Everyone has an opinion regarding the future of Tiger Woods. And it's typically a pretty strong persuasion for or against his return to dominance on the PGA Tour.
I'm not saying Woods will ever regain the form that earned him 14 major tournament wins. That type of supremacy seems impossible for any athlete to maintain—no matter what their circumstances—especially as they get older.
But I do believe he can and will become far more competitive than he's been since his last PGA Tour victory at the BMW Championship in 2009.
That, in itself, defines "back" for Tiger Woods—his name on leaderboards week after week.
I spent some time at Nike Golf's R&D facility, The Oven, recently, and asked Putting Designer and Model Maker David Franklin to offer his input on Tiger's future. He said:
"I believe 2012 is an absolutely crucial year for Tiger. He showed flashes of brilliance in 2011 and I feel he will string together four rounds of that in 2012. You can't ever underestimate his abilities as a competitor. He brings so much excitement to the sport and it'll be fun to watch."
I agree. Here are 10 reasons Tiger Woods will be back in 2012.
Tiger Woods' swing changes have been well documented. He's been working with swing coach Sean Foley for over a year now, which seems like a long time to realize success until you factor in the injury layoffs.
But with three straight rounds of 68 at the Frys.com Open in early October—good for a T30 finish—Tiger seems to be finally headed in the right direction.
Even if he is taking baby steps, a patient Tiger Woods is showing improvement. He believes in what Foley is teaching him and he is healthy enough to put in the time it takes to get better.
Following the tournament, Tiger said:
"It's getting there. It's a process. I got better every day. I just need to keep staying the course. The game's coming."
I believe that to be true. We are seeing progress. His game is coming around.
The President's Cup matches Nov. 14-20 should provide an updated measurement on this development, but I believe 2012 will be a breakthrough year for Tiger Woods.
Of course, it would only make sense that consistent improvement with his golf swing would be in-line with consistently involving himself in competitive rounds of golf.
Tiger Woods couldn't seem to get any rhythm going in 2011. It looked like he had turned the corner with a T4 at The Masters Tournament.
Then, injuries set him back for much of the rest of the year.
The possible solution? A healthy Tiger Woods participating in a full PGA Tour schedule in 2012.
After the Frys.com Open, Tiger said:
"I haven't played much. That comes with competitive flow, understanding the situations and feels, and game time's a little bit different. I really haven't played a whole lot since the Masters."
There you go. Expect to see a lot more of Tiger in 2012—with positive results to follow.
It seemed like an ugly split between Tiger Woods and longtime caddy Steve Williams this past summer. But Tiger felt it was time for a change and he enlisted the services of Joe LaCava to carry his bag for the 2012 season.
LaCava has an impressive resume, including having worked with Fred Couples and most recently Dustin Johnson.
Tiger made the announcement on his official website in September, just before the Frys.com Open:
"Joe is an outstanding caddie, and I have known him for many years. I've personally seen the great job he did for Freddie [Couples]. I'm anxious for us to be working together."
In return, LaCava said:
"I'm excited to be working with Tiger. I contacted Tiger and Mark [Steinberg, Tiger's agent] because this is a unique opportunity to be part of something very special. Tiger and I have been friends for a very long time, and I know what he can do."
The difference between what Tiger can do and what he will do might depend, in part, on how much of a positive effect LaCava has on his friend's game. It could indeed be something special.
Tiger Woods started wearing these "golf shoes that look like sneakers" when he returned to action at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in early August.
The TW Nike-FREE Inspired prototype is designed to mimic and conform to the natural motion of Tiger's feet, coupled with the protection and traction of a lightweight performance shoe.
The majority of the upper consists of a polyurethane coated stretch fabric. Part of the heel is created from recycled Nike Air Max units melted into thread and then woven together to create a strong, breathable textile material. The FREE-inspired outsole is directly taken from Nike Sportswear’s Special Field Boot designed for first-responders.
This model also has a half heel counter in both shoes to give more stability on the lateral side, particularly in the follow through. The shoe also incorporates Nike's Flywire attached to each lace loop, which, when pulled tight, wraps the foot for maximum comfort and stability.
Of course, everyone wants to know when they can get their hands on a pair. Well, there is no launch date yet, but Nike is targeting late Spring 2012.
I'm not going to christen a shoe as the determining factor in the turnaround of an athlete's career, but having some comfortable kicks can be a tremendous advantage.
Also, with Tiger's knee and Achilles injury issues, he'd better have a comfortable and effective shoe to help him around the golf course.
The TW Nike-FREE provides just that.
Tiger Woods has the best golf equipment on the planet.
Obviously, he has the talent to use these tools effectively, but the technology behind his equipment gives him every advantage.
