2005: Perspective - One stick from a Slam

Springfield, N.J.

If we began 2005 figuring no one can win the single-season Grand Slam, now we should adjust our thinking. Eight months have dramatically altered the forecast, from cloudy to ample shades of sunny.

So has one man.

Famous fellow who stockpiles millions of dollars and, now, again, major trophies. You know him. Big smile, big biceps, big drives, big in every way except size of waist and schedule.

Tiger Woods actually began the year in an 0-for-10 winless streak in majors. People were doubting him back in January. They seem to forget that now. That seems like calendars ago. But he was in the midst of his third swing reconstruction in 11 years. Many were wondering why he would change a swing that had won seven of 11 Grand Slam events in 1999-02.

The majors season changes perceptions quickly.

It’s only four months long, mid-April through mid-August, and just like that, fortunes rise and fall. The other eight months of the season are window dressing. Rehearsals, really. Off Broadway. Sometimes, like in late fall, Off Off Broadway. Make that three “offs” for the Silly Season.

Anyway, Woods has spent the last four months proving skeptics wildly wrong. We now see he’s not uncalculating and stubborn for changing his swing. We know he doesn’t take golf history (read: Jack Nicklaus’ 18) lightly. We now know more than ever that it’s unwise to doubt him.

More importantly, we see that the Grand Slam is a real possibility. Phil Mickelson hinted as much last year, when he came eight shots shy, and Woods confirmed it in 2005.

“It’s doable,” said Hank Haney, the man who helped Woods rebuild his swing.

Woods, winner of the Masters and British Open, would have pulled it off this year if just one club hadn’t gotten in the way. That’s right, only one stick separated him from the unprecedented modern Slam. And, despite what golf TV shows might lead you to believe, it’s not the driver.

Woods three-putted five times in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, including on the 71st hole. He lost by two strokes.

He three-putted five times here at the PGA Championship, and none from farther than 30 feet. He lost by two strokes.

Thing about that is, Tiger Woods, as you may know, is not the three-jack type. He’s not the stone-hands guy from machine-shop class. He’s a guy who has led the Tour in scrambling more than once. In 2000, when he bagged three major championships, he had perhaps the best putting year in the history of the game. So he’s a Ph.D. when it comes to understanding speed and line and Stimpmeter ins and outs.

But for a week at Pinehurst and another one at Baltusrol, he had difficulty adapting to the speed of the greens. For two weeks, he had trouble gauging distance.

All it cost him was a Grand Slam.

“I didn’t have my speed very good this week as well,” Woods said after shooting 75-69-66-68–278. “Either I made it or I was struggling with it. It was one of those weeks again. It was just very frustrating because it came in streaks again this week where I’d power them in a little while and then lose it for a few holes.

“It’s just one of those weeks where I didn’t have it for all 18 holes every day.”

Woods created an early stir by shooting a 75 and late commotion by rallying and posting a 2-under-par total. When he finished, his coach, Haney, looked clinically depressed. He knew Woods played well enough to win – the PGA and the Slam.

“Five three-putts,” Haney said, shaking his head. “That’s the difference.”

Woods’ flat stick went ugly early. He hit only six fairways and took 35 putts in the first round – 36 if you count a stroke from the fringe. His putts total was second worst in a 156-man field that included 25 club professionals. He three-putted twice that day, from 10 and 20 feet. That’s the main reason he had his worst major first round in relation to par as a pro.

“It’s not easy to win major championships,” Haney said. “They don’t give these things away. Even Tiger Woods is going to have days when nothing goes his way.”

Woods would get to 7 over but rebound to make the 36-hole cut on the number at 4 over. It was another Woods grind job. He trailed by 12 shots midway and by six after 54 holes. Oddly, he played Nos. 17 and 18 – both par 5s you’d expect him to dominate – at 1 over through three rounds. Had he played just No. 18 as well as J.L. Lewis (4-3-4-4), the Wanamaker would be inside the gates of Isleworth again.

“It’s frustrating, no doubt about it,” Woods said. “Any time you lose you’re not going to be happy.

If you are happy losing, there’s something wrong with you.”

Haney has said that Woods isn’t remorseful for long because he tries on every shot and knows he had done all he could. Woods confirmed as much by saying he wouldn’t play the “what if” game.

“Every guy who plays golf, if they did a ‘what if,’ especially out here on Tour, you’d drive yourself crazy,” Woods said. “Only thing you can do is take a learning experience from it, positives and negatives, and apply them to the future.

“Unfortunately I did a few things wrong on the greens, as well as my starts this week. I got off to poor starts every day and had to somehow fight back. I was able to do it.”

Woods has been able to win by routs in majors with three different swings – an achievement that likely never will be matched. Woods won going away with 1997, 2000 and 2005 swing versions. That’s rout-reconstruct-rout-reconstruct-rout. It takes a fair amount of belief and skill to do that.

The latest came at St. Andrews in a year that came up just shy of Slam-bam great but one that represents one of the best ever for major success. In other words, Tiger Woods wasn’t complaining.

“This year has been very exciting,” he said before leaving Baltusrol.

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