Tour Confidential: What’s Wrong With Tiger Woods?

June 8, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Tiger Woods finished at 14-over at the Memorial in 71st place aided by a Saturday 85, his worst score ever as a pro. Can you put into a context just how poor his outing was this week? How can we assess where his game is at this point?

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@EamonLynch): Rock bottom, and still digging. I think hugely successful athletes benefit from having a strong coaching personality at hand late in their careers, someone to counter the yes-men and coat holders who inevitably accumulate. With each coaching change, Woods has made his way to ever less imposing and proven teachers. I feel it necessary to state that Chris Como is a really nice guy—and a good teacher, given the right student—because I also think he’s in over his head and destined only to become collateral damage in Tiger’s mystifying quest to find alternate routes to a mountaintop he used to own.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): OK, I’m done with my role as defense lawyer for Tiger. He’s not even close to elite status on the PGA Tour. It’s a testament to his fortitude and grinding skills that he made the cut at all. However, it’s still important to put this in perspective. He didn’t shoot 85-85 to miss the cut. He had three respectable rounds, a 73, a 70 and a 74 (where he played the last four holes in +4), sandwiched around a horror story. He’s not getting it done right now, but it’s way too early to give up on him. 

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): A swing change is a long journey, but Tiger keeps totaling the car on the way out of the garage. I’ve never seen him this lost. 

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): The bluntest context I can conjure is that the leader beat him by 19 strokes on Saturday. In terms of comparisons to other sports, I can’t think of a perfectly clean one. The closest I can come is the late career of some legendary fighters (Joe Louis, even Ali to an extent), who morphed over time into tomato cans. Of course, decline in golf isn’t as irreversible as it is in other sports, so as bad as he looks now, we’ll still be giving him a puncher’s chance until he flat-out quits competing. Who knows, maybe a George Foreman out of the blue knockout moment at Chambers Bay? But probably not. I’m betting on a second round TKO.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): On the all-time list of Tiger’s Worst Weeks Ever, this one might crack the top 10 – it’s safely behind Fire Hydrant Week but just ahead of Torrey Pines 2015 Week. There’s no other way to say it: his Memorial was a disaster. You can make a case that Tiger has never been farther from major championship ready than he is right now. Next up, a major championship. Expectations should not be high.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Tiger hit some horrific drives, and Muirfield Village’s water hazards caused his score to pile up worse than it really was. Don’t get me wrong, it was still at least a 79 or 80, but the big problem is, Tiger’s bad shots are really bad. And they’re mostly tee shots. He still hits good shots, but golf is all about your worst shots. You can’t make doubles and quads and shoot a score. His driving is a serious issue, as it has been for 10 years.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Lost.

2. Dustin Johnson carded 20 birdies and two eagles at the Memorial, but also recorded a double bogey in all four rounds to finish T11 and six shots back. In this week’s Golf+, Sports Illustrated’s Michael Bamberger asked what is holding back the talented 30-year-old. Do you think he desires the sacrifices that come with greatness?

PASSOV: Every sport is full of men and women who possess superior natural talent, but lack at least one other element that would elevate them to true greatness. Some are missing the work ethic, others suffer from confidence issues and still others simply don’t want the weight of responsibility – or necessary sacrifices – that come from being Number 1 or pursuing it. I have no idea what Dustin Johnson thinks about. Maybe DJ is this generation’s Tom Weiskopf, who once told me the reason he underperformed was that golf was never the most important thing in his life. It was an avenue to get him to the things he enjoyed. Could be DJ’s in that camp. We shall see. 

SENS: The guy works with the best swing coach in the business and has himself in peak physical condition, so I wouldn’t question his commitment. Johnson’s biggest challenge appears to be how he handles the pressure of the biggest moment. You can desire it all you want. It doesn’t mean much if you don’t have a killer’s cool in the clutch.

LYNCH: Johnson is an exquisitely talented golfer who has established a decent resume while managing, by his own admission, to smell the roses along the way. But one never gets the sense that losing hurts Johnson in the way it obviously burns guys like Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. That kind of relaxed attitude can prolong a career by minimizing mental scar tissue, but it makes it tougher to build a great career.

RITTER: I agree that it’s fair to wonder just how badly DJ wants it. His metronomic one win per year is more evidence that he may be content pushing himself for that single title each season, but not beyond it.

VAN SICKLE: I’d love to see a real caddie like Steve Williams on his bag instead of a family member or friend. If DJ simply did what Stevie told him to do, he might realize his potential in a hurry. Exact yardages, exact lines, smart strategy – that might be all he needs.

MORFIT: The ability to focus in sports and other pursuits has so much to do with whether the rest of your life is in balance. I would not presume to know where DJ is with that. I hope he is doing well but among the many other lessons of Tiger’s 2009-2010 scandal is how little we really know any of these guys. 

BAMBERGER: My guess is that he doesn’t have that kind of drive, but I’ve been wrong before. Often.


3. It’s Shark Week on, as we are celebrating Greg Norman in the build-up to his debut on the big stage as Fox Sports’s lead analyst in the U.S. Open. Many fans remember the moments when Norman appeared snake-bit in majors. What do you think is the most memorable highlight of his career?

VAN SICKLE: The week Norman blitzed the Stadium Course with a ridiculous score was pretty impressive. His first-round 63 at Augusta in ’96, when he wound up losing to Nick Faldo, was an overpowering round that caused one of my colleagues to understandably predict before Sunday’s round that Norman was going to win the Grand Slam that year. It didn’t quite work out but Norman had looked so good that it wasn’t an unreasonable prediction. But you’re wrong, nyeah-nyeah.

