Can Tiger Woods Be Tiger Again?

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Photo by Joann Dost

Drop everything! Tiger Woods is back in the house.

I’m standing here at my desk in early January with four inches of snow outside my window, dreaming of my first late winter round on almost-green grass somewhere and practicing my swing and stroke indoors when I can. The first tournament of the PGA Tour season, at lovely Kapalua Plantation on Maui, is underway. I’m ready for spring, and so, apparently, is the greatest golfer of the last 20 years, perhaps the greatest in history. Over the next couple months, Tiger will tee it up at the Farmers Insurance Open at his beloved Torrey Pines, compete among the world’s best in Dubai, return to Southern California for a go at Riviera in the Genesis Open, then head back home to Florida to play in the Honda Classic. We’ll see if his latest comeback is a keeper or a bust, if he’s showing signs of regaining his old form — if, indeed, he could be a factor at the Masters or any other major.

In the meantime, I put this question out to a handful of Golf Tips contributors, PGA teaching pros from around the country who know their stuff: After so many injuries, surgeries and many months of competitive rust, can Tiger be Tiger again?

Their responses pretty much reflect what I’ve heard in public from fans and fellow golfers. They’re across the board. A couple even dig into the technical aspects of his current swing and short game (they are, after all, teachers). One thing’s for sure — when it comes to Tiger Woods, there’s never a shortage of opinion.

Randy Chang, Director of Instruction, The Journey at Pechanga Resort : “I personally believe he’s far from done. He definitely has another major, maybe two, left in him with a handful of tournaments.  Mechanically, he just went too far back to his “junior golf” swing which was probably the last straw that broke the camel’s back (literally ). His swing was most together, connected and back-friendly when he was working with Butch Harmon. Here’s my armchair advice to Tiger: Once you get 100 percent physically healthy, you need to go back to your patented “stinger” driver/3 wood shot! Something you know and can trust to keep in play!  The weeks your putter gets hot, you’ll be back to your winning ways.”

Alison Curdt, 2016 Southern California PGA Teacher of the Year: “Tiger can accomplish whatever he puts his mind to. If he is able to remove the extraneous distractions from his life and focus on the art and fun of playing the game of golf, I anticipate we’ll see Tiger holding up a trophy soon enough.”

Tom Patri, PGA Master Professional and founder of TP Golf, Naples, Florida: “Tiger Woods blew us off our feet from the day he burst onto the golf scene. His junior golf , his amateur golf, and of course his run through professional golf was beyond amazing, leaving carnage in his wake like no dominant golf figure we had ever seen.

“Still, as a 41-year-old athlete having suffered a multitude of serious injuries, not to mention a very damaged mental state, this is game-set-match. Anyone who has played this game at any type of advanced professional level understands the reps required to time and groove a swing for world-class play, coupled with the rigors of the physical workout needed to be ready to compete. Plus, the travel doesn't lend well to a damaged body let alone a doubting mind. cI understand Tiger has publicly declared himself sound and ready to rock and roll (as he should if he wants even a glimpse of a chance to compete). I’m not buying into it. I hope I'm 1000 percent wrong. I hope he plays like the Tiger we once marveled at with awe. I hope he wins a major in “Dramatic Tiger” fashion. What would be better theater then that?

“Then after you wake up from the dream, I think you’ll soon learn we are a stone’s throw and one last harsh setback away from listening to Tiger’s retirement speech.”

Brandon Stooksbury, Director of Instruction, Idle Hour Club, Macon, Georgia: “In his first competitive tournament since 2015 [in December 2016] he made more birdies over four rounds than any of the top 15 ranked players in the world — 24. The next closer was the winner, Matsuyama, with 22. He's obviously got the tools to win again…he's just got to get back into the groove of competitive golf. If he stays healthy, and that’s a big if, I don't think there’s any question he’ll win again — perhaps even another major.

Henry Stetina, Program Coordinator, PGA Golf Management Program, New Mexico State University: “It’s quite obvious that Tiger has recently experienced problems with an aspect of his game that was once his strength—the short game. Physically, his problem is that he has too much forward shaft lean, which promotes a steep angle of attack and decreases the effective bounce of the club. He’d be better off setting the shaft more vertical at address and using the bounce of the club to brush the grass, similar to that of his putting stroke.

“Even worse, Tiger seems to have forgotten his greatest strength — his ability to focus intently on the task at hand allowing him to become oblivious to his surroundings. It’d be wise of him to practice holding a mental picture of the club or ball going to the target. The increased focus would allow him to again become oblivious to the many distractions associated with being Tiger Woods.”

John Hughes, Vice President, North Florida Section, PGA of America: “I have a feeling Tiger’s heyday is long behind him. He used to be four strokes ahead before a tournament started, just by entering, and those days are over. But I do think that he can put together enough good rounds in one given weekend, a few more times, to be productive and an outside force on tour. If his health is finally normal and he can sustain the grind, you’ll see him gradually sneak into weekend pairings, around the time of Bay Hill this year. This will be just in time to start talk of him winning Augusta again. The Masters is his best shot at winning another major the remainder of his career.

“Swing and prep-wise, he’ll need to watch his training and travel schedule to endure the grind of the entire season. So far he looks good. His short game is what I would like to see develop quickly for him to contend on a regular basis. He’ll need to spend more time on playing smart versus playing long and developing a great short game will be paramount.  During his prime, no one out-putted Tiger, and he’ll need to regain that position to capture back some of the intimidation factor he once owned. And I do like his strategy so far to find venues and tournaments he can play to regain some confidence, on courses where he knows he can succeed. The rotation of majors courses do not bode well for him catching Jack.

“I have never been one to comment on his swing mechanics, as they have changed as often as his choice in women.  My only suggestion would be to settle on a woman/swing thought that will treat him right — and do right by her.”

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