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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Oh, Wait... He's NOT Back

The big buzz Monday was Tiger's withdrawal from the Safeway Open this week, and rightfully so. This isn't like Tiger at all, to commit to an event and then turn right around and bow out. What could have happened between Friday and Monday to cause such a strange turn of events?

Tiger at Greensboro 2015

Everybody has their own thoughts; no doubt you heard many of them. And I do mean EVERYBODY. Even Scott Van Pelt over at ESPN had Steve Sands on his late night show to talk about it.

Well, I have a few thoughts as well, so I thought I'd post them -- for what they're worth, since I don't know any more than anybody else about what's going on in Tiger's head. But I HAVE played a few local pro events, and I have an idea what might have happened.

Almost everybody agrees that the key words in Tiger's withdrawal statement were:
“My health is good, and I feel strong, but my game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be.
Vulnerable. That's a word we've rarely (if ever) heard from the Big Cat. But after 14+ months away from competitive golf, it's an understandable feeling. And as Sands and Van Pelt discussed, although Tiger got himself into contention when he last played in Greensboro (that's where the above photo was taken), he didn't play very well on Sunday when he had a chance to win.

I think we have to consider this: While we're focused on 14+ months, the fact is that Tiger hasn't really been in competitive shape since late 2014 when he had the first back surgery. It's been well over TWO YEARS since Tiger's been healthy, and I'd be surprised if he didn't have a lot of questions -- even a bit of panic -- after seeing how well the Ryder Cuppers (both teams) were playing, and then seeing just how big the buzz was around his return over the weekend.

And really, do you think fans expected less than a showdown since Tiger was to be paired with Phil? Talk about pressure!

Personally, I suspect that Tiger's game wasn't perfect when he signed up for Safeway but he expected that. He was ready to try some "test" competition -- bear in mind that he had only three events planned over three months. But after the internet blew up with suggestions that Tiger would easily win the event, I wouldn't be surprised if the "less than perfect" parts suddenly became very shaky.

A personal true story: The first pro event I tried to play in was a Hooters Tour event. I went to try and make the Monday qualifier. There was something wrong in my swing -- I could get the ball mostly where I wanted it, but it just didn't feel quite right -- and I figured the pressure would make it "crack" so I could identify the problem, fix it and try again the next week. I didn't expect it to be a big problem. After all, I was shooting par even with the problem.

To make a long story short, my swing didn't crack... it shattered. I vaguely remember three 10s and a 14 during the round, simply because I couldn't get the ball anywhere near a fairway or a green, no matter what I did, even with a wedge. It ended up taking me a while to finally figure out the problem and fix it. (It was a full swing problem but, after your confidence gets shattered, your short game gets pretty ragged too. Especially when you can't get a club on the ball. I took a lot of drops that day.)

Tiger has taken both the October and November events off his calendar. It sounds to me as if, maybe, his less-than-perfect swing took a bad turn over the weekend once the pressure he put on himself ramped up. I don't think his problem is as bad as mine was, but at the pro level, it doesn't take much to put you out of the running.

And second, I think equipment may have compounded the problem. In a Golf Channel post a couple months back, Notah Begay said:
"I walked into his dining room and it was like going into a PGA [Tour] Superstore now that Nike's equipment line no longer exists. Every single manufacturer had sent equipment in there, and he's trying a variety of different things, trying to get a sense of where he's going to go from this point on."
Another article, this one on Golf Digest in early September, noted how hard it is for Tiger to find equipment he likes (see specifically questions 4 and 5). That article also notes that Tiger was 100% Nike during the Greensboro tournament... and of course Nike is now out of the equipment business. And since that event was before his last back surgeries. I just can't see how he could play the same equipment now and expect to play worth a darn.

Accordingly, this Golf Digest post on Monday says most folks expect some new equipment in his bag -- at least a new driver, which has been one of his bugaboos the last few years.

So I'm not ready to panic. I'm going to miss seeing Tiger this week, but I'm not so sure this is the fiasco many think it is. It's just one of those "unexpected but expected" bumps in the road for a player recovering from serious injury who has missed a lot of playing time. I just hope he can get things figured out in time for the Hero event.

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