Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tiger's New Poker Face

By the time most of you read this, we'll know who won the Abu Dhabi tournament. In all likelihood, it'll be either Tiger or Rory. And then the debates will begin anew...

Is Tiger "back"? Has Rory "made a statement"?

It's pretty silly, of course. It's just one tournament after a brief layoff. If you've paid much attention, nobody's been particularly sharp. But nobody's been questioning Rory's ability to contend, so I'm going to focus on Tiger today and just make a few observations.

First, let's put that "is he back?" question to rest. I agree with Frank Nobilo -- no, Tiger's not "back" but he's definitely getting things together. You can see that Tiger is reasonably happy with his progress after he finishes a round. During the round, he's clearly not hitting shots exactly the way he wants.

That's probably as it should be. During the round he's "in the moment," just thinking about the shot at hand. After the round, he looks at the totality of the round and assesses his overall performance. I think that indicates that he's mentally "back in the game." All the questions raised in the media about his mental toughness were little more than ways to fill airtime. Let's not mince words here -- yes, he was mentally screwed over for quite a while; that was to be expected after his frustration over the mess he made of his life got magnified by his continued poor health.

Personally, I think the lack of focus vanished once he played the Frys.com and could still walk after four rounds. And I suspect his confidence started coming back after that final round at the Presidents Cup. That was where he was under the most pressure -- not only about his own game, but because he didn't want Freddie to look bad for picking him. The win at Chevron can be attributed to that performance as much as anything, because that's when he knew it was all starting to gel.

And I have to thank Tiger for making me look like I know what I'm talking about. Smiley Faces In case you don't remember, all the way back in March 2011, I wrote that:
"...in the 'Foley' swing, he [Tiger] really is closer to his original swing than with either the 'Butch' or 'Haney' swing. This swing is very similar to his original swing except his weight is more on the left side than the right."
And then in December I wrote:
"It's no secret that I think Tiger and Sean have been trying to go back to his teenage swing -- minus that big move off the ball that Tiger eliminated under Butch Harmon's care."
In his media presser after Saturday's round Tiger confirmed that he and Sean had done exactly that, and that Sean had actually pulled out old video footage of Tiger's teenage swing to help him see where they were going. As far as I know, I'm the only person who made the connection and put it in writing, so I'm feeling pretty smug right now. (And I'm enjoying it, as I don't get to feel smug very often.)

One more observation: I don't know how many of you have heard of Doyle Brunson, but he's a legend in poker circles. He quite literally wrote the book on poker... twice. After winning so much that he became a legend, Brunson wrote a book called Doyle Brunson's Super System: A Course in Power Poker. It's MASSIVE and it's considered THE textbook on the game. Many people expected him to retire. After all, how could he continue to win after divulging all his secrets?

It's simple -- he just figured out a new way to do it. And after he beat people that way for a while, he published a second book called Doyle Brunson's Super System 2: A Course in Power Poker.

Ironically, although he doesn't win as much as he used to -- internet poker has changed the playing field, tournaments that used to have 600 entrants now have 6000+, and Doyle himself is nearly 80 years old -- he still holds his own. Apparently he's continuing to find new ways to win.

Hank Haney was on Morning Drive last week and I thought he sounded somewhat disappointed in Tiger's new game -- not the swing, but the way he's approaching the game. Tiger used to shape every shot differently, now he seems to be focusing on that little stinger cut of his. The implication seems to be that Tiger's settling for a less impressive game.

Tim Rosaforte has noted that Tiger seems to be "more comfortable with himself" and is relating better to other players like Rory. Other commentators have noticed it as well. Everyone has commented that the new kids have learned from what Tiger did, so you might say the one or two guys who could compete has multiplied into dozens. The old intimidation is gone and, although it goes unsaid, I think most of them believe Tiger has just acquiesced to the fact that he'll never be the player he was.

It would appear that Tiger Woods's Super System: A Course in Power Golf has been a bestseller.

When I wrote about Phil's problems yesterday I said he would probably need to make some changes to his pre-shot routine to get his new mental approach to work. I think we're seeing some of the same thing with Tiger, except he's changing his playing strategy just like Brunson had to do. Tiger rewrote the book on how golfers prepare to play, so now everybody's training in the gym, improving their short games, etc.

Tiger's not "back" yet, folks... but books take time to write. We're only seeing the intro and part of the first chapter right now. Don't be surprised if this one turns into a bestseller too.

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