Tiger Woods left 2013 as PGA Tour Player of the Year and as a five-time winner. But then he comes back this year, plays three rounds last week in San Diego, shoots a 79 and people are saying his body looks buffed up and his swing looks shorter.
To hear all that, you wonder if he’s a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger (muscles) and Allen Doyle (short backswing). You wonder if Woods would rather have a body suited for the beach or the golf course.
Three days into his new year and sirens are blaring and lights are flashing. Could be a long year, at least with regard to yet another onslaught of microanalysis, something that follows Woods like a second shadow.
Now, if this were May and there was a trend of sloppiness, there would be reason for concern. But it isn’t, so we can all take a breath. As his coach, Sean Foley, said Wednesday, “This is just the third day of a long season.”
Woods clearly wasn’t as prepared as he should have been or he has been in the past. It has been said he played no 18-hole rounds between his last tournament Dec. 8 and the Farmers Insurance Open pro-am last Wednesday. On top of that, he doesn’t practice as much as he used to in the offseason, ostensibly because of time with kids and an interest in preserving his 38-year-old body.
So he was rusty all the way around–short game, long game, whatever–particularly during that seven-hole stretch in which he went 9 over par. This idea of playing his way into competitive shape, of course, is markedly different from his ultra-prepared days of yore before this decade.
Normally when you see a game slip on Tour, it’s because the player hasn’t put time into practicing. In this case, never mind that Woods was at Torrey Pines, where he has won eight Tour titles.
“If you’re a little off with the way the rough was and how long it played, it doesn’t matter if you’re Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines,” Foley said.
As for Woods’ looking more muscular up top, no one should be surprised. He’s a workout junkie, to the point former coach Hank Haney has said for years that he thinks Woods overdoes it.
Of course, the woods are full of muscular amateurs with short swings. The two things tend to go together. But as for his swing being shorter, you’ll have to listen to both sides. And as the case often is with regard to Woods’ motion, television analyst Brandel Chamblee and Foley are on opposite sides.
After the Farmers first round, Chamblee compared Woods’ driver swings with those of a year ago and concluded that his 2014 swing was significantly shorter. “The golf swing I saw today looked like a 55-year-old man out there,” Chamblee said on air.
So I called Foley to get his take. You might say it was different.
“If I showed you his swing two years ago to now on video and you could see any difference, then you have X-ray vision,” Foley said.
The coach said there was no intentional tightening of the swing during the offseason. On top of that, the coach said, “From a mechanical standpoint, I’m not sure a shorter backswing is worse.” He said body turn is more important and pointed to Gary Woodland as an example of a power hitter with a short swing.
“The key to golf is being able to hit the ball on the sweet spot,” Foley said. “And the farther the sweet spot travels from the ball, the harder it is to hit the sweet spot.”
Woods, meanwhile, continues his relationship with the sweet spot this week at the Dubai Desert Classic, which pays him a multimillion-dollar appearance fee. His next Tour start is unclear, but it wouldn’t surprise if he returns to the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, where he hasn’t played since 2006. It doesn’t seem likely Woods would go from this week to the Feb. 27-March 2 Honda Classic without competition.
• When Woods starts missing 36-hole cuts, we can be alarmed. But there’s no sight of that on the horizon, for one of Woods’ greatest feats is this: Despite that post-scandal slump, Woods has missed only 11 36-hole cuts in 296 Tour starts as a professional. For perspective, Phil Mickelson has missed a dozen in the last five years.
• Trivia question: Scott Stallings, 28, winner of the Farmers on Sunday, is one of six players under age 30 with at least three PGA Tour victories. Name the five others. (Lowdown down low.)
• When the World Golf Championships commenced in 1999, the Match Play event clearly had the most buzz surrounding it. Fast forward to 2014 and it’s kind to say the Match Play has had better years.
Longtime title sponsor Accenture will not renew after next month’s event, meaning it’s likely the event will leave the Tucson area. The Tour is hunting a new sponsor, course and perhaps date on the schedule. The sponsor often has a say in picking a venue. In this case, moving it off Week 8 on the Tour schedule is complicated because any new date would have to mesh with the European Tour schedule.
On top of that flux, it looks like four of the five top-ranked players in the world might not play. Adam Scott is out. It has been reported Woods will take a pass. Mickelson normally skips it in favor of a family vacation. Justin Rose is still recovering from injury and, while he is expected to return soon, his status is unclear. That leaves past champion Henrik Stenson among the top five.
• Trivia answer: Dustin Johnson (8), Rory McIlroy (6), Webb Simpson (4) and Keegan Bradley and Anthony Kim (3 piece). Stallings has three.
• I know, I know, golf has enough tournaments. But here’s a new idea, pro bono: Ryder Cup-style match between the Champions and LPGA Tours.
In case you’re wondering, you can find me watching the Fred Couples-Paula Creamer match.