Whether or not Tiger Woods’ performance last week at Torrey Pines, which landed him a ghastly T44 finish, was an indication that 2011 will be another dreadful dose of mediocrity like last season remains to be seen. For the Tiger once heralded as golf’s "great one," Woods looked unrecognizable under the sun of the Farmer's Insurance Open, where he had conquered fields throughout his career.
In his previous 12 tournaments, or 47 rounds, Woods made a mockery of Torrey Pines, winning tournaments like Jordan won NBA Championships. Tiger captured six Buick Invitational victories, the 2008 US Open on a shattered leg, and prior to last weekend had never finished out of the top-10 or more than four shots behind the winner.
After shooting two 69’s to open the event, which put Tiger in position to contend for the weekend, Woods’ game began to visibly disintegrate. Posting consecutive over-par rounds of 74-75 for the weekend caused Woods to plummet down the leaderboard, confirming the looming concern that Tiger’s perpetual search for his once dominant game was nowhere near finished.
But those first two days were a spark, draining nine birdies against just three bogeys in his first 36 holes. Had he stayed on that track he could have won the tournament, or at the very least earned a top five finish. Instead, over his next 36 holes he made just four birdies paired with nine bogeys, en route to but another disappointing finish.
What can Tiger Woods do to get back on top?
First things first, Tiger needs to figure out whether or not this is something he wants to be doing.
After the Farmer's two weeks ago, he echoed his typical euphemism to the media, that he is “committed to change and moving forward.” I don’t buy it. Woods has looked unfocused and apathetic since 2010. Can you blame him? He rapidly went from being on top of the world rankings and in the hunt for every record in golf history to a disgraced, middle-of-the-pack golfer.
For anyone who watched Woods prior to 2010—not necessarily rooted for him or cheered him on, but just observed his performance—he hit shots and stroked putts with the unwavering focus of any Kobe Bryant shooting a jumper or Aaron Rodgers throwing a pass across the middle. Unfortunately, his showing at the Farmer’s Insurance Open, especially his last two days, were uncharacteristic of the player that won 71 PGA Tour events and 14 majors, and more reminiscent of the disturbed player from 2010 we hoped would vanish.
It’s too early to tell if a comeback season, like the sensational turnaround for Michael Vick, is out of the question for Woods. But if he can reroute his mindset on the course and establish his winning rhythm, he may find himself in contention come Sunday.
Snead, Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson, Player; what distinguished all of the greats was their putting.
No ifs, ands or buts.
Tiger Woods’ putting stroke remains one of the most fluid and mechanically sound ever, except for one little problem. The putts aren’t dropping like they used to.
Putting is by far the most perplexing element of golf, mainly because you can drain a 65-footer on one hole and then three-putt from three feet on the next. For Woods, his putter evaded him at both the Masters and the US Open in 2010, which were his only real, substantial chances at a victory last season. But it was ultimately a theme that plagued the 11 events he competed in.
After watching him at the Farmer’s, it seems as though he’s still fighting the flat-stick. This will be one of Tiger’s biggest hurdles because it holds the most significance for the future of his game.
Remember the British Open at Royal Liverpool in 2006 when Woods hit almost entirely long-irons (just one driver all week) off the tee?
Not only did he capture the victory, but he missed just four fairways and made only seven bogeys over 72 holes. I’m not advocating for Tiger to abandon his driver and stick primarily with irons off the tee, but I think that he would be finding himself more consistently in contention if he was hitting woods and long irons because of the risk-reward factor.
It’s not shameful fact, but it is a fact: Woods is not accurate off the tee.
It’s gotten to the point of literally inhibiting Woods from making the kind of strides that might amplify his chances of winning. It seems more clearer than ever that Woods doesn’t own the overpowering, dynamic game he once had to demolish fields. So whether in a World Golf event or a major championship he needs to go with what will give him the best chance, and right now that may be a serious push towards his long irons.
To say that Tiger Woods was atrocious out of the bunkers at the Farmer’s Insurance Open is an understatement. He looked like a six-year-old at a golf day camp who can’t imagine getting the little, dimpled, white ball out of the pit without throwing it.
Tiger looked as though he was pressing anytime he found himself in one of the bunkers at Torrey Pines. One announcer tried to vindicate the struggling Woods by explaining how when you work tirelessly on a specific aspect of your game, such as the full-swing in Woods’ case with instructor Sean Foley, then other aspects of your game suffer.
Well, first, that’s not news to anyone. Second, Woods isn’t just some other professional golfer. Aside from having a video game named after him and being the first athlete in history to reach a billion dollars, he’s also the proud owner of 14 major championships, 71 PGA Tour victories, and countless other accolades for his golfing prowess. It’s the kind of issue that’s inexcusable for a player of Woods’ caliber, but similarly one of the many issues he must address if he hopes to regain his edge.
Bill Haas was quoted just prior to the Farmer’s Insurance Open saying that he was hoping his 2011 would resemble Matt Kuchar’s 2010.
That is the exact mentality that Woods should emulate.
Kuchar was in the top-20 in almost every stat in 2010, from scoring average to putting average to greens in regulation. Kuchar’s consistency led him to a career best 11 top-10 finishes and 23 cuts in 26 attempts. And guess what, Kuchar has played in three events in 2011 and finished 5th, 6th and 7th.
Woods has always been a winner first and foremost. But Tiger must adapt to the changing times by improving his versatility. He needs to build momentum with top-10s, which will wet his palette for victory.
Woods will have to crawl before he can walk, and right now he’s still in his cradle.