Why Woods, at work on swing, could con­tend

Los Angeles Times - - U.S. OPEN - By Teddy Green­stein tgreen­stein@tribpub.com

UNIVER­SITY PLACE, Wash. — To the left of Tiger Woods stood the fu­ture: 15year-old Cole Ham­mer, whose first U.S. Open mem­ory was Woods’ fist pump af­ter that epic putt on No. 18 at Tor­rey Pines in 2008.

To the right of Woods on the prac­tice range Tues­day stood his past: in­struc­tor Sean Fo­ley, work­ing with Matt Ev­ery.

Sip­ping an energy drink, and shed­ding a sweater when the sun fi­nally peeked through at Cham­bers Bay, Woods elicited whis­tles from spec­ta­tors af­ter a few of his mon­strous drives. Other ef­forts prompted Woods, now ranked 195th in the world, to slam his club in frus­tra­tion.

Ev­ery­one ob­serv­ing the scene, per­haps even cad­die Joe LaCava and swing con­sul­tant Chris Como, had to be won­der­ing: Is he done?

Here’s what we used to ask about Tiger: When will he get to 19 ma­jors? Then it was this: Will he get to 19 ma­jors? Will he win another ma­jor? Will he win any­where? And af­ter he shot a ca­reer-worst 85 in the third round of the Me­mo­rial two weeks ago: Does he need a hug?

Woods doesn’t want your sym­pa­thy, but Tues­day he did com­pare his plight to that of a pitcher get­ting shelled.

“The man­ager is not go­ing to come out to the mound and bring in the righty or lefty,” Woods said. “You’ve got to go through all nine in­nings. It’s hard, but that’s the na­ture of our sport. There’s no­body to pull you up. There’s no one to bail you out. Some­times when you’re run­ning hot, there’s no one to hold you back, ei­ther.”

Woods, 39, is in the midst of another swing change, which he de­scribed as a “base­line shift” that re­quires a new “pat­tern­ing” on his chip shots, if you can tol­er­ate the lingo. He would not elab­o­rate on what he and Como are try­ing to do, just as he kept mainly quiet on his work with pre­vi­ous coaches Fo­ley, Hank Haney and Butch Har­mon.

“Time hasn’t robbed Tiger Woods of his game,” Golf Chan­nel an­a­lyst Bran­del Cham­blee said. “He’s done this to him­self. He’s traded his ge­nius for the ideas of oth­ers.”

As a long­time ob­server at the range put it Tues­day: “He doesn’t need a new coach; he needs a fa­ther.”

Earl Woods died in 2006, and Woods’ de­scent into golf and tabloid hell be­gan three years later. He is 0 for 21 in ma­jors since that 2008 U.S. Open, not count­ing the six he missed be­cause of in­juries.

Fel­low play­ers are sym­pa­thetic to the man who made tour purses bal­loon. Jason Day played with Woods on Mon­day and called Woods’ iron play “just ridicu­lous” — in a good way.

“The driver gets a lit­tle wide some­times,” Day added, “but if he can get on the fair­way, he’d prob­a­bly be back to where he was.”

That brings us to rea­sons Woods, a three-time U.S. Open champ, ac­tu­ally can con­tend this week:

The 13th fair­way is 115 yards wide, and oth­ers are also far more gen­er­ous than on a typ­i­cal U.S. Open course. And with the run­ways — OK, fair­ways — run­ning hot, Woods can bench his balky driver.

He said links golf is his fa­vorite, and Cham­bers Bay is cer­tainly linksy. (It’s not a true links be­cause ground had to be moved to con­struct it, and the wind off Puget Sound is of­ten tame.)

He played with Jor­dan Spi­eth on Tues­day and has con­sulted with another com­peti­tor from the 2010 U.S. Am­a­teur at Cham­bers Bay, Pa­trick Reed. “Pa­trick was telling me the funny part was play­ing No. 1, the first hole of match play, he made a solid nine and won the hole,” Woods said with a smile.

Re­mem­ber how he en­tered the Mas­ters with an LOL-wor­thy short game? Ve­gas had him at 2-1 just to fin­ish in the top 20. He tied for 17th.

“What I did at Au­gusta,” he said, “I’m very proud of that.”

Bot­tom line, with the U.S. Open ti­tle at stake, Woods be­lieves in him­self. Why? “I’ve got three of these,” he replied.

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