Why Tiger can be great again.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Hank Haney

From 2004 to 2010 I had a front-row seat while the best player of all time hit thou­sands of balls – on prac­tice ranges from Flor­ida to China and at ma­jor cham­pi­onships from Au­gusta Na­tional to St.An­drews. I’m proud of the record Tiger Woods ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing that time. From July 2006 to May 2010, he won 47 per­cent of his starts, and fin­ished in­side the top 10 85 per­cent of the time. I’ve seen him hit­ting the ball as well as any­body who ever played, like in the 2006 British Open at Hoy­lake,where he hit only three less-than-per­fect shots the en­tire week.And I’ve watched him grind out wins when he didn’t have his best stuff.

The stats don’t lie, and I’ve spent a lot of time study­ing them.They have got more com­pre­hen­sive in the years af­ter we worked to­gether with the ad­di­tion of the strokes-

gained cat­e­gories in re­la­tion to the field (to­tal strokes, tee shots, ap­proaches, putting, etc.).When ap­plied retroac­tively to the sea­sons from 2004 to 2010, they ver­ify what I ex­pe­ri­enced:Tiger led the tour in the strokes gained/to­tal stat ev­ery full sea­son – and he had three sea­sons with a strokes-gained to­tal of more than 3.0. To put that in per­spec­tive, no leader has been bet­ter than 2.41 strokes since 2010. At his best,Tiger was 12 shots bet­ter than the field av­er­age in any given tour­na­ment. That’s re­ally im­pres­sive.

Tiger has al­ways been de­ter­mined to im­prove his weak­nesses, and the driver is one place he has fo­cused a lot of at­ten­tion over the years. Fol­low­ing the strokes gained/off-the-tee statis­tic from 2004 un­til now traces a very re­al­is­tic path of how he has felt about that club. From 2004 to 2009, he had three sea­sons where he was eighth or bet­ter in that stat, and the low­est he fin­ished was 41st. But over the years, his fear of the big miss has caused him to get more con­ser­va­tive, less con­fi­dent and hit driver less of­ten. By 2013, the last full sea­son he played (16 PGA Tour events), he ranked 127th in strokes gained/off-thetee while av­er­ag­ing 293 yards per drive. That was five yards shorter than his av­er­age in 2000, when he was us­ing a much smaller driver (260 cu­bic cen­time­tres) and still led the tour in to­tal driv­ing.

This his­tory les­son of Tiger’s per­for­mance with the driver is rel­e­vant be­cause of the way he’s swing­ing now. Granted, he’s only a hand­ful of tour­na­ments into this come­back, but it has been very in­ter­est­ing to study Tiger’s lat­est com­pe­ti­tion swings. I see some fa­mil­iar el­e­ments, and some new ones that work bet­ter for a golfer with a fused spine.

For starters, he has made two ad­just­ments that have re­ally helped. One is that his grip isn’t as strong as it was over the past few years. It’s closer to neu­tral, a bet­ter match for the swing he’s mak­ing now. I also like that he has turned his right foot out a lit­tle at ad­dress (swing-se­quence photo 1, pre­vi­ous pages). He used to have it al­most per­pen­dic­u­lar with the tar­get line. He’s now able to make a lit­tle lat­eral shift away from the tar­get, and his back­swing turn isn’t re­stricted. An­other thing I like is his one-piece take­away (photo 2). Ev­ery­thing is work­ing to­gether. Com­bined with that move off the ball, his up­per body is turn­ing and his arms and club are go­ing back as one unit.The club is mov­ing up (photo 3), and the face is open­ing slightly – but it’s a nat­u­ral move­ment.

What I see when he reaches the top of his swing makes me be­lieve he can be great again. His left arm is much higher than it was over the past few years, and the shaft is pointed left of the tar­get line (large photo, left) – which is where it should be be­cause the club’s shaft stops short of par­al­lel (swing se­quence photo 4). In re­cent years,Tiger’s left arm was lower, his left wrist was cupped, and the club went across the line at the top and pointed to the right of the tar­get. From there, he would al­ways strug­gle with two-way misses left and right of the fair­way. But here, he’s get­ting to the top in po­si­tion to get the club down in front of him with some good body mo­tion. I watched him do that for six years when he was dom­i­nat­ing.

An­other im­por­tant change from re­cent years can be seen in the down­swing. Be­fore this last surgery, he tended to lose his level, mean­ing his up­per body no­tice­ably dipped from its height at ad­dress. But the down­swing I see in these pho­tos says a lot about how much his driver swing has im­proved. His head has low­ered here, but it’s mostly just duck­ing (photo 5). His up­per body isn’t scrunch­ing down like it did when he was re­ally strug­gling off the tee.This same photo shows an­other big re­cent dif­fer­ence. I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in where Tiger’s eyes are look­ing at this point. Here, he’s look­ing 25 to 30 cen­time­tres be­hind the ball – which is ap­pro­pri­ate when you’re try­ing to hit slightly up on a driver.WhenTiger’s club comes from too far in­side, his head tilts back more at im­pact, as much as a me­tre be­hind the ball – which also pro­duces more of a re­verse-C fin­ish with his spine no­tice­ably curved. Here his fin­ish is a lot more up­right (photo 6).Whether he’s do­ing this to pro­tect his back or he’s forced to fin­ish up­right be­cause of the fu­sion, it’s a pos­i­tive change.

It has been five-and-a-half years since Tiger won a tour­na­ment, and he wasn’t able to prac­tice with­out pain un­til a year ago.Add in the var­i­ous surg­eriesTiger has had on his back and knees, and the fact that he’s 43 in De­cem­ber, and it’s easy to un­der­stand why so many peo­ple were scep­ti­cal about whether he would be able to com­pete with the game’s best. I wasn’t one of those peo­ple. When I saw Tiger’s first full-speed swings late last year, I said he could win again.And he nearly did, at the Valspar Cham­pi­onship. He clearly has enough dis­tance to com­pete, and his swing seems to be eas­ier on his back and more con­ducive to con­sis­tently keep­ing it in play. I’m ex­cited to see what hap­pens next.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.