Last week I thought a healthy and rested Tiger Woods might do something special at the Frys.com Open at CordeValle. In the end, Tiger probably gets a C+ or B- for his T30 finish, nothing that will get his fans or his doubters too encouraged. He was a little erratic, which is not surprising considering he hadn't played a competitive round since August.
Every time Tiger doesn't play well he blames his putting, but a look at the stats tells another story. His putting was fine -- he was in ninth in putting average -- but the rest of his game was pretty blah. Twenty-second in driving distance isn't great against that field. He didn't hit a ton of greens (43rd in greens in regulation), and outside of his putting his short game was iffy at best (50th in scrambling from the rough; 62nd in sand-save percentage).
I'm sure the most important thing for Tiger was that he felt healthy, but it's amazing how much we've lowered our expectations. Think about it for a minute. Tiger Woods just finished 30th in a Fall Series event, and we think that's pretty good. Even he appears pleased about it. Two years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Tiger used to look at second place like a set of steak knives, and now he's happy with playing a little better every day. He's just not the same guy he used to be, which is why he can't keep playing the schedule he used to play.
We can argue all day about swing theory and Sean Foley vs. Hank Haney vs. Butch Harmon, but no one could seriously say that Tiger doesn't need to play more. Tiger talks about his need for "reps," but except for the Frys.com Open he's not inclined to add any more tournaments to his schedule. It's inexplicable. If you need the reps, then play. He's in desperate need of tournament experience, but he still wants to keep the boutique schedule he maintained when he was on top of the game. Play Disney. Play every event you can. The truth is that Tiger needs his competitive edge back, and he's not going to find it at his private club or his backyard practice course.
I teach a lot of junior golfers, and they all go through a process. First, they shoot in the 80s, then the 70s, then they start breaking par, and then I'll get a call, "I'm in the lead, Brady." We all know what happens next: they fall on their face and shoot 78. Everybody does, because it takes time to learn how to play under pressure and how to win. I'm not sure Tiger remembers how to do that anymore. He needs to build himself back. He needs to feel what it's like to get in contention, to sleep with the lead and to play under pressure on Sunday. He's acting like he can just show up at Augusta in April and do all those things again, but he won't be able to unless he's replicated all those experiences in competition. Just imagine what the buzz will be like around Tiger the next time he's leading a major. He needs to get reacquainted with that feeling, but he's not playing enough to be sharp enough to win major championships right now.
One thing that was made very clear last week is how important Tiger is to our game. I work at a public course in Southern California, and we're hurting. We used to have two- or three-hour delays, and now hardly anybody is here hitting balls. Our rounds are down 40 percent. I know it's mostly due to the economy, but when Tiger is playing you can feel the increase in interest. It's palpable. I mean, someone throws a hot dog at him and it's bigger news than Keegan Bradley winning the PGA Championship. Tiger gets people excited about golf, and that's why almost everybody in the game is pulling for his comeback. In many cases our livelihoods depend on it. Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Brady Riggs is director of instruction at Woodley Lakes Golf Club in Van Nuys, Calif. This story originally appeared in the Golf Magazine Front9 App. To download the weekly app, visit the Apple iTunes store. (Photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters)