On the one hand we have the "Tiger groupies" who insist that we should expect him to perform as he always has. This is just another swing change, and it will take hold any second now... and then all his opponents will be sorry.
On the other hand we hear the "Tiger haters" who believe that the Tiger of the past 15 years is dead and gone, Jack's record is probably safe, and what kind of idiot thinks Tiger can still play golf anyway?
I think each group is partly right... but not for the reasons they think.
Tiger has changed his swing at least twice before, and he's always amazed us by winning during the change despite obvious struggles to get the new mechanics correct. We've come to expect miracles from him. But you see, there's one big difference this time around that I haven't heard anybody mention.
In each of his previous swing rebuilds, everybody wondered why Tiger wanted to change such an obviously great swing. The reason, as Tiger has stated so often, was a desire to get better. When you start with a solid swing and try to make changes, your squirrely swings aren't really going to be that bad because you're reverting to your old swing... which wasn't so bad, thank you very much.
This time, everybody was screaming for Tiger to change a swing that obviously wasn't working. As a result, when Tiger hits a bad one now... well, it's R-E-A-L-L-Y bad. Skanky bad. Weekend hacker bad. Drop an F-bomb bad.
As a result, we aren't going to see Tiger pop back quite so soon this time. When he reverts to his old swing, the gallery's gonna need body armor. Right now, Tiger is one of us normal golfers trying to learn the "right" way to swing a club.
I'm not worried about Tiger. He's learning that he took a lot for granted. That marvelous control we've all lusted after is backfiring now because he has 10 swing thoughts in his head at once, just like you and me. He doesn't even have a low skank shot that he can count on right now -- in time he will, but it's going to take him a bit longer than it has in the past. In time I believe he'll hit the ball as well as he ever did, and maybe even better. A complete rebuild of your swing either destroys you or makes you better... and Tiger's too good for this to destroy him.
But he won't be able to dominate the way he did. It's no longer a question of skill or even intimidation. Rather, the rest of the Tour's been learning also:
- They've watched Tom Watson fall one stroke short of another major at the age of 59, and learned that age isn't necessarily a barrier.
- They've watched an average-length hitter named Steve Stricker hold his own using a much simpler technique against Tiger when Tiger was still playing well, and learned that lack of length isn't a problem.
- They've watched Adam Scott struggle with a swing very similar to Tiger's 2000 swing, a swing method which nobody thought could be beat, and learned that mechanical skill isn't as important as they once thought.
- They've watched Sergio struggle, and learned that talent is overrated.
- And they've seen the European players reach the top of the world rankings playing in tournaments that didn't get many ranking points because Tiger wasn't there. Granted, if Tiger hadn't backed up over the last year they wouldn't have reached #1... but common logic said they shouldn't have gotten close enough to take even a fallen Tiger, given how few ranking points they got. So apparently they've learned that if you play well consistently enough, the system can be beaten.
That's something that maybe Tiger should worry about.