AUGUSTA, Ga. — Ask Tiger Woods about the state of his personal life and you’re likely to get a terse, unfulfilling response. Ask him how he likes his chances to win a certain golf tournament, or break a certain record, and you might not even get that much.
“Do you feel ready to win this week?” Woods was asked during a press conference Tuesday at Augusta National.
Woods: “Mm-hmm.” [Nodding]
Do you still believe you will break Jack’s major record?
Mm-hmm. [Nodding and smiling]
Have we seen the best of Tiger Woods?
When answering such queries, Woods locks eyes with his interrogators, then stares at them intently — a look that says, “Bro, you serious? You’re damn right I think I can win.” But can he? Will he? Week after week, the question has loomed, not just in Augusta, but in San Diego and Tucson and Orlando too. Woods says he just needs time, but that’s a big ask from a Twitter-mad world that demands fast answers and instant gratification.
“It took a long time with Butch and it took a long time with Hank and so far it’s taken a long time with Sean,” Woods said of the swing changes that he has imparted under Butch Harmon, Hank Haney, and most recently Sean Foley. “It’s taken a long time to develop the patterns and know what the fixes are. I’m finally starting to shape the balls both ways and being able to fix if I don’t. It’s just a totally different philosophy than I was employing before.”
It appeared that philosophy had taken root last December when Woods displayed flashes of his old brilliance in a classic duel with Graeme McDowell at the Chevron World Challenge. McDowell beat Woods in a playoff, but the approach shot Woods stuck to within a few feet on the 18th hole in regulation was vintage stuff.
“I was so excited the entire year came down to one shot and I pulled it off, one shot on the 72nd hole when I had to hit it in there stiff, and I did it,” Woods said. “That part was very exciting for me — that the changes I implemented came down and it felt natural at the time, and I just need to get back into that position more often so I can experience that.”
Whether Woods can get back in that position with so many swing thoughts in his mind is another matter.
“Tiger has a little bit of paralysis by analysis,” Gary Player told Golf.com. “I genuinely believe that he has had so many different coaches that he’s confused about the swing.
“I say this in a humbling way and I’m not being critical, but for a man to have a coach all his life I think is detrimental. I think if you stand there and you beat balls and you beat balls, it’s like you’re solving a mathematical equation by yourself. And then when you’re under the gun in a tournament, you understand it. You can switch the light on and switch the light off. But when you’re being coached all the time, it’s not the same.”
Woods worked on his swing at the practice range this afternoon, but for the second straight day — a cool, blustery one here at Augusta National — he did not play the course. As he blasted balls out of a practice bunker next to Isleworth buddy Arjun Atwal, fans stood four and five deep straining for a glimpse. Later Woods moved to the full swing, which he has more or less retooled from head to toe.
“From stance to grip to where the club is — where [Foley] believes the club needs to be throughout the entire golf swing — and obviously what the body is doing, that’s way different than what I used to do,” Woods explained. “And that’s been a difficult change. The grip part I got pretty quickly. The posture I got pretty quickly. The other stuff has been more difficult.”
Woods’s swing-in-progress has resulted in some alarming shots in recent months — pop-ups, chunks, smother hooks — and raised eyebrows on Tour. The brash Brit, Ian Poulter, recently told the Chicago Tribune that he didn’t think Woods would finish in the top five at this Masters.
“The shots he was hitting at Doral [in March], they were very inconsistent,” Poulter said. “You can’t afford to hit shots like that on this golf course and get away with it. I don’t think you want to rely on your short game that much around this place.”
“Well, Poulter is always right, isn’t he?”