Tiger battles demons in new swing

Tiger Woods plays a shot during the last round of the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in the Gulf emirate on February 13, 2011. Spain's Alvaro Quiros won the Dubai Desert Classic.

Tiger Woods plays a shot during the last round of the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in the Gulf emirate on February 13, 2011. Spain's Alvaro Quiros won the Dubai Desert Classic.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The 12th tee of the Emirates Course in the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic encapsulated the frustration Tiger Woods is enduring with his golf swing.

Frustration that could drive him to distraction.

The Emirates’ 12th hole is a strong, dogleg left that calls for a good tee shot to have any chance at par. The sort of hole that Woods relished taking on when he was at the top of his game.

No more.

Woods went for the draw but blocked it right into a fairway bunker. His right hand came off the club in disgust. He walked to the back of the tee where he uttered three quiet profanities before making practice swings.

Woods bogeyed the hole. He did the same at the 14th, where again a draw was required off the tee. Only a small rock wall saved his ball from entering a water hazard 30 yards right of the fairway.

The former World No. 1 hit only three fairways in his final round of 75. Missed fairways do not cut it in major championships, the tournaments that define a player’s career, especially Woods’.

As the world knows, Woods is in the middle of swing changes under the tutelage of Sean Foley. After four rounds in Dubai, it might be a while before those changes set in.

Most worrying, the new swing looked suspect in the winds that plagued the final two rounds, which Woods admitted.

“It’s fine when the wind is not blowing, but to have hit shots when the wind blows, the change of feels in the new swing patterns, they get exposed,” Woods said.

“It’ll come around. I just need more work and I need more practice. It was a step in the right direction.”

If taking two steps backward is the best way forward, then Woods should be OK. However, from what I saw, Woods looks ordinary playing in any sort of wind. It’s hard to imagine his swing standing up in the breezes that sweep round Amen Corner at Augusta National, or the gusts that could blow over the links at Royal St. George’s in the Open Championship this year. As for Woods trying to hit tight fairways in a U.S. Open, it’s a scary thought.

Factor in his decreasing ability to hole clutch putts, the fact he is not the intimidating force he once was and it could be a long year for Woods.

Woods still hankers after Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. He has four to go to catch Nicklaus. Previously, it would have been unthinkable to suggest he wouldn’t get there. Many are beginning to wonder if he will.

You can’t write Woods off – ever. But it’s getting ever harder to look into his crystal ball to see what his future holds.

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