Tiger Woods is so polarizing. He's either going to win 25 majors or he's never going to win another. There is no middle ground, and his four-stroke win at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines will give ammunition to both sides. That's unfortunate, because the middle ground is exactly where Tiger is with his game right now.
First, Good Tiger. In his first three rounds, he played wonderful golf and drove the ball exceptionally well. Last year, Tiger improved his driving accuracy statistically, but he did that by hitting a lot more 3-woods and 5-woods off the tee. At Torrey, Tiger hit a lot of drivers and hit them accurately for the first three rounds. His rhythm, tension and effort level were all beautifully under control.
You could also see all the work he did with his wedges and short game in the off-season paying off. He hit his wedges markedly better at Torrey Pines than he did last year; that's the direct result of all the practice he's done on that part of his game since the Ryder Cup.
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But in the final round on Sunday and Monday, we saw Bad Tiger. After playing great golf for three rounds, he hit just 35 percent of the fairways and only 50 percent of the greens in regulation in the final round. After three great rounds of driving, Tiger looked like a different player in the final round: pull-hook on No. 1, pull-hook on No. 2, block right on No. 4, right again on No. 6, block way right on No. 9, pull on No. 10, pull-hook into the hazard on No. 15, pop-up on No. 17 and a pull into the left rough on 18.
What happened? His rhythm got quicker and his tension level increased, and, more troubling, he didn't have a go-to shot he felt comfortable playing from the tee. His detractors will say that Tiger's final round proves that he can't win majors driving the ball like that.
(No doubt the unbelievably slow pace of play had some impact. It is very difficult to find and maintain good rhythm when you're waiting 5-10 minutes to hit each shot. Memo to the Tour! DO SOMETHING ABOUT SLOW PLAY! I know conditions were tough, cold and windy, and there were 87 players essentially shotgunned on every hole, but there is no excuse for how long it took to play Monday. Still, the best player in the world for the last 15 years should be better able to handle those situations.)
My response to those detractors is the same thing Tiger says: It's a process. When I work with my players, we talk about climbing the ladder of success, which means you identify your weakness and work to turn it into a strength. Once you've done that, you look at another weakness and turn that into a strength. It's an effective but slow process. Last year, Tiger's weaknesses were wedge play and driver control. He's fixed the wedge play and turned it into a strength.
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The driver still needs work. He needs to get better at controlling it in left-to-right winds, and he needs to be able to hit that left-to-right slider that he used to depend on. I remember covering Tiger's win at Torrey Pines in 2006. In the final round, he was hitting it everywhere, and I remember when he got to the 12th tee, he decided to forget what wasn't working and just hit that left-to-right slider. He started hitting 30-yard slices off the tee that put him in the fairway. He made some birdies coming in and won the event. Right now, Tiger is missing that go-to tee shot, and he needs it. The type of shot – fade, draw, stinger, whatever — doesn't matter. It just needs to find the fairway.
Here's the thing, though. Despite his troubles in the final round, Tiger still won by four. Even more important, he is back to winning without his A-game. That's huge progress.
With Tiger, it's usually not as good as some people think, and it's never as bad as others think. We saw both Tigers at Torrey Pines, but his win shows that he is trending in the right direction.