The last two majors we have watched Tiger go from playing very solid golf Thursday and Friday, then switching personalities and struggling through the weekend. This is so out of character to the person we watched play from 2000 to 2008 that it leaves golf talking heads blaming everything from his shoes to his swing coach. I actually think Brandel Chamblee looks forward to Tiger playing poorly so that he can tell the world what a lousy swing coach Sean Foley is, and how great anyone named Harmon is. I have almost started to root for Tiger just to have Brandel move on to different topics.
What catches my eye about Tiger’s struggles is his play on Saturdays. I think Sunday at both the U.S. Open and the Open Championship the weather was significantly different and Tiger was forced to press and play outside of his comfortable conservative strategy that he had planned for himself.
At the U.S. Open the San Francisco fog which for the first three days largely stayed away came with force and had the golf course playing longer and entirely differently. It is my feeling that the final round was more to do with Tiger having to change his strategy because of how poorly he played on Saturday. Tiger’s 75 had him moving on moving day alright: backwards. I think then he started to press early so the leaders could see his name on the board early and the field would come back to him. At a U.S. Open a golfer pressing himself usually means bogeys. Tiger had a number of them in the first few holes.
At the Open Championship his 70 on Saturday was better than at Olympic but it still left him a long way behind the leaders. Then on Sunday, of course he hit the sixth hole and all hell broke loose and the conservative strategy had to be dumped again. Here again his chance to make up ground on the field did not pan out and this gave guys like Els and Scott a feeling that Tiger was not going to roar into the lead and they had to have had a feeling as though they could win. In the past Els would have seen Tiger’s name and struggled, he so much as admitted this about a year ago.
If we believe Tiger, this is a process and that first he has to get himself into contention, get comfortable with the swing and then be able to perform it under pressure of competition. And if we are to apply traditional golfing logic to that equation, where that is what happens to a typical golfer, then fine, but when has Tiger been typical? He had never been in competition for a major before the 1997 Masters where he blew away the field. People will say that in 1998 and the better part of 1999 he was rebuilding his swing in the same way. Alright, but that was a year and half, and we are now two years in. Is this swing harder to integrate than the older one? So much more complex that it takes longer?
It is my feeling that we are not seeing Sean Foley around Tiger not because Tiger doesn’t want to get too technical, but because I feel Tiger may be attempting to coach himself a bit more as Haney alluded to in his book. This worries me. Tiger is at his best when he is working on a plan of improvement. Haney was with Tiger a bunch more than Sean Foley has been lately making me think there is more self coaching going on that meets the eye.
Sure you can argue that I know nothing, I am not an insider with access to what is going on, and you’d be right. I am also not advocating that Tiger should dump Sean for someone with a last name of Harmon, but rather I would like to see Tiger continue to work closer with Sean to ensure he sticks to the plan and continues to perfect the swing. I do think from a overall swing point of view, Tiger is very close, and the driving stats bear that out. Still with all that being said, in the heat of the back nine with a major on the line one can still tell Tiger is steering the ball with the driver. Not wanting to make a miss. There is still doubt there.
I think for Tiger to win a major he needs to get that Saturday magic back where he gets near the lead on Thursday Friday, then bolts into the lead on Saturday and then the best front runner to ever play golf can do his thing for the win. Until his Saturday play gets better he is going to have to hope someone falters down the stretch as Adam Scott did so that he can be there in the end.
Photo credits: © Golfweek.