Earl's Recent Past Golf Blog's
January 29, 2018
It Passed the Eye Test
This past Friday, I witnessed 13 of the 18 holes that Tiger Woods played on the North course at Torrey Pines. From what I saw, I was impressed. Last year, I watched the threesome of Tiger, Dustin Johnson, and Jason Day play the same course. The difference was noticeable. This year there was a feeling of excitement, enthusiasm, optimism, and trust. Last year you got the feeling that he didn't trust his body. Even though he generally kept up with the drives of Jason and Dustin, it was not free flowing. There are certain holes on both courses at Torrey Pines that require full commitment and free swings. A year ago, Tiger wouldn't or couldn't let it go. This year, I saw a different player. He appeared to have full movement and wasn't afraid to swing with force. It's one thing to see it on television and another to see it in person. From what I observed, he passed the eye test.
Tiger made the cut on the number with a one under par total of 143. On the weekend his two under total tied Alex Noren and was one back to the ultimate winner Jason Day. Tying for 23rd is not the standard that you associate with Tiger Woods, but after a full year's absence from PGA competition and playing one of the more challenging golf courses on Tour, his performance was encouraging. On television we got to see every shot that he hit. The critics and commentators analyzed and dissected each swing and situation. Yes, he didn't hit many fairways. His approach iron shots were not as accurate as you would like. But he scored and battled. His last 36 hole score beat Phil Mickelson by 8, Jon Rahm by 10, and Hunter Mahan by 15! Sometimes you don't have to hold the trophy to be a winner.
The most obvious takeaway from Tiger's performance this past week was that his body held up to the strain and pressure of a four day grind. On the last day, according to the CBS announcers, Tiger hit the longest drive on the PGA Tour in the past 900 plus days. So much for his body not being able to swing again with freedom and power. But the most impressive aspect of his game was his short game. A few years ago, he struggled with his pitching and chipping to the point of embarrassment. Critics talked about the "yips", which is a career ending malady. Nowhere did I see any indication of a flinch or indecision with his short shots. On the last nine on Friday, he hit difficult delicate wedge shots in clutch pressure situations to make the cut. That, to me, was very impressive.
Will Tiger win this year? Yes, definitely! I saw determination, excitement, and drive in his performance at the Farmers. He is a thoroughbred that needs to get back on the track and race again. Once he gets in position to win, his old instincts will kick-in and he will again "know what to do". Of course all this is predicated on his health. That's the ultimate question. But for one week at least all was good for Tiger and in the golfing world. Time will tell.
December 13, 2017
Is He Back?
The dust has settled and the hoopla has diminished. Now the question is, "Did we really see a healthy Tiger Woods that can compete like he once did?" This past tournament answered some questions, but raised many more and they are all positive!
The questions to be answered. Is he really healthy? Will his back hold up for an entire year? Can his back withstand the torque and strain of a violent swing? Can he keep up distance wise to the younger players? Can he compete with the best? Has he cured the yips? Is his short game up to world class standards? Will he win again?
Last year he competed in the same tournament. He finished 15th out of 18 players. He had the most birdies of all the contestants. But his swing was erratic and forced. His highs were matched by terrible lows. The swing was not natural or free. This past week the swing was the freest I have witnessed in many years. So the answer to the first question, to me, is that he is truly healthy. The next question can only be answered after a full year, but this past week must have been very encouraging for him and all the Tiger Woods fans. I didn't witness a tentative swing or any restrictions in movement. Can his back withstand and holdup with this type of speed and movement. So far, yes, however even a young back can experience problems when ball speeds reach over 180 mph.
At this year's Hero World Challenge he beat half of the 18 man field. All the players are ranked high in the world rankings, so beating half of them should be considered a positive achievement considering his lack of tournament competition in the past two years. Distance off the tee was equal to and sometimes farther than Justin Thomas, whom he played with three of the four days. So that should answer the distance question. Competing on a regular basis will get Tiger back into the playing mode. The more he plays the more comfortable he will become when he has a chance to win. No one questions his desire and competitive fire. All he needs now is opportunity and tournament experience.
In the past few years, Tiger has had trouble with his short pitch shots. He definitely yipped some short shots in the past. Many experts say that once you have the yips, they are with you for life. You may figure a way to overcome them, but they are always in the background and you can never relax for fear they will appear again. In this tournament, Tiger hit some wonderful touch wedge shots that any professional would have be proud of, but he also hit some very poor shots. However, I didn't see any evidence of a yippy movement. The poor shots, I my opinion, were a result of faulty technique with the hands getting to far ahead and resulting in too steep of an angle of attack. He didn't back away from hitting the tough shots from tight lies. When getting back into competitive golf, the short game and scoring is the last to come around. What I saw with the short game was very encouraging. To win, you must have a world class short game. In his prime, his short game was superb. You can't do that if you are fearful of the yip. I didn't see a trace of that mental disorder. The more he plays the better this part of the game will become.
For those that watch Tiger closely, this was some of the best swings and shots that we have seen in a long time. He didn't get "stuck" or restricted in anyway. His swing had elements of what he did in the early 2000's. (Why he went away from that swing, I'll never know.) I see no reason that with a full schedule, keeping the swing we saw in the Bahamas, and no physical problems, there should be no reason he will no win again on the PGA Tour and at least content for a major championship.
My hopes have been dashed before, but this latest "comeback" looks like the real deal. Hope it isn't Fools Gold.