What is wrong with Tiger Woods?
You could attribute that question to most anyone in the spring of 2004.
There was much cause for concern at the time. Woods had long since split from instructor Butch Harmon and Woods appeared far removed from the player who won four consecutive majors and snatched golf souls for years.
The distress – among fans, media and even swing coaches – reached a fever pitch in May. After winning 18 consecutive times when holding the halfway lead on Tour, Woods blew a 36-hole advantage at Quail Hollow. He did it again in his following start at the Byron Nelson.
Combined, he hit 43% of his fairways in those two events, including three of 14 in the final round in Dallas. As wildly as he was missing off the tee, the criticism was equally assailing. It wasn’t just aimed at Woods; Hank Haney took his shots, too.
The Woods-Haney, pupil-coach relationship officially began at the ’04 Bay Hill event. Woods and Harmon separated at end of 2002, ending an unfathomable seven-year run.
From 2003 to March 2004, Woods was technically on his own, though, he and Haney were well established through their mutual connection, Mark O’Meara.
But when Woods asked Haney to join the team, and when Haney agreed, that meant – officially – Tiger’s woes were Hank’s woes. And, to many, Tiger’s problems were Hank’s fault.
To watch Woods work through his swing change in 2004 was to, in an ironic way, marvel at his brilliance. He didn’t win a tournament after February and was 182nd in driving accuracy on Tour. Yet, he clawed his way to six top-10 finishes. The calendar eventually turned, the swing – one Haney always described as “on plane” – eventually clicked and Woods was again unstoppable.
On Wednesday, Woods will enter the World Golf Hall of Fame. As is the case with the Harmon years, what Woods accomplished during his time with Haney is induction-worthy on its own.
The Tiger Woods-Hank Haney era started with a phone call in early 2004 and ended with a text message on May 10, 2010.
For everything that was achieved during those six years, there was always a comparison to the prior period, which included 34 Tour victories and eight major championships. Woods was so good, so dominant, that he won six times on Tour in between the Harmon split and the Haney merge.
These words, however, are not intended to compare times. They won’t bog down in the mud of scandal or focus on dismissive terms like “wipey” and the questionable ethics of a tell-all book.
This is to look at the Tiger Woods-Hank Haney era with blinders. To appreciate that, regardless of what happened before and after – and even during – Woods established a Hall of Fame career in this window.
In just 93 starts.
Ninety-three PGA Tour starts. That was the whole of their partnership. And in those 93 starts, Woods achieved more than most did in their careers. Not most players, but most legends.
Woods won 31 PGA Tour events, including six major titles, while with Haney. That’s:
- A 33.3% winning percentage on Tour
- A 26% winning percentage in majors (23 starts)
- More Tour wins than all but 13 players in history
- More major wins than all but 10 players in history
Woods’ 93 starts were on par with Lee Trevino’s 16 years of Tour success. Woods even had two more overall wins and completed the career slam in his brief span.
History has always been Woods’ only barometer. There were the occasional challengers among his “peers,” but nothing sustained. Vijay Singh put up a respectable fight and won 18 times during the Woods-Haney stretch, more so than anyone else. He was still 13 wins – including 5 majors, 6 to 1 – short of Tiger.
Phil Mickelson, who will forever have air quotes when people mention him as Woods’ “rival,” won four majors, more than anyone not named Tiger from 2004-10.
Tiger’s other accolades and accomplishments during those six years:
- World No. 1 for 257 straight weeks
- PGA Tour Player of the Year, four times
- PGA Tour money leader, four times
- Vardon Trophy winner, three times
- AP Male Athlete of the Year, 2006
- Led the Tour in wins, five times
- Tied lowest single-season scoring average (67.79) in 2007 (tied with himself in 2000)
2000 is on the Mount Rushmore of single seasons, along with Bobby Jones in 1930 and Ben Hogan in 1953. Sometimes, Tiger’s history is his barometer.
When people speak well of Woods, they bring up the ’97 Masters, the ’08 U.S. Open, the 2019 Masters. They talk about the "Tiger Slam" and how no one, at any time in golf history, could beat the Tiger Woods of 2000.
But the Tiger Woods of 2005-08 could have held his own against the ‘00 version.
- 23 Tour starts, six wins, two majors, six other top-3 finishes
- 15 Tour starts, eight wins, two majors
In a year that included the death of his father and his first missed cut in a major (U.S. Open), Woods closed the campaign like this:
- The Open: Win
- Buick Open: Win
- PGA Championship: Win
- WGC-Bridgestone: Win
- Deutsche Bank Championship: Win
- WGC-American Express: Win
He also won the unofficial Target World Challenge, because there are no individual exhibitions for Tiger. From Hoylake through the Midwest, back to The Grove in England, Woods won at 24 under, won at 8 under, won without his driver, won by overpowering the field. Whatever needed to be done, he did it better than everyone else.
After a couple of months off, he won again to start his ’07 season – his seventh consecutive PGA Tour victory.
- 16 Tour starts, seven wins, one major, three runner-up finishes
He ended the year much like its predecessor: win-win-T2-win-win (and another Hero title). It was more of the same in ’08 – while it lasted. Woods was limited because of knee surgeries and fractures in his left tibia. Even on one kind-of-good leg, he was still nearly unbeatable.
- 6 Tour starts, four wins, one major, no finishes outside the top 5
Tally it up and that’s 25 wins in 60 tournaments (42% winning effort) and seven major victories in 14 starts (50%).
Woods wasn’t too shabby in his return in ’09, winning six times in 17 starts. And then, as we know, history – personal and professional – was forever altered on Thanksgiving evening.
The Woods-Haney professional relationship ended with Haney sending Woods a resignation text message the day after Tiger withdrew from The Players.
That’s the what and the when. The how and why are well chronicled and not purposeful here.
The conclusion of the Woods-Haney era was marred by bitterness, salaciousness and perceived breaks of trust. It began among questions and condescension, which never seemed to stop.
Was Tiger 2.0 better than the original version? That’s a great topic for debate. That he nearly equaled his Harmon accomplishments under new tutelage and with a reformed swing, deserves to stand on its own merit.
And if it did stand alone, and Woods just made those 93 Tour starts in his career – he’d be among the greatest players who ever lived.