This looks like the Tiger Woods that Ive been watching since the end of 1996. How about you?
He walked all over the gents at the Western Open. Runner-up Rich Beem, for one, said he would be content to sit and watch Woods hit shots on the driving range. Obviously, hes got unbelievable amounts of game, said Beem. I could sit there and watch him hit golf balls all day long. Its that impressive.
Of course,he has gotten annoyed that a few mentioned the no-no word - 'slump.' No one even hinted that he is not the best player in the universe. But the use of the word brings about an irrational reaction within Tiger that, at times, is difficult to understand. It's all a question of semantics, I guess.
But that is a minor little annoyance. The subject here is Tigers brilliance, and the manner in which he whacked everyone who had the temerity to come close. Woods, as he often is, was simply awesome. Its been this way since he became a professional.
But you might not know it by looking at the statistics this season. Hes averaging 293.4 yards per drive, and that is plenty long enough to play any course in the world. However, he used to be second only to John Daly in the distance derby. This year he is 21st.
He is ninth in putting, and as long as he is rolling it that well, he can hit it with a piece of spaghetti and still win tournaments. Now, he is not the 21st longest hitter on the PGA Tour. He probably is in the top five. He might be No. 2 or 3 if all you care about is pure length. But he believes he has been handicapped this year because he couldnt play early when he was rehabilitating a knee injury.
A little bit of it is because I didnt play the beginning of the year when we played at Mercedes where the guys were hitting it 350, Woods said. I didnt play the Bob Hope when the fairways were fast there. I didnt play at Sony when the fairways were fast. At the beginning of the year when the fairways were fast, I didnt play.
Then when he finally did tee it up, Mother Nature didnt cooperate.
Ironically, its rained at every single event Ive played at this year, he said. It (the driving distance statistics) is kind of skewed a little bit in that regard. But also, too, I havent really pulled out the driver that much. The times that I have hit it may not be on good driving, so you may see me hit ' for instance, I hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 2 at Sawgrass, thats one of the driving holes there. So Im hitting 2-iron down there about 240 off the tee ' that kind of skews my numbers.
Driving distances are measured only on two holes on each course ' one on the front side, one on the back. If the player elects not to use driver, officials dont say, Wait until he uses the big dawg ' then well measure him. If the player goes with a 2-iron instead of the big boy, then his stats are necessarily going to suffer somewhat.
And, some of it is just common sense.
As far as I hit my 3-wood, some of the holes, when I dont need 300 yards, why take the chance of hitting driver when I can hit it 280 and give myself all the room to hit the ball into? he reasoned. Thats how theyre set up and how far things are going that you dont really need that driver that often.
Woods isnt so caught up in the macho thing that he feels a need to hit a driver 330 when he can finesse a fairway wood into a little fatter part of the fairway. Courses are set up so that the smallest area of the fairway is pinched in at about 300 yards. The big whackers use their war clubs at a considerable risk.
And consider this: if a drive is off the mark by three degrees, it could well be out of the fairway with a driver, while it may very well stay in the fairway if the player uses a 3-wood.
But such are the things a golfer realizes the more he plays this game. Its not about raw distance. It still is about using the club that best allows you to make birdie.
My swing is completely different, Tiger said, noting that he was much more a power player when he first turned pro in 96 and 97.
Its not as across the line, its not as shut. My footwork is better, my arm-playing is better, my club-face is better, the speed at which I go at it is more consistent, I can hit different shots. So much is not reliant on just pure power to play a golf course. I can shape shots and control the golf ball and put the ball of the correct side of the fairways to give myself the best look at flag.
Makes you wonder what he was doing when he obliterated the field at the 97 Masters by 12 shots. That was supposedly when he had the old schoolboy roundhouse swing. What would he have won by if he had the new, improved Tiger swing ' 20 shots?
Nonetheless, all is at peace again in the golf world today. Tiger has won ' you can sleep well tonight. And there is no reason to revisit the slump issue. And Tiger is still convinced we journalists are skulking around, looking for sensational stories with which to sell papers.
Some things, it seems, never change. Dont use a driver when you can do just as well with a 3-wood or a 2-iron. A great putt will almost always make up for a mis-hit drive. And dont ever forget who is the No. 1 player in the world today ' probably yesterday, too. Tiger Woods.