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Tiger's swing needs one more fix
In 1964, Ben Hogan played in a televised match against Sam Snead in which he hit every fairway and every green and didn’t face a birdie putt longer than 20 feet.
Betrayed by a recalcitrant putter, The Hawk only shot 69 that day at the Houston Country Club. Yet Snead, who lost by three strokes, later would call it the greatest round of golf he had ever seen.
And by any measure except score, he was right.
Hogan was so perfect, his shot-making so otherworldly, that every swing purist now owns a grainy copy of that "Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf" match.
It has evolved, basically, into golf porn.
I have no doubt Tiger Woods has watched it many times, because beyond the majors, the fame and the billion dollars, Woods always has yearned to own his golf swing — to be able to point and click and not have to sweat on where the ball finishes.
In his estimation, only Hogan and the Canadian savant, Moe Norman, have ever “truly owned their swings.”
“I want to own mine,” Woods said in 2005.
Some golfers are sustained by their score; not him. His confidence, estranged coach Hank Haney used to say, comes solely from superior ball-striking, not chipping well or holing long putts.
It’s this quest for perfection — quixotic, some would argue — that has led Woods to change the way he hits the golf ball not once, not twice, but four times throughout his career.
And they haven’t been small tweaks, but major overhauls.
Since August 2010, Woods has been busily working on this latest reincarnation under the watchful eye of Sean Foley. They’ve made substantial progress, helping Woods to three wins this year, his first in full-field events since the 2009 scandal.
Woods is driving the ball as well as he ever has — he’s fifth in total driving on the PGA Tour — and he’s very sharp with long and middle irons. But, strangely, the closer he gets to the green, the less dependable the swing becomes.
Woods usually avoids discussions about what is a glaring hole in his arsenal and rarely, publicly at least, expresses any level of frustration.
But on Monday in China, playing in a televised match against world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, he did.
A microphone picked up Woods — who was paid $2 million to appear at Jinsha Lake in Zhengzhou — admitting to McIlroy, who got $1 million, that he was “struggling with Sean.”
"I’ve been hitting my short irons so (expletive) far,” he could he heard saying.
Woods went on to say that, under Haney, he rarely took divots, but with Foley’s (steeper) swing, “all of a sudden, I’m taking divots.”
And, be sure, they’re not shallow.
Ironic, then, that Woods, needing to birdie the final hole to tie his young rival in China, sailed the final green with a wedge in his hand.
It has been a common theme for a player who hit more greens than anyone on the PGA Tour this year from 175-200 yards, but from 125-150 yards was ranked only 115th.
I watched him go from winning the AT&T National to missing the cut the following week at the Greenbrier Classic simply because he couldn’t hit the putting surface from inside 150 yards.
And last week, Woods failed to win a tournament he should have won in Malaysia for much the same reasons.
He finished the CIMB Classic on the hospitable Mines Club course with 28 birdies, which should have been enough. But three bogeys — one of which came from missing a tap-in for par — and a double bogey on the inward nine of his third round meant that even a final-round 63 wasn’t enough to hold off Nick Watney.
Woods called it “one little bad stretch” of “bad decisions and bad swings.”
“I was 5 under through eight,” he said.
“So I was right there with two par 5s, a driveable par 4 and some easier holes on that back nine to play still. I was in good shape. At the time, I was either one back or something like that. But had plenty of easy holes to go, and I didn't capitalize on that at all.”
Certainly, Woods was let down by his chipping in that nine-hole stretch, but perhaps the broader question that needs to be asked is why he was even chipping on such a short course?
“Achieving trust is always the final step with a change,” Woods once told Jaime Diaz of Golf Digest. “That’s the hardest thing; taking Ranger Rick to the course.”
Be sure, Woods has done well with this latest swing change. He’s No. 2 in the world and poised for a strong 2013.
But he’s playing with a swing that belongs to Sean Foley, one he doesn’t yet own.