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Tiger's adjusted swing raises questions
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.A week after losing his head in missing the cut at Charlotte, a composed Tiger Woods turned in a steady two-under opening round at The Players Championship.
It wasn’t vintage Tiger — there were still enough bad swings to indicate the road back could be long, and we got our first post-reformation F-bomb — but it was far removed from the nightmare of last week’s 79 at Quail Hollow.
ROUND TWO GALLERYLee Westwood took charge in Round 2 at TPC, but Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are staying within striking distance. Check out photos from the second round here.
Woods needed to put up a decent score, even if it had been done by “plodding,” as he’d later characterize his 70.
He’s still Tiger Woods, but it didn‘t hurt to remind us.
“Absolutely,” he said when I asked whether it was important for him to play well Thursday given last week‘s misadventures.
“This is a big event. This is a huge event,” Woods said. “I felt like I’ve done some good work this week, even though reports are I was hitting it all over the lot. But I was working on a few things.
“I was very comfortable with what I was working towards, and I was very excited about what was happening. It was just a matter of doing it in competition, and I did that today.”
That, I thought, was a lot to digest.
Here’s what I know about Tiger Woods: when the cameras are rolling and people like me are scribbling in notebooks, he never volunteers any information without a reason.
So, what was he trying to say? That he has a new swing?
Is that why Hank Haney was in Ponte Vedra Beach on Monday for talks with his Golf Channel masters, but left on Tuesday morning, never stopping in to take a look at his star pupil?
Has Haney been fired, as I’m told he worries about?
He should know by now that Tiger Woods will be the last guy to tell him.
Woods may be a ruthless killer on the golf course, but away from it he avoids confrontations. So, Haney may never get that dreaded phone call.
Indeed, has Butch Harmon been fired yet? I’m not sure if Woods ever actually did the deed.
While Woods wanted to discuss his newfound swing move, he wasn’t ready to cut Haney loose.
“Hank and I talk every day, so nothing’s changed,” he said of their relationship.
If that were true, why was Haney lamenting his status with a handful of sports writers on Thursday?
“According to the press,” Woods went on, “I’ve fired him five times by now over the course of my four years, or whatever it was, six years?”
As in past tense, Tiger?
Is that a Freudian slip?
Woods was asked whether he blamed Haney for his poor play in the final two rounds at Augusta and at Quail Hollow.
“As I said, I’ve played six rounds in seven months. I need rounds under my belt,” he said.
But I wasn’t going to let that one slide.
Consider that he typically always plays Torrey Pines at the start of a season and usually wins. So, is rust an excuse?
Of course, there’s the fact that his marriage is falling apart and that, understandably, will take a toll.
But what about the different practice swings he was making Thursday?
They didn’t look like the move he rehearsed to no avail at the Masters and Quail Hollow.
“Yeah,” he said when I asked him about the different looking swing, “I feel I can draw the ball now. At Augusta, I couldn’t draw the ball at all. I was just kind of scraping it with a kind of a cut and trying to get it around. When I’m swinging well, I’m maneuvering the ball from right to left, and it feels good.”
So, I asked him, you figured this out yourself?
“Yeah, yeah,” he said.
Are you confused yet?
I suspect the truth about his swing and Haney’s role will emerge. Eventually.
Meanwhile, Woods thought he could’ve shot in the 60s for the first time in his career in the first round at Pete Dye’s devious TPC Sawgrass, and he’s supported by the tale of the tape. He hit nine fairways — he’d hit just six in two rounds last week — and 14 greens in regulation.
The problem was the 31 putts.
“I left a few shots out there,” he said afterward. “I only made three birdies today. I had myself in there on a few chances to make some putts, make some birdies, and didn’t really do it.”
He finished the day four strokes off the lead of long-hitting J.B. Holmes and Australian Robert Allenby, but is still very much in the mix. The only problem is that so is everyone else.
Sawgrass can be a beast when the wind gets up and the greens are rock hard, but Thursday wasn’t one of those days.
It was a day to make birdies. Heavy downpours this week softened the greens, and there was barely a zephyr blowing, allowing 86 players to break par. The field scoring average of 70.84 was the lowest since 1993.
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Woods started the round where he left off last week, a pull hooked three wood into the trees on the first. But he followed with what he couldn’t in Charlotte. He recovered nicely, saving par. He strung eight straight pars together before pulling out the driver for the first time on the par-five ninth, and it went straight and long.
The three-wood second shot was long and straight, too, and he nearly dropped the eagle putt.
If there’s something Woods can take away from the round, it was that he made a lot of good swings in a row. The only blotch came on the 18th, a hole which has eaten his lunch over the years.
Woods has never had a bogey-free round at The Players, and after a hard drawing five-wood off the tee found the water — drawing, also, at least one F-bomb — he pretty much guaranteed he‘d keep the streak alive.
“The wind just got it,” he said. “It wasn’t a bad shot at all.”
Not with his new swing.
He did, however, make one of those swings from the bad old days of a few weeks ago in Georgia. A popped up three-wood on the seventh tee went about 180 yards, setting up a 245-yard approach into the green.
“Hit it straight up in the air,” he said, shaking his head. “I could probably catch it.”
I told him I thought he’d laid up to a good yardage.
“Yeah,” he laughed, “I wanted to have a full five-wood in there. I wanted that angle to the pin.”
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