Beware, Tiger skeptics.
Tiger Woods is going to elevate his game once again at the U.S. Open and put your doubts to rest. I know this because I've personally witnessed the work Tiger has put in on his swing and his fitness to become the game's best player again.
Sean Foley, the Tour's hottest swing guru and the man charged with putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, has Woods on track. Woods will win a major this year, and I believe he'll win more than 20 before he's through.
When Foley came on the scene, Tiger was a shell of his old self. Mentally he was a wreck, his body had broken down, and his swing was in total shambles. Foley is the author of the swing changes that took Justin Rose from the scrap heap to the game's elite, he made Sean O'Hair a Tour winner, and he helped Hunter Mahan become the best American player not named Tiger Woods. Now he's worked his magic on Woods.
Teaching at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla., where Tiger practices, I have been fortunate enough to witness the resurrection of Tiger's golf swing. He and Sean have created a swing that is a perfect match for Tiger's body. His control of the golf ball has returned. He is able to curve the ball on command and alter his trajectory.
In 2012 we have seen signs of Tiger's return. A final-round 62 at the Honda and a win at Bay Hill once again raised our expectations. With the driver seemingly under control — Tiger was leading the PGA Tour in total driving — we were ready to hand him the crown as the world's best player.
When the Masters rolled around last month, he looked like the odds-on favorite. He had finished fourth the last two years at Augusta with mediocre ball striking, and, with his renewed swing, he looked destined to win another green jacket.
But his date with destiny was delayed; he was never even in contention at Augusta National. The Tiger doubters were back, claiming that his success was only a mirage. But those people are wrong. This swing is right for Tiger, and it's built to last.
Early in his career, under the watchful of eye of Butch Harmon, Tiger flourished. He spoiled the golf world. He was so good, for so long, that we stopped marveling at his greatness. We just expected it. At one time he held all four of golf's major championships: the U.S. Open, the Masters, the British Open and the PGA Championship.
But eventually those traits that had driven Tiger to the top — his constant search and drive to get better — derailed his quest for immortality. He made swing changes under Hank Haney that put his quest for the Holy Grail of Golf, 19 major championships, in doubt.
Those swing changes did not match his biomechanics, and he went from the best driver on PGA Tour to someone who could not find a fairway with a road map. Tiger was no longer the player who dominated, who had won 43 percent of the tournaments he entered, and who was a threat to win every major. He was still a superstar, but not the transcendent player from the Tiger Slam days. Because of his ability to manage his game and get up and down from anywhere, he was still able to take home a few more majors and add to his win total, but his swing was not right.
Then came Thanksgiving 2009, when his storybook life began to unravel. Woods emerged from the drama a broken man, but he decided to make some changes in his life. He split his ties with Haney and his longtime caddie, Steve Williams, and dedicated himself to reinventing his golf game. Tiger's quest led him back to the gym and the driving range.
Nobody works harder on every aspect of the game than Woods. Like any superstar, he puts in countless hours on the range and in the gym. With Foley, that hard work has been on a swing that fits his body, and that's why I believe this is the Year of the Tiger.
He will win again and often. He will raise the major championship bar above 20 and will continue to excite the golfing public for another decade.
And this time we won't take it for granted.
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