— Somewhere outside of downtown Dubai, six holes of a golf course Tiger Woods designed as a playground for the mega-wealthy of the world are about to lose their ground to the desert. Sod planted to be a shining beacon of Dubai’s massive wealth and Woods’ design vision will likely now be overtaken by sand.
It seems like the project now on hiatus after starting some five years ago is a parallel for where Tiger Woods’ game is after the Farmers Insurance Open.
Tiger Woods had his worst career finish at Torrey Pines – a place he has won seven times in his career, including his most valiant major championship triumph in the 2008 US Open.
Woods had never finished worse than 10th in the Farmers Insurance Open (or any other iteration of it). On Sunday, Woods’ name was on the leaderboard line for T44. That is a shocking position for Woods at a tournament where the Sunday headline used to be pre-written on Monday.
Over the weekend, Woods posted consecutive rounds in the 70s for a combined 5-over score on Saturday and Sunday. Until this week, Woods had never shot back-to-back rounds in the 70s at the dual par-72 tracks, much less two rounds over par at this event.
This wasn’t Sawgrass, or even Riviera, another California course – places where Woods has struggled mightily in his career. This was Torrey Pines.
Tiger told reporters he began the week hitting the ball well, then it slowly got worse through the week. Woods struggled with his new mechanics, making moves and hitting positions that were somewhat familiar to prior swings, but getting there in different ways.
Woods is trying to match those positions through the bag, he says, which means deviating from the short game touch that allowed him to grind – and even win – without his best stuff.
The result is disappointing, certainly, but Woods continues to use the buzz words he associate with a swing change.
He needs reps – chances to test his swing in competition – but his schedule will likely be no different than his traditional jaunt to the Masters in April.
Tiger says he has done this before, which he has on several occasions. It could take as long as a year-and-a-half, like it did with Hank Haney. If it does indeed take that long for it to kick in (and I will not pose the question of whether it will ever click), then 2011 is another lost cause when it comes to reaching the last remaining goal in Woods’ career – Jack Nicklaus’ 18 professional majors.
But Woods keeps talking about how things are progressing faster than he anticipated when mulling over the decision to revamp his swing, or tough it out as his own instructor. He appears satisfied with what he is experiencing on the range – which looks awfully good from videotape.
The problem he is facing, similar to every golfer to make swing alterations, is to score well with them. Not shoot 69 while fighting the whole way. Woods was doing that at the end in his work with Hank Haney. The difference was that he could compensate for his mechanical flaws with an intrinsic knowledge of how to manage them in crunch time, knowing he had done it so many times.
Then again, Woods may not have been able to pull off that feat any longer with what he had been doing to swing the golf club. Since notching his 71st and last PGA Tour win at the 2009 BMW Championship, Tiger Woods has shot 71 or worse in 32 of 62 tour rounds.
The long-range prognosis perhaps was not good with how things were, and they have yet to improve with consistency. There have been flashes – three rounds at Chevron, his singles match at the Ryder Cup – but clinging to moments in time are not what win golf tournaments. Woods knows that, which is why he is not reticent to allude to those spurts as signs of what is to come. No wonder Woods cryptically said his next tournament would be “in the future.”
Familiarity and confidence in his new swing have not been yet fostered with Sean Foley, at least when the money is on the line. So, lacking assurance that he can play 72 holes with what he has, Woods will practice for a week and head to the Dubai Desert Classic. Like Torrey Pines, Woods has a fantastic record in the emirate. He has never finished worse than fifth in five career (paid) starts there.
Just as this week was astounding because of Woods’ prior track record at Torrey Pines, it is important to take a long-range view on his forward progress.
Woods had a lousy week by his standards, but then again, Phil Mickelson had a rather lackluster effort to open the year in Abu Dhabi.
Sure, Mickelson had no record in the emirate as opposed to Woods’ demonstrated brilliance in San Diego. But Lefty rebounded well at Torrey Pines, a place he does love and has succeeded – winning the event three times. Had a couple of things been different, Mickelson would have won for the 39th time on the PGA Tour.
While Mickelson is not in the midst of a swing change, Mickelson has been growing accustomed to living with psoriatic arthritis, and went through a different kind of family upheaval with his wife and mother simultaneously battling breast cancer. Aside from his Masters win, Mickelson had a glum 2010 of his own. 2011′s early return appears to have reinvigorated Mickelson at 40-and-a-half.
The message for Woods – not that he needs to hear this – it can be done.
Unlike his golf course, which will slowly lose the battle to unforgiving desert, Woods will not be forced to leave his work unfinished. Tiger has no choice but to soldier on with Sean Foley to the completed product which, hopefully for him, leaves him only regretful that this last year-plus (and his prior actions) had to dramatically alter his family.
His competition, ever younger and more diverse, will try to squash Woods. Meanwhile, all of them (at least on the record) have said they know their comeuppance is near and Woods will regain his prized stature soon.
For Woods, he has to resolve that – unlike the promises of improvement and development made about his golf course – he can stick to the project plan, manage his own expectations and deliver a work that can stand the test of time and pressure.