Last week Tiger Woods' golf swing was almost unrecognizable. He is working with a new "swing consultant" on some different positions and swing thoughts but whatever it is, it doesn't look like the Tiger Woods I know. And to compound his problems, Woods' back tightened up during a weather delay in San Diego and because his "glutes wouldn't engage" he withdrew from the tournament.
While he says it's not related to his back surgery, Tiger also announced on Wednesday that he's taking a leave of absence from the game until he can play at the level he thinks is suitable. "I want to play at Honda," Tiger explained via his website, "It's in my hometown but unless I can compete to win it's not fair to anybody. I won't be there unless my game is ‘Tournament Ready.'"
Woods didn't give a timetable for his return but rather said he was just going to "play at Medalist (his club in Hobe Sound) and work on my game."
Woods recently said he's looking at some video of his swing from his early days and back all the way to his time as a junior player. Tiger played here as a junior, winning the US Amateur at the Stadium Course in 1994 as a student at Stanford. He was a tall, lanky, supple young player who played more by feel than anything else. He had prodigious power, but his short game and feel for his irons were far superior as a whole to anybody in the field.
So going back 20 years to look at his swing could help, unless the equipment changes in the last two decades have been so dramatic that it would take a different swing to get the same results. Consider this: The driver Tiger uses now has a head twice the size but half as light as the one he used in 1995 (A King Cobra). It is also two inches longer and has a graphite shaft. Club technology has made a lot of good players and perhaps has eliminated the possibility of great ones.
This week I talked to World Golf Hall of Fame selectee Mark O'Meara about Tiger's struggles. O'Meara was famously Tiger's tutor about things on the PGA Tour, taking him under his wing as they both lived and played at Isleworth in Orlando.
"I know him," Mark said with a smile, "And he'll work hard to get back. Some people have said he can't, which will just fuel him to prove them wrong."
Admittedly, Woods is a phenomenal athlete but perhaps his commitment to fitness is one of the reasons his body is breaking down so often. The violence in his swing and the torque created is putting a strain on his body that apparently can't take it at 39 the way it could at 19.
Nick Faldo has pointed that out in the last few weeks, saying that all athletes lose some of those things as they get older. "It's just a fact of time. He's going to have to change his swing, back off a bit I think, in order to compete regularly out here and stay healthy."
As you watch Tiger in person and on television, even with an untrained eye you can see things are "out of sync." He looks like he's unfolding at different intervals, trying to find the right timing. O'Meara believes in swing coaches and help, but also said it could be a bit of "over-analysis."
"You're an athlete: just hit it!" Mark said at the end of the conversation. "Stop thinking about where the bottom is and what the swing plane might be and hit it."
I do believe Tiger will be back and will be competitive again. He's too good of an athlete and has just enough athletic arrogance to make that happen. But I also believe it'll take a combination of all of the above for him to be successful. He'll have to take Faldo's advice and back off a bit. He'll have to listen to O'Meara and go back to some feel instead of analysis. And I think he'll have to modify his game for the modern equipment.
Does that lead to wins and possibly Majors? One thing he's now going up against is a deep field of players who have no fear, particularly of him, and equipment that has brought a lot of "contenders" into the picture.
He'll have to be better than ever.