BAMBERGER: British Open I and British Open II – and the hug with Faldo at Augusta.

LYNCH: His final round 64 to win the Open at Royal St. George’s in 1993 was sublime, but his triumph in 1986 at Turnberry—during a week that saw some horrendous weather and a breathtaking 63 from the Shark—is emblazoned on my then-teenage memory.

PASSOV: Unfortunately many will remember Norman’s 1996 Masters meltdown more than either of his two British Open wins. I know I will. The same goes for his crazy-unlucky losses at the 1986 PGA Championship to Bob Tway’s hole-out from the sand and at the 1987 Masters to Larry Mize’s hole-out from somewhere near the 12th tee. OK, those are lowlights. Yet, I loved watching Greg Norman play golf. He looked invincible. He was the best driver of his era, and maybe the best of all time and every time he hit a chip or a putt, it looked like it had to go in. His closing 64 to win the 1993 British Open against a stellar field stands out. 

RITTER: The first Norman image I think of every time is the April 22, 1996, cover of SI.

SENS: I’ll go with that indomitable aura he had when he blitzed the field at Turnberry in ’86. 

MORFIT: There was a stretch there in the ’80s when he gave seemingly every approach shot two chances to go in as it landed by the hole, hopped forward and backed up. He was just so, so good. I think I remember the Gamez and Tway and Mize hole-outs the most. He seemed to elicit miracle shots from his chasers. 

4. Back to Tiger: with the Memorial being his last event before the U.S. Open, is it feasible to expect him to contend at Chambers Bay? 

VAN SICKLE: Really bad shots turn into doubles at Muirfield Village just like they do at U.S. Opens. It takes only one or two a round to erase you from contention. Unless Tiger can eliminate his worst shots, he will not contend. But he does have a week and a half to figure something out. 

BAMBERGER: It is conceivable, but only in a fantasy scenario. He used to talk about taking baby steps. Making the cut would be a start, and he likely will, followed by a solid weekend, be something to build on on the way to St. Andrews.

LYNCH: Expecting him to contend in the U.S. Open is not feasible, it’s comical.

PASSOV: Nothing in Tiger’s game indicates that we should expect him to contend at Chambers Bay. Yet, I expect him to contend at Chambers Bay. He loves proving people wrong, he has a knack for rising to the biggest occasions, he made his visit and studied the course, he’ll have extra room to drive it and he’s always possessed supreme imagination and course management skills. Look for a comeback at Chambers Bay.  

RITTER: No. Sure, I’ll elaborate: No way.

SENS: Yes. But it’s also feasible that he’ll say something interesting in a press conference. Neither is likely.

MORFIT: I actually advised a guy I know to pick Tiger for his U.S. Open pool, based on all the time Woods spent at Chambers last week. Then came the 85. I take it back. 


5. Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Village is highly regarded on Tour among players and provided an excellent and complete test of golf this week. What’s your favorite Nicklaus-designed course to play?

PASSOV: Muirfield Village remains Jack’s best design, though too many revisionists fail to give proper co-design credit to Desmond Muirhead. Even Jay Morrish was instrumental in making it as good as it was from Day One. 

BAMBERGER: My favorite is the municipal course in North Palm Beach, where Nicklaus lives. He took a pancake-flat course and gave it heaving life.

LYNCH: His collaboration with Tom Doak at Sebonack Golf Club remains my favorite Nicklaus work.

RITTER: Hualalai GC on Hawaii’s Big Island runs along the Pacific, it’s immaculate, it’s fun, and it’s framed by black lava rock. Also, there are free cookies at the turn. The place ticks all the boxes that matter most to me.

SENS: If I were a rich man (insert fiddle music here), I’d happily play Cabo del Sol on any trip to Cabo. But the best Nicklaus I’ve played is Mayacama in Sonoma County, one of the stronger modern courses I’ve played anywhere. 

MORFIT: I’m a fan of Old Works, built on an old copper mine in Montana. Hard, though. The sand in the bunkers is black!

VAN SICKLE:  I’m pretty sure this is a trick question. I like all of Jack’s courses the same amount.

6. Adam Scott has re-hired Steve Williams to caddie for him at the year’s remaining majors. Smart move or is it a desperate one?

PASSOV: Both. Adam Scott has plunged from his lofty perch in a hurry. It could be that he achieved what he desperately wanted to with his Masters win and his Number 1 ranking and is now seeking renewed motivation. Maybe his confidence has been shattered by the “will he-won’t he” dilemma re: using the anchored long putter. Either way, Steve Williams was his rock during his rise to the top. Good move, no matter what the reason. 

VAN SICKLE: It’s a great move for Adam. He will benefit from Steve’s toughness and confidence. The only reason they weren’t together was because Williams didn’t want to caddie for a full year anymore. Now Scott’s got him for the majors – perfect.

BAMBERGER: From what I’ve seen of Steve Williams over the years, with Ray Floyd and Tiger and Adam Scott, he is one of the caddies who can really improve a player’s game, for the right player. I think Adam’s record with Williams shows that he is the right kind of player.

LYNCH: Both, but since Williams can’t hit putts for him it may not be the balm he needs.

RITTER: It’s both. Scott has been sleepwalking this season, his last with the broomstick putter, and calling in Stevie should provide a much-needed pants-kick.

SENS: Not desperate at all. In the biggest events, he wants to feel as confident and comfortable as possible, and if Williams gives him that good juju, how could it possibly hurt? Shaking things up a bit can be a good thing. It’s not like he’s gone to some desperate measure like adopting a broomstick putter…oh, wait.

MORFIT: Time will tell. He can’t play much worse. 

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.