You'd think Tiger had never lost a golf tournament. I've heard Tiger declared a has-been, compared to Heat player LeBron James (able to play for three quarters, freeze up in the fourth), called a choker, and even his fashion sense Sunday was criticized. (And no, sad to say, that's not a joke.) Everyone was so convinced that this was the week Tiger "reasserted himself" and walked off into the California sunset, his AT&T trophy glinting triumphantly in the fading daylight, that his loss seems to have destroyed their belief in the natural order of the universe.
I maintain that intimidation tells you nothing about the so-called intimidator, although it tells you loads about the intimidated. Still, I'll play along. Answer me one question -- when did Tiger cease to be "intimidating"? Would you agree that it was sometime after June 2008 when he beat Rocco at the U.S. Open? All we could talk about then was how Tiger on a broken leg could still beat healthy players. He intimidated his opponents into submission, right? That's what we said.
Yet Phil's "domination" of Tiger -- the five final rounds that he has played with and beat Tiger heads-up, during which time he has won three of those tournaments and Tiger has won none -- began at the 2007 Deutsche Bank, nearly a full year before that Open and two full years before Y.E. Yang won the 2009 PGA -- which was, in turn, shortly before talk began about Tiger "losing his aura."
Yesterday I wrote:
"I know everybody talks about him having worked with Sean Foley since late 2010. But since he wasn't healthy enough to do any continuous work until after the PGA Championship last year, I don't see this as more than maybe 8 or 9 months of useful work. Tim Rosaforte noted that Tiger had similar problems when he was making his first swing change with Butch..."Those problems I referred to were problems related to controlling his distances -- which, btw, are a function of trajectory problems. Tiger may trust his swing shape, but it's going to take him some time to control his trajectory because he's changed the way he's always done it. That change is how he hopes to eliminate those wild hooks of his.
(You may recall some time back that I said you'd get more good from learning trajectory control than shaping shots. As long as you have a shot you can predict, regardless of whether it's a draw or a fade, trajectory control is the best use of your practice time. And, if I might make another point, he's now learning it the way I've suggested you learn to play -- with a slight forward shaft lean. That lean is how Tiger has improved his fairway accuracy, and why his miss is now a fairly consistent shot to the right. That's also how Hogan played it.)
The putting problems aren't nerves. I also wrote a couple of weeks ago that I believe Tiger is developing a new strategy for winning. I called it his new poker face. You might say Tiger wrote the book on power golf, and now everybody's copying it. (Not as well, but they're trying. They've missed some key components.) But his body is changing, so his game has to change... and so does his mental approach. I think he's trying more to let the game come to him rather than trying to grab control. This was the less aggressive but very effective approach Jack Nicklaus used. Give Tiger credit for recognizing the need to change -- while everybody else copies, innovate! -- but it's hard to change when you're used to making things happen. Tiger wants a win but it's not coming quick enough, so when he gets a decent chance at birdie he tries to force it.
When you try to force putts into the hole, you generally grip too tight and interrupt the flow that allows line and distance to come easily. And in a word, when you grip too tight you tend to yip. Phil did the same thing for the last two years and finally realized that Bobby Jones was right:
There are, of course, good putters among the so-called average putters who by patience, study, and practice have developed putting methods they follow as they would a ritual; on the other hand, these instances are rare.
Anyone who hopes to reduce putting -- or any other department of the game of golf for that matter -- to an exact science, is in for a serious disappointment, and will only suffer from the attempt. (Bobby Jones on Golf, page 88)Jones said more, but this is sufficient to make the point. Phil finally figured it out, and Tiger will too. They didn't become the greatest players of recent years by being stupid.
I know everyone is bummed out because Tiger lost Sunday. (Well, Phil isn't... but that's another story.) Don't despair, Tiger fans. He's a long way from finished, and he's got plenty of time to beat Jack's record. As for his swing, Tiger has always said it takes 15 months or so for him to "own" a new one. He may win before then, but we should withhold any judgments about his future until we see what he's like in June or July. I suspect things will look quite different by then. Even Phil said as much in his after-tournament press conference.
After all, it's a rare gambler who wins betting against Tiger... and even then he doesn't win very often.
The photo came from this page at Golf Girl's Diary.