Here's how times have changed: The United States Open is coming up and instead of being the favorite, Tiger Woods was talking at Muirfield Village about how he was hoping to make the cut at the Memorial Tournament just to get four rounds of competition under his belt before the Open.
No talk about winning the Open or chasing the record of 18 major titles. Talk about making the cut. Larry Dorman of the New York Times took note of Tiger apparently lowering the bar.
Tiger Woods said something Wednesday that he had
probably never said before at a professional golf tournament: “I just want to play four rounds.”
This is the measure of how much things have changed for Woods, the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. He is coming off the worst six months of his life, having suffered
since last November from the self-inflicted wounds of a sex scandal
that have led to a damaged, if not doomed, marriage.
Not so clearly understood are
the role the off-course problems have played in his last two weeks of
on-course woes — the badly missed cut at the Quail Hollow Championship
and the withdrawal from the Players the next Sunday with a neck injury. Woods said he was feeling fine about his breakup with the swing coach
Hank Haney and was comfortable looking at his own swing on tape and
trying to implement his own fixes. He said his neck had responded to a
regimen of exercise, stretching and icing after practice.
And yet he responded to a question about how critical this week was in his preparation for the U.S. Open in two weeks at Pebble Beach by saying, “Well, since I haven’t been in
this position before, it would be nice to get four rounds in and be in
This, as much as anything Woods has said this year, maybe any year,
provides insight into a psyche that never conceded doubts about golf.
And yet, during the skins game Wednesday, there were signs that he was
swinging very well, stress free.
Meanwhile, not everyone believes in the doom-and-gloom picture for Tiger the golfer. Question and answer stories are usually just filler material, but Brian Wacker of PGATour.com got Hank Haney, Tiger's former coach, on the line to talk. Haney scored some interesting points:
PGATOUR.COM: What's wrong with Tiger's swing right now?
HANEY:You mean the swing from when he shot 63 at home at Isleworth? Or the swing when he hit 15 greens in regulation at Augusta?
PGATOUR.COM: What about some of the sky balls he hit, like at the Players?
His head dropped a foot-and-a-half when he hit those. I've always told
him he needs to keep his levels better. That's the No. 1 thing I
conveyed to him. Look, he's got everything that's going on off the
course and a neck injury. I honestly think this is a very difficult
time in his life and it's affecting his golf… He's going to have to
have his mind be free and be injury-free. That's when he'll be able to
fix his swing and his game.
PGATOUR.COM: Do you think he will still break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships?
Why not? He hasn't lost his skills. He's got plenty of opportunities.
If he wins at the percentage rate he's won at in the past, he'll break
it no problem. If he doesn't, he'll still break it. He's just going
through a tough time. If Phil [Mickelson] doesn't win, I don't think
you'll say he'll never win again. He's just too good. Having said that,
I don't think Tiger is just four away. By that I mean they don't get
easier, they get harder.
Long Gone?Maybe it's because everyone in golf has focused on Tiger and Phil Mickelson, your Masters champion, but Rob Oller raised an interesting point in the Columbus Dispatch. He theorized that the buzz generated by big hitters has faded. He's right that it hasn't been a talking point this year. Not compared to the square grooves controversy and all things Tiger.
Golf's obsession with length off the tee reached its zenith more than a decade ago, when John
Daly and Tiger Woods mesmerized galleries – and other PGA Tour players – with monster drives that
even spawned a catch-phrase.
But the love affair isn't what it used to be.
It's not that tape-measure drives have completely lost their appeal, but the introduction of jumbo
drivers, golf balls that travel farther and overall better conditioning of tour players have
combined to remove much of the glamour associated with 300-yard drives.
The long ball no longer is so special because everyone hits it long.
Daly and Woods turned the tee into a rocket-testing ground. The average driving distance on tour
when Woods won the 1997 Masters was 267.3. He hit it 294.8. Within five years the average was
278.8. By 2006 it had shot up to 288.9, which remains the highest in history.
The number of players who consistently top 300 yards has grown from one (Daly) in 2002 to a high
of 20 in 2006. Currently, six players average 300 yards, topped by Bubba Watson, and 13 did so last
season. It's too early to tell what the lower number means, but it is possible that players are
backing off on length because the new rules for grooves on irons put more of a premium on finding the fairway.
Regardless, there simply is less buzz about long drives.
"I just think everybody in the top 10 hits it pretty long, so there's not much to talk about,"
said Charley Hoffman, who ranks 19th in driving distance at 292.8 – an average that would have
ranked third on tour 10 years ago. "The Corey Pavins and Fred Funks there aren't as many (short
hitters) out here anymore. I think if Bubba won an event you'd hear more about it. And J.B. Holmes, too.
You hear about it when they put themselves in contention."
Norman's Open FavoriteIt certainly can't be senior envy. Call it respect. Greg Norman talked to Sportal.com about his comeback from reconstructive shoulder surgery last September as he prepares to try to compete in the British Open. During the interview, Norman basically put Tom Watson's name out there as a player who can win the Open at St. Andrews. Even though Watson is 60. Maybe it's just positive reinforcement, that if Watson can win at 60 that means Norman can still be competitive. Anyway, here are The Shark's bites:
"I truly believe that somebody like a Watson can step up to
the plate, somebody who's plus-50 because that's the type of golf
course that allows you to do that," Norman said in Sydney on Thursday. "St Andrews lends more to a shot maker so experience probably will come more into play there."Norman,
himself a two-time Open champion, is just hoping to make it to the
first tee after the longest layoff of his professional career.
Friday I got a clean bill of health from my doctor, it's been since the
first week of September since I actually played the game of golf," he
said. "I hit golf balls for two days in a row for about 45
minutes. I'm going to shoot for the British Open, it's the 150th
anniversary of the British Open and they're getting all the past
champions back there."