Hate to be Rude: Easy on Haney

Tiger Woods had just completed his eighth-place finish at The Players when I received an email from the latest basher of Woods’ instructor, Hank Haney. The message was that Haney is “destroying a great golf swing.”

Haney has heard it before and, for whatever reasons, often. It seems like every time Woods doesn’t win, Haney gets jabbed. And often he takes it hard.

Thing is, the perception and results don’t jibe. When it comes to Woods, people seem to fixate on driving accuracy percentage more than anything else, such as record. That’s a pity, because that statistic has the least bearing on success, as shown annually by the driving accuracy of those on top of the world ranking or PGA Tour money list.

At the moment, Woods is adjusting to swinging on a reconstructed leg. The good news for him is he has a victory and four other top-10s in five stroke-play events since his eight-month layoff. The bad (and surprising) news is he has had no finishing kick the last two weeks when in the mix Sunday. Apparently his adjustment and recovery will take more time, work and patience.

When it comes to the golf swing, there are more theories than about anything this side of religion. No other sport goes nuts over mechanics like golf.

For the moment, we’ll take a breather from theory and perception and focus on record. Woods has finished in the top 10 in his past 17 stroke-play tournaments worldwide. He has won 11 of his past 19 starts worldwide, including two majors. That run alone is Hall of Fame material.

So it seems odd that people are calling for the head of his teacher about every time he misses a fairway. And, by the way, don’t expect it to happen. Both say things are fine between them. They talk almost daily. He’s scheduled to accompany Woods at Tiger Jam this weekend, at Bethpage Black for pre-U.S. Open preparation, in China and Australia at the end of the year and on screen in a new video game and commercial. What’s more, a Woods insider said the player’s rant on the range was vented frustration over a poor finish, not something directed at Haney.

Here’s a deeper look at the record. In 2003-08, Woods made 77 starts on the PGA Tour and had 24 victories (31%), 36 top-3s (47%) and 51 top-10s (66%). In 2005-09, since joining Haney, Woods has made 64 Tour starts and has 26 wins (41%), 38 top-3s (60%) and 47 top-10s (73%).

That’s an improvement across the board.

And he should fire the coach?

• Based on his joyless facial expressions and body language, you’d have thought Tiger Woods shot 100 Sunday at The Players. Come to think of it, a 73 for him when in contention probably seems like 100.

What happened to that 12-carat smile?

• Ten reasons The Players is better in May than March from someone who covered his first Players 30 years ago and still calls it the TPC in casual conversation:

Better weather, better golf course, more sundresses and short shorts, no March Madness, fewer jackets, more wedge heels, no Masters questions, big event five consecutive months, warm ocean and, of course, more sundresses and short shorts.

• Reasons The Players is better in March: Can’t think of any.

• Give John Daly some credit not only for climbing off the scrap heap and finishing second against the B team at the Italian Open, but also for some most fitting accessories:

Loudmouth Golf pants. Everything about JD screams loud, so why not the trousers?

The Heavy Putter. Can there be a more perfect fit? I mean, besides Hooters and Dunkin’ Donuts?

• Since a lesson 18 months ago, I have flipped the club over, gripped the wrong end and taken right-handed rehearsal swings on the course. As you might imagine, that has attracted all sorts of flak and weird looks. One guy said, “How come I never seen a Tour player do that?”

I called him Monday and said, “I present to you Henrik Stenson, Players champion.”

For what it’s worth, the drill seems to ingrain several good elements, including matters related to plane, speed and turn.

P.S. Thank you, Hennie Stennie. Odd is now in.

• Frank Nobilo, the insightful Golf Channel analyst, said the other day off camera that the Players’ 54-hole leaderboard featured a Byrd, a Goose and a Crane.

To carry the feathery theme further, just look at the 1-2 finish: Hen Stenson won and Ian “The Rooster” Poulter finished second.

Or is it Ian Poultry?

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