Has Tiger Been Hiding a Secret

By George WhiteJuly 19, 2005, 4:00 pm
The speaker was none other than Jack the Great. Jack William Nicklaus was checking in with an opinion on Mr. Tiger Woods at the British Open last week. You recall what happened at the British Open, dont you?
 
I have to say, opined Jack, this is the best I have ever seen Tiger swing.
 
That covers an enormous amount of territory. There was the Tiger of 99, who won eight times plus once in Europe. Then there was the Tiger of 2000, who won nine times plus another European win. Nineteen wins in 43 starts both here and abroad, an average of almost one in every two entries possibly the most productive swing ever. Tiger Woods was just 25 years old then, but he already had 24 wins on the PGA Tour.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods seems to be reaping the benefits of a second swing overhaul.
This is important because Tiger jettisoned the old swing ' and the old coach ' and began anew with Hank Haney in 2003. Heads suddenly jerked with the news. Youve got to be kidding! Hes changing swings? The old one that produced all those victories, that swing wasnt good enough?
 
Woods, though, said he was going to change. He subtly took little jabs at those of us ' Im including myself here ' who tried to fathom, 'Why?' Did he really think he could improve on 17 wins in two years?
 
Tiger says the events of this year have proven he was right. And he would be correct if there was an underlying problem in the swing. If he changed just because he had personal differences with his old instructor, Butch Harmon ' that wouldnt be enough of a reason. If he was just curious about Haneys methods and wanted to give someone else a try, that wouldnt be enough, either. Tiger, though, is extremely bright, and it hardly seems reasonable that he just wanted to get better.
 
But last week at the British, he dropped a very important clue. He was discussing his mother and her near proximity to the London bomb attacks. She didnt mention it at the time, he said. And that wasnt all unusual, despite the fact that she was so close to the tragedy.
 
That's kind of how our family is, Woods said. If you're injured or you're hurt or you're sick or anything, you don't tell anyone. You just deal with life and move on.
 
This is important because at the end of the 2002 season, he himself underwent knee surgery. The knee had bothered him since he had arthroscopy done in college. The old swing involved more of a torquing of the knee. The revamped swing doesnt involve the knee nearly as much.
 
Anyway, its a very plausible theory. Tiger and a few close confidants are the only ones who know for certain. But if the theory is true, it certainly is understandable to make the change.
 
However, it still doesnt say that he is an equal to the awesome machine that cut down foes so readily in 2000. He is a very good golfer now, but in 99 and 2000, he was absolutely unworldly. He was arguably the best golfer ever then. Now - he might be in the top 10 of all-time with the new swing, maybe the top five. But he hasnt quite yet matched the run of those magnificent years.
 
Im not saying that ' the records say that.
 
Tiger is averaging 14 yards more with his drives now ' 312 vs. 298 in 2000. And a part of that is because he is using a longer driver and part of it is simply improved technology. His accuracy has slipped, though. Hes only finding the fairway 57.2 percent of the time, which is down at the 168th position on the tour ranking ladder. In 2000, he hit 71.2 percent of the fairways, which was good for 54th position.
 
Of course, the lengthening of the courses comes into play here. And - of course - hitting the fairways isnt nearly as important as hitting the greens. Tiger says many of his fairway misses now are just in the first cut, and it really isnt much of a problem. And sure enough, he leads the tour in greens hit.
 
Now, for the downer ' hes hitting 71.2 percent of greens now, whereas he hit 75.2 percent in 2000. The Tiger of 2000, it seems, would still beat the Tiger of 2005.
 
Below-par holes? Both the Tiger of this year and the Tiger of 2000 rank No. 1 in birdies, though the Tiger circa 2000 has the edge ' 4.92 vs. 4.65. And Tiger 2000 made eagles at twice the clip ' one eagle every 72 holes, vs. one every 144 this year this year.
 
Scoring? That also goes to 2000, when Woods was the greatest in history with an average score of 67.79. This years Woods is still No. 1, but he averages about a stroke more per round ' 68.84. Mark that down somewhat to the longer, more difficult courses. But those are key stats indeed. I don't if they are a full stroke harder - you are free to draw your own conclusions.
 
Those numbers all tell the tale. Now, the numbers for this year havent been completed yet. They might - probably, in fact ' will still go lower. And Woods didnt say the swing change was complete until after he missed the cut at the Byron Nelson. Is he correct? Hes finished second at the U.S. Open, second at the Western, and won the British since then. And a 2-2-1 finish isnt too shabby, is it?
 
The reason he was questioned is that, entering the prime of his career, he effected a swing change which cost him a lot of victories. But there may have been no other option ' a bad knee may have been the killer. He may have HAD to make a change.
 
If so, he now appears to be close to full throttle. Will he win 19 times in two years again? It doesnt seem likely. But then, with Tiger Woods, NOTHING seems unlikely.
 
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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”