Tiger wasn't all bad at the Players, but his short irons and putting are holding him back

Monday May 14th, 2012
Tiger Woods tied for 40th at the Players.
Fred Vuich / SI

Tiger Woods is full of surprises. Take his slump-ending-victory at Bay Hill or his stunningly poor follow-up at the Masters. Or the "big scoop" Woods offered to Tom Rinaldi during a private moment early last week at TPC Sawgrass.

"I just fired Sean Foley as my swing coach," Tiger said, joking with the ESPN reporter. "I'm hiring Brandel Chamblee."

Funny. Chamblee, the former Tour player who's now the call-'em-like-I-see-'em guy for Golf Channel, has been the most outspoken critic of Tiger's swing. And Woods, Hank Haney will tell you, isn't a big fan of armchair quarter-backing. Who would've guessed that Woods would be the one to keep things in perspective?

Here's some of what Chamblee said before the Players: "Tiger is 6'2" or 6'3", and by the time he gets over the ball he's 5'9" or 5'10", he's bent over so much ... With his driver, he's standing about a foot farther from the ball than when he was playing his best golf. He has very complicated swing thoughts going on, and he's been at it for the better part of two years."

The Masters-struggling Tiger showed up last Thursday at the Stadium course. Woods shot an uninspiring two-over 74, looking shaky as he hit only half of the fairways and greens. He looked like a new man on Friday when he shot 68, even though he failed to hole a putt outside of nine feet. But most surprising was that he addressed the ball in a more upright position. On Golf Channel that night, Chamblee gushed as he and colleague Frank Nobilo examined Tiger's setup from the previous week's missed cut at Quail Hollow and compared his stances on Thursday and Friday using side-by-side images. The difference was unmistakable.

"Tiger is [standing] four inches taller today than yesterday," Chamblee said. "He came out today with better posture, and it was miles different. He was 50 yards longer at number 9 today. The setup allowed him to swing more freely."

Did Woods really do exactly what Chamblee had suggested before the tournament? "He did," Chamblee texted after the telecast. There's your biggest surprise of all, though the change surely wasn't because Chamblee suggested it.

The fact is, Woods has had more good showings than bad ones this year-three good rounds at Pebble Beach; a closing 62 and a tie for second at Honda; three decent rounds at Doral before WD'ing with an Achilles injury; and a dominant five-stroke win at Bay Hill. The man has risen from 25th to No. 7 in the World Ranking.

On Saturday at the Players, Woods enjoyed one of his better ball-striking rounds. In windy conditions he hit 15 greens in regulation. Only Rickie Fowler did better (16). Woods was unable to capitalize on his good play and shot even par, making only three putts longer than five feet. On Sunday, Woods shot a 73 and finished T40.

Overall, Tiger's statistics aren't all that bad this year -- they're simply not as good as they've been. Forget when he was at the pinnacle of his career, in 2000 and '01. Let's go back to 2009, when he won six times and had three seconds.

One key stat jumps out: his misses. During his prime, Tiger missed shots to the right because the club often "got stuck" behind him, he said. In '09 he ranked 33rd in percentage of shots missed left (10.6%) but 158th in shots missed right (17.5%). Three years later, he's missing more shots left than right (15.0%, ranking 136th, versus 13.0%, 46th).

"He has a two-way miss going," says a Tour player who requested anonymity. "You can't aim a two-way miss. No player in the world can have confidence with that. At least with Haney as his teacher, Tiger eliminated the left side of the course."

The numbers don't lie, and they say Tiger Woods is struggling with the scoring clubs -- the short irons and the putter. Here are Woods's stats in 2009 compared with this year's.

YARDAGE 2009 RANK 2012 RANK
50-75 11th 163rd
75-100 26th 185th
100-125 47th 118th
125-150 19th 55th
150-175 1st 40th
175-200 3rd 10th
200-225 3rd 26th
 

PUTTING STAT 2009 RANK 2012 RANK
3-putts 18th 139th
1-putts 17th 56th
Putts from 0-6 feet 1st 162nd
     
 

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