LEMONT, Ill. – His swing was a mess, and so was his marriage.
Tiger Woods figured he could only deal with one problem at a time. In this case, golf had to wait its turn.
“Let’s just say I’ve been through a lot lately, and I didn’t want to have any more information,” Woods said Wednesday at the BMW Championship. “I was trying to get adjusted to my new life and what that entailed, and it was enough as it was. I didn’t have time to work on my game. I was dealing with a lot of other things.”
In what turned out to be a lost summer in the majors, Woods tried to patch together what he could with his golf swing. His only teacher was a video camera and his memory, and that wasn’t nearly enough to get him through four rounds at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, or the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
The do-it-yourself approach gave way to working with Sean Foley, the Canadian-born swing coach who again was with Woods for an hour during his pro-am at Cog Hill for the BMW Championship.
Foley first took video of Woods a month ago at the PGA Championship. Woods already is seeing results. He opened with a season-best 65 at The Barclays and wound up with a tie for 12th. Last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Woods had three rounds in the 60s for the first time this year and tied for 11th.
A top 10 for Woods used to be called a slump. Now it’s progress.
He needed both results just to keep playing in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which have reached the third round and perhaps the most critical. Woods went from 112th to 65th after the first round, and to 51st after the second round.
That at least got him to Cog Hill with the rest of the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings.
Woods is the defending champion and a five-time winner at this public course in the Chicago suburbs, winning last year with a 62-68 weekend to finish eight shots ahead of the field.
“It’s good to be back,” Woods said, pausing to smile before adding, “It’s even better to be in the event.”
He thrives on this kind of course, although he already has shown this year that past performance is meaningless without a swing he can trust and a good putting stroke. A two-time winner at St. Andrews, he tied for 23rd. A seven-time winner at Firestone, he had the worst tournament of his career and finished at 18-over par.
Now that Woods appears to be on an upward trend, this week could be interesting.
“I’m headed in the right direction,” Woods said when asked what a victory would mean at this stage in his season. “It obviously would be a good step in the right direction, but we’ve got four days, and I’ve just got to keep plodding along.”
Matt Kuchar remains atop the FedEx Cup standings with a win and a tie for 11th in the two playoff events. Kuchar also has fond memories and one big victory at Cog Hill, even if he didn’t earn a dime. He won the 1997 U.S. Amateur here.
“The people in the locker room still remember me, still get big smiles on their face,” Kuchar said. “It’s kind of a fun homecoming for me to see those old faces.”
It’s also a homecoming of sorts for Steve Stricker, who grew up a few hours away from Cog Hill. But this is no time to wave to the gallery. Stricker not only is No. 3 in the FedEx Cup standings, he is tied with Kuchar for the lowest adjusted scoring average on the PGA Tour, and the next two weeks could decide the Vardon Trophy.
The top 30 after the BMW Championship advance to the Tour Championship and a shot at the $10 million bonus, which Woods has won twice in two attempts.
His goal is to get to Atlanta. Woods has missed the Tour Championship before, but not because he wasn’t eligible. Even so, his primary goal has never changed. He was asked if he would play differently down the stretch if he were a long shot to win the tournament, when playing safe meant finishing high enough to get to the Tour Championship.
“Win,” Woods said. “Did I answer that too fast?”
Not so fast were answers pertaining to Foley. Woods has been saying that previous swing changes with Butch Harmon and Hank Haney took some 18 months to register. He is pleased with the instant feedback he has received from Foley, although he stopped short of saying he would dive in and revamp his swing.
“I understand what he’s trying to teach, so that’s the biggest thing,” Woods said. “And then when you’re out on the golf course playing, it’s understanding how to fix it. that’s the hardest part.”
So is Foley his coach?
“He’s coaching me,” Woods said with a smile, showing that his two years at Stanford were enough to master semantics.
Someone asked if he was paying Foley?
“That’s none of your business,” Woods said.
He smiled at that answer, too, recalling the same words – far more terse – that he used at the U.S. Open when a reporter asked if there had been any resolution to his marriage.
The divorce became official on Aug. 23, and Woods is trying to move on. How quickly he adjusts to his swing could depend whether he gets to play one more tournament before the Ryder Cup.