Tiger's rocky road
Karl MacGinty plots the 17 steps of Woods' bid to get back on course
IF you thought the Rise and Fall of Tiger Woods was interesting, wait till you see the second coming. Tiger showed enough moxie in the final three months of 2010 to suggest he and new coach Sean Foley are pulling his game back together again.
Yet winning his next Major could be harder for Woods than his first 14 ... and more interesting for the rest of us. For Tiger's rivals have been emboldened by the past 14 months.
A year ago, few could have imagined golf's greatest player being reduced to abject insignificance, as Tiger was on several occasions on the road to redemption this year.
Sure, he produced a remarkably defiant performance on his comeback at April's US Masters and finished fourth once again in June's US Open, however, golf came a distant second to other life issues for Tiger last summer as his marriage crumbled to dust.
He would turn it around in late August and some might suggest starting up with Foley was key, helping Woods put manners on an unruly golf ball.
Yet Tiger's dramatic transformation from basket case at the Bridgestone to a must-pick for the Ryder Cup had little to do with technique.
A far greater watershed for Woods was the settlement of his divorce in August, which brought at least some closure to the chaos he'd created in his domestic life.
We've recently caught glimpses of the old rampaging Tiger; on Monday at the Ryder Cup, for example, or as he closed with a 65 in last month's Aussie Masters.
Yet, at places like Quail Hollow and Firestone, Woods showed frailty. His rivals know he's human and, having lost his Midas touch on the greens, Tiger knows it too.
Rory McIlroy explains: "If I stepped on the first tee with Tiger nowadays, would I feel I've a genuine chance of beating him? I'd say yes, whereas a year ago I'd have said I had to play my best and he'd have to play average for me to have a chance."
Graeme McDowell put those words to action, forcing fissures in Tiger's technique as he hunted him down on Sunday at the Chevron World Challenge, giving Woods a peek into his future.
Tiger has the game to get back to World No 1 -- yet a new generation, guys like McIlroy, Martin Kaymer and McDowell, can ensure that winning Major titles will become as attritional for Tiger as everyone else.
To them, golf's 'Special One' isn't so special anymore.
April 8-11: The US Masters -- T4 (-11) 68 70 70 69. $330,000.
Heartened by the cordial welcome he'd received from colleagues on the practice range, Woods was further encouraged by the warm reception he received from the fans at Augusta National in practice for the Masters.
Woods landed a couple of eagle threes in a first-round 68, which left him a couple shy of leader Fred Couples. The course had been set-up relatively easy, but still this was an impressive opening gambit, even if Tiger was unhappy with his short game, especially his putting.
Ultimately, ring rust would hold him back. Yet a tie for fourth was impressive and gave little hint of the trials which lay ahead for the Tiger.
Woods said: "Immediately after the event, I wasn't very happy I lost. But given a little time to reflect, it was an incredible week. I think it went as well as it could have possibly gone. After not playing for that long, finishing fourth was pretty reasonable."
April 29-May 2: Quail Hollow Championship -- MC (+9) 74 79.
WHAT happened to Woods in the 18 days between The Masters and Quail Hollow? The man who'd shown such remarkable self-assurance at Augusta was but a shambolic shadow of his former self as he missed the cut for only the sixth time as a pro, lending credence to reports after Augusta that Elin Woods had initiated divorce proceedings. Tiger really was human after all!
Woods said: "Well, I get the weekend off, to watch and see how it's done -- how real players play golf." (This statement was given added poignancy by the sensational rounds of 66 and 62 which gave Rory McIlroy his first PGA Tour victory that weekend.
Getting it in the neck
May 6-9: The Players Championship -- WD (-4 through 60 holes) 70 70 71 --.
WOODS appeared to be getting his game back on the rails at Sawgrass, until he walked off the golf course after just six holes of Sunday's final round with a bulging disc in his neck.
Even worse was to follow for Woods the next evening when, out of the blue, his coach, Hank Haney, quit. After six years working together, the Texan broke the news by text. What a cold world Tiger inhabits!
"I wished him the best and told him I hope he finds someone else to help him. He first responded, 'thanks.' Then two seconds later (Tiger) texted again, 'we're just taking a break right?' I told him 'no, we're done'," Haney explained, adding: "I'm better off out of it. It's a huge weight off my shoulders."
Woods said: "I have no plans to appoint a replacement coach. That's the great thing about technology. We can use video and I intend to work on my swing in that way."
Modest case for the Defence
May 31- June 6: The Memorial -- T19 (-6) 72 69 69 72. $75,300.
THREE weeks rest worked wonders for his ailing neck, but Tiger never was going to retain The Memorial crown he won at Muirfield Village, in 2009. But he still drew some satisfaction from a modest performance.
Woods said: "I have to take it step by step. It's a process. I hit shots this week I hadn't hit in a long time and got four rounds in. It felt good to be under the gun here and I made putts."
June 17-20: The US Open -- T4 (+3) 74 72 66 75. $303,119.
TIGER flattered to deceive with a stunning 66 on Saturday at the US Open. He failed to raise a real gallop the following afternoon as Graeme McDowell, the new arch-grinder of world golf, won his first Major.
Woods said: "I feel like I can play now. Yeah, I can. I got a feel for my game, the shape of my shots, what I'm working on. I finished two Major championships and had a chance to win both. So, it's not too bad."
The Ghostly Host
July 1-4: AT&T National -- T46 (+4)
73 70 70 71. $16.581.
AT&T withdrew from their personal sponsorship deal with Tiger during his winter of discontent, but remained faithful to his tournament.
However, they preferred defending champion Woods to play a less prominent role than he usually might at an event which benefits his foundation.
