Tiger Woods not only has the challenge of excelling again after back surgery. He has the hurdle of doing so with a different swing.
Different as in shorter.
So-called swing experts have made much of the fact that the 14-time major winner’s motion has looked more compact in his six PGA Tour rounds since his March 31 microdiscectomy. Side-by-side images of his action now versus, say, six or 12 years ago are telling.
The question then is this: Was the tightening a conscious choice or a byproduct of the operation?
The geniuses out there are just doing their jobs. And it’s not that easy of a job because the Woods camp hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with information about what he’s working on. That camp is tighter than Paris Hilton’s skinny jeans. So there’s guesswork when the analysts pull out the telestrator.
For certain, Woods has had trouble squaring up his clubface at impact consistently in his two tournaments since late June. At times the club has been too far behind him, putting him in a position to square up with his hands. Growing pains, they’re called. He’s getting used to a new swing and a different back.
It’s anyone’s guess how long it will take him to find a groove. Could be this week. Could be next year.
If he wants to make the FedEx playoffs, he’ll need to get busy now, as in Thursday, when the WGC event at Firestone Country Club begins. At 215th in the FedEx Cup standings, Woods needs a win at Bridgestone or next week’s PGA Championship to make the top-125 playoff field, or something like a pair of thirds.
The Ryder Cup also is at stake. Woods needs to show U.S. captain Tom Watson some form over this fortnight to get picked for the Sept. 26-28 matches in Gleneagles, Scotland.
"I would like to win these two events and not worry about anything," Woods said. "That’s the plan; that’s the focus."
But will his game allow it? We don’t know which Woods will perform at Firestone. The one who has dominated and feels so comfortable there? The rusty gate we saw for five of his six rounds at Congressional and Royal Liverpool? The guy who won five times last year or the one who hasn’t had a top-10 finish since last August?
Firestone is something of a security blanket for him. He’s at ease there because of success and seeing "sight lines" on shots. His scoring average there is 68.23. But if he doesn’t fare well this week, his confidence could take a hit entering the PGA at Valhalla.
Woods said he has been on a golf course daily since returning from the Open Championship in England. "Everything needed to get better," he said accurately. "I need to be more efficient. It takes a little time."
It might take a little more time because of the new, shorter swing. Call it his fifth swing as a professional.
1. Butch Harmon swing.
2. Harmon II swing.
3. Hank Haney swing.
4. Sean Foley swing.
5. Back-surgery short swing.
Remarkably, he has won in bunches with each of the first four. He’s in position to win a major with a fourth different swing. Such diversity perhaps wouldn’t be his grandest achievement, given the 2000-01 Tiger Slam, but it’d be in the conversation.
On the other hand, if he doesn’t get to or surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major titles, it’ll be because he fooled around too much with his swing and the wrong women, as well as multiple injuries.
Nike posted a few Instragram photographs last weekend of three-time major winner Rory McIlroy working out and putting barefoot on a backyard putting green at his 15,286-square-foot mansion in south Florida. The place has six bedrooms, nine bathrooms, multiple party patios and a place for a yacht.
Perspective says some 25-year-olds live in apartment complexes that big.
– You don’t think McIlroy already is considering the career Grand Slam, which he can achieve at next year’s Masters? Word is he has reached out to Augusta National member Jeff Knox about playing a practice round in preparation. As a non-competing marker, Knox beat McIlroy in this year’s third round and highly impressed the Northern Irishman with his work on the greens.
McIlroy’s invitation is smart because if he is to win there, he’ll need to get better on and around those undulating putting surfaces.
– Yes, Jim Furyk hasn’t won any of the past seven times he has led or co-led on Tour through 54 holes. That’s troublesome to Furyk, a fringe Hall of Fame candidate with 16 victories. It’s also surprising, because for years Furyk has been known as a tough competitor.
Yes, he needs to get better down the stretch and get that 5-Hour Energy to finally kick in. But, upon further review, he hasn’t exactly chopped it up on Sundays. Furyk shot 69 in four of those final rounds (including Sunday when Tim Clark beat him with 65), a couple of 71s and a U.S. Open 74.
And he hasn’t lost to a bunch of sissies. Besides Clark, he fell to Tommy Gainey’s closing 60, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
All that said, the world’s No. 8-ranked player needs to figure something out with regard to winning. Since his last victory in 2010, he has six seconds and 23 other top 10s.
– And finally, Woods says his 5-year-old son Charlie is so competitive that he "wants to beat me in everything."