Let's go back to my aforementioned visit to The Oven.
I was blown away by the brilliant minds that create his golf clubs.
I'm saving my more detailed findings on Tiger Woods' golf equipment for another article, but he is dialed-in with the best in the business in my opinion.
Tiger is currently playing Nike VR Pro irons, wedges and fairway woods. And a Nike VR Tour driver.
I was fortunate enough to be able to use the very same measuring equipment that Tiger uses in a fitting for my own set of clubs. I hit everything in the VR series—irons, wedges, hybrids and woods—and was thrilled with the results.
I can't wait to start putting the technology to work for my own game.
Tiger Woods is a better golfer by using the great gear produced by Nike Golf's R&D team.
As any PGA Tour player will tell you, the difference between winning and losing a golf tournament at this elite level—well, it boils down to putting.
Your swing can be right-on and you can be hitting a ton of fairways and greens, but if you're not making putts, it really doesn't matter.
Sure, you might finish OK and take some money home out there, but you're not going to win without success on the greens.
In his prime, Tiger Woods was an outstanding putter. Let me add to that by inserting the word "clutch." Tiger Woods was one of the best clutch putters of all-time.
I know I used the past tense there. It's something that's been missing from his game recently and he'll need to regain that form if he wants to have a successful 2012.
After the Frys.com Open, Tiger said:
"I hit a lot of good putts the last three days, which is good, and it was nice to make that adjustment there on the putting green after Thursday's round. I felt very comfortable."
Putting successfully is all about comfort and confidence. And Woods has that now with the Nike Method 001 he is currently using.
With all the changes that have taken place in Tiger Woods' life over the past two years, at least one thing has remained the same.
Tiger still looks like an athlete.
Tiger established the concept that being physically fit and healthy would give you an advantage in professional golf.
Many have followed—successfully—in his blueprint. Look at players like Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland and Adam Scott to name just a few. These guys look like athletes, as they should. Golf is a sport.
In addition to getting his body ready for the rigors of competition, Tiger also gets his head in the game before he tees it up. He has a plan before each round he plays. Which isn't unusual for a tour pro. I don't know any PGA Tour athletes who are "winging it" out there.
But Tiger's combination of physical fitness along with a sound mental approach will continue to give him a competitive advantage.
Tiger's peers have been critical of his approach to practice and preparation. And more. Then there's the media onslaught—or slaughter, if you will. The list of detractors goes on and on.
And both said Tiger will never win another major tournament again.
To that, Tiger responded:
"I've heard that before. It's not the first time I've heard that."
Many will say Tiger brought much of the criticism he receives upon himself. And that's fair. I can't argue with that. But the bottom line is—you need to have pretty thick skin to be Tiger Woods these days.
And while he doesn't publicly acknowledge that the barbs motivate him, you know they do.
Tiger thrives on the comments of his doubters and will—undoubtedly—use the negative verbiage from the past two years to motivate himself to be the best golfer, and person, he can be.
Whether or not anyone else believes in Tiger Woods, he still believes in himself.
As one of the greatest golfers to ever play the game, Tiger would be the first to tell you that aside from talent, self-confidence is the most important element of success.
Tiger still believes in his abilities.
If Tiger Woods doesn't think he can return to greatness on the PGA Tour, you can be sure he won't. But that isn't the case here.
Before the 2011 Masters Tournament, Tiger matter-of-factly announced:
"I believe in myself. There's nothing wrong with believing in myself."
That's certainly a lesson he learned from his father, Earl, who said:
"I told him, 'I promise you one thing: You'll never meet another person as tough as you.' He hasn't. And he won't."
Tiger's self-confidence will take him a long way in 2012.
I've said before that Tiger Woods needs a mental coach as much as a swing coach.
What he's been through over the past several years can't be shrugged off—or recovered from—very easily. And again, I know—he brought some of these problems on himself.
I understand that.
But he's still human, even though, at times during his illustrious golf career, he has been seemingly inhuman—from his otherworldly talent and shotmaking ability to his avoidance of letting too many people get close to him, to really know who Tiger Woods is.
I'm all for the hard work Tiger is putting in. Practice makes perfect, as they say. And to get more consistent competitive rounds of golf under his belt won't hurt him, either.
But it's another famous adage, from the legendary Bobby Jones, that I think makes the most sense for Tiger.
Until he's at peace on the five-and-a-half-inch course between his ears—until he is honestly able to sort through and eliminate the clutter, both personal and professional, that has plagued him the past few years of his life—he'll continue to struggle.
In 2012, I believe Tiger will be in a much better place mentally and physically. Expect favorable results.