," Langer said. "So I got the better half of the draw maybe, too, right? It wasn't much fun playing in the rain, I guess, this morning for five hours. I had to practice in the rain, but I think once I teed off, we never used umbrellas. So that was a blessing."
Kisner doubles 18, defends not laying up
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It was only fitting that Jean Van de Velde was there working as an on-course reporter on Friday as Kevin Kisner struggled his way up Carnoustie’s 18th fairway.
Rolling along with a two-stroke lead, Kisner’s 8-iron approach shot from an awkward lie in the rough from 160 yards squirted right and bounced into Barry Burn, the winding creek where Van de Velde’s title chances at the 1999 Open Championship began to erode.
Unlike Van de Velde, who made a triple bogey-7 and lost The Open in a playoff, Kisner’s double bogey only cost him the solo lead and he still has 36 holes to make his closing miscue a distant memory. That’s probably why the 34-year-old seemed at ease with his plight.
“It just came out like a high flop shot to the right. It was weird. I don't know if it caught something or what happened,” said Kisner, who was tied with Zach Johnson and Zander Lombard at 6 under par. “You never know out of that grass. It was in a different grass than usual. It was wet, green grass instead of the brown grass. So I hadn't really played from that too much.”
Like most in this week’s field Kisner also understands that rounds on what is widely considered the most difficult major championship venue can quickly unravel even with the most innocent of mistakes.
“To play 35 holes without a double I thought was pretty good,” he said. “I've kept the ball in play, done everything I wanted to do all the way up into that hole. Just one of those things that came out completely different than we expected. I'll live with that more than chipping out and laying up from 20 feet.”
Wind, not rain more a weekend factor at Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – After a half-day of rain in Round 2 of the 147th Open Championship, the weekend offers a much drier forecast.
Saturday at Carnoustie is projected to be mostly cloudy with a high of 62 degrees and only a 20 percent chance of rain.
Sunday calls for much warmer conditions, with temperatures rising upwards of 73 degrees under mostly cloudy skies.
Wind might be the only element the players have to factor in over the final 36 holes. While the winds will be relatively calm on Saturday, expected around 10-15 mph, they could increase to 25 mph in the final round.
Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.
The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.
The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.
This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.
After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.
“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”