Woods said: "I've driven the ball better this week than in a very long time. It's fun to hit the driver that way -- though obviously I need to get my putter working a little bit better."
Old Pal's Act in Adare
July 5-6: JP McManus Invitational -- T23 (+4) 79 69. $3000.
TIGER made a flying 33-hour visit to Adare Manor for the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am, following up a jet-lagged 79 with a satisfying second-round 69. Woods said: "JP has meant a lot to my life and I truly believe in what he's doing to help others. That's why I'm here."
New Putter, Same Problem
July 15-18: The British Open C'ship -- T23 (-3) 67 73 73 72. $64,512.
IT may be his favourite course in the world, but the slow pace of the greens at St Andrews confounded Tiger at the 2010 British Open, despite his decision to leave the putter he'd used to win 13 of his 14 Majors out of the bag.
Woods opted instead for a new Nike Method 001 (with one degree less loft) for the first 54 holes at St Andrews, returning to his faithful Scotty Cameron Newport on Sunday. The problem, you see, was not the putter, but the puttee.
Woods said: "I drove it great all week, hit my irons pretty good, and did not putt well except for the first day.
"I had nine three-putts for the week."
Rock Bottom at Firestone
August 5-8: The Bridgestone Invitational -- T78 (+18) 74 72 75 77. $35,875.
AS settlement of his divorce neared completion, Woods gave by far his worst performance as a pro, finishing second-last at Firestone, where he usually wins for fun.
Speaking from painful experience of his own divorce, TV pundit Dave Feherty brilliantly explained that a cerebral sport like golf is almost impossible to play "with a head full of slamming doors."
Woods said: "I'm just not playing well. Shooting 18-over par is not fun, especially since my handicap is supposed to be zero."
Not so Dire Straits
August 12 -15: The US PGA Championship -- T28 (-2) 71 70 72 73. $46,700.
A week later, Woods was a different man at Whistling Straits. Clearly, settlement had been reached on the divorce front (it would be sealed by a Florida court on August 23). Meanwhile, Tiger's first public consultation with Sean Foley, coach to Sean O'Hair, Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose, in the run-up to the US PGA seemed to bear fruit.
Woods said: "I feel like my game is a lot better than it was last week and, given a little bit more time, it's starting to head in the right direction now, which is good."
August 26-29: The Barclays -- T12 (-7) 65 72 73 67. $157,500.
TIGER confirmed Foley as his new coach. He played hot on the first and final day of the opening FedEx Cup play-off, but was once again unable to conjure up that old magic with the putter.
Woods said: "If I'd just putted well for all four days, I'm right there. I drove the golf ball pretty much on the string and really controlled my irons."
September 3-6: Deutsche Bank Championship -- T11 (-10) 72 65 69 68. $148,929.
TIGER finished with three straight rounds in the 60s, making it easy for Ryder Cup skipper Corey Pavin to give him a wild card.
Woods said: "This was a good week. I hit a couple of loose shots here and there, but was able to rectify it during the round -- I also figured out something in my putting. Once I got the speed dialled in, I hit it well and one-putted the last seven holes."
September 9-12: BMW Championship -- T15 (-1) 73 72 68 70. $116,250.
TIGER played okay in the penultimate FedEx Cup play-off, but fails to qualify for the 30-man field at the Tour Championship. He finished 42nd in the FedEx standing and Woods said: "I didn't play well in the beginning of the year or in the middle but, of late, I'm definitely getting along better. I've got two weeks off to work on my game at home with Sean (Foley) to get ready for the Ryder Cup."
October 1-4: The Ryder Cup -- Tiger won three of four matches.
TWO behind through five holes of his singles match with Francesco Molinari, Tiger fought back for a famous 5 & 4 victory which suggested he'd turned the corner.
Woods said: "I've been close to playing that way for a little bit now , however, after turning my match around like I did today, I'm really looking forward to the rest of the year."
Shanghaied and Seek
November 4-7: HSBC World Golf Championship -- T6 (-7) 68 72 73 68. $145,714.
KNOCKED off the top of the world by Lee Westwood the previous Sunday, Tiger lost further ground to the Englishman in Shanghai.
After putting up a couple of nice bookend rounds, he finished tied sixth behind pillar-to-post winner Francesco Molinari with Westwood in second.
Woods said: "I got to No 1 in the world by winning golf tournaments and I've had that sustainability for a number of years by doing that.
"But unfortunately I haven't done it this year. Hence, I've dropped down to No 2. The whole idea is to win golf tournaments, and this is no different."
Putter No 3 Goes Cold
November 11-14: JB Were Masters, 4th (-7) 69 72 71 65. $72,000.
TWO eagles and two birdies in final six holes of a closing 65 gave Tiger a grandstand finish in Melbourne. Yet once again he was let down by his putter, this time a Nike Method 003, though, to be fair, the greens were surprisingly slow.
Woods said: "I was six-under for the last six holes, shot 65, and can't wait to do that for an entire tournament ... but it takes time to build. You have to go piece-by-piece. Before, I couldn't even do it on the driving range and now I can ... after working with Sean Foley, I can do it on the golf course sporadically. You have to go piece-by-piece."
Woods is Tiger-slammed
December 2-5: Chevron World Challenge -- P2 (-16) 65 66 68 73. $650,000.
TIGER led by four going into the final round at his own Chevron World Challenge and looked a model for his only win of 2010 ... but blew a gasket when Graeme McDowell turned the screw on Sunday, the Portrush man seeing him off in sudden death.
Woods said: "I made countless mistakes in the middle part of the round, but it said a lot for me to come back and put my swing back together again.
"It's exciting for me to know it was there when I needed it."