Just One More Tiger Post…Please?

Posted: August 10, 2011 in golf
Tags: , , , , ,

I don’t want to overstate this, but this week’s PGA Championship in Atlanta will be Tiger Woods’ last hall pass.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what’s ahead for Tiger’s career. There are those who insist his days as a great golfer are history. There about as many who think Tiger will rise again and win at least five more major championships and surpass’ Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18. And then there are many of us in the middle who think it is too early to make either prediction.

Here’s what we know: Tiger rivals Nicklaus’ as the sport’s greatest performer, certainly in the modern era; he was on a recording-shattering pace until slowed by a serious leg/knee injury in 2008; slowed again by the personal turmoil in his life that exploded on Thanksgiving Eve in 2009; slowed yet again by a faulty knee that has kept him on the sideline for much of the last 15 months.

Tiger returned to competition last week at the World Golf Championship at Firestone in Akron, O., and looked . . . well, for the lack of a better word, ordinary. He drove the ball poorly, was below-average out of the sand and putted like a normal human being. While Adam Scott was winning in impressive fashion, Tiger struggled to stay near par and finished in the middle of the pack.

He did, however, pronounce himself physically fit, usually going a bit overboard in describing how well he felt. He certainly left Akron by leaving the impression he’s ready to retake his throne after a warm-up week.

So what are realistic expectations for Tiger this week? In just the short time he’s been off the radar the competition has improved. Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Ricky Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa, Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel are twentysomething-year-olds who’ve gained star status. Luke Donald, Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, Scott and Matt Kuchar have emerged as world class players. Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Lucas Glover , Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, K.J. Choi , David Toms, Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan remain world class players and are legitimate threats in any tournament.

Meanwhile, Tiger has continually altered his game. Will his newest swing ever work? It hasn’t yet. Has he lost his nerves of steel? Has he lost the intimidation factor?

Common sense tells me this week’s PGA Championship isn’t the real test. It’s another step on the road back to the throne, if that road still exists. To my way of thinking, 2012 is when we get a realistic look at what to expect from Tiger for the remainder of his career. If the newest swing is going to work, it has to start paying dividends by then. If his body is going to hold up and be the athletic structure it once was, it has to by next year when he’ll be 36 years old. That’s not old in golf by any means, but it isn’t young either.

Mentally, nothing could help Tiger more than a strong showing at the PGA. In spite of the ultra confidence he reveals to the world, Tiger has to have his doubts about what the future holds. Where he once looked at 20-footers as if they were tap-ins, he now fidgets over 3-footers. Where he once gripped it and ripped off the tee, he now looks confused.

Based his recent troubles off the tee, the Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course isn’t where you’d expect Tiger to stage a triumphant return to his glory days. As usual, the course has undergone a major renovation to hosts a major championship. The fairways have been narrowed. The Bermuda grass greens figure to be hard and fast and not hold shots out of the rough when golfers can’t spin the ball as well. Tiger hasn’t been hitting many fairways lately. While he can still contend in the Masters at Augusta National where the fairways are wide and there is little or no rough, AAC is set up much like a traditional U.S. Open course. The world’s best golfers will be challenged to control their approach shots from tight fairway lies. From the rough, fans will watch approach shots fly over greens, bounce over them and run through them. The course features a lot of doglegs and you can expect tee shots to run through them as well.

“You have to play from the fairway,” AAC greens superintendent Ken Mangum told PGAtour.com. “That’s all there is to it.”

Not only will Tiger have to trust his swing, he’ll have to show something he’s never had a lot of: patience.

Tiger, of course, talks about the course as if it was built with him in mind. His positive thinking will be tested in the Atlanta heat.

Of course, if he rediscovers that old putting stroke nothing else will really matter. For all of his talents, what truly separated him from everyone else for more than a decade was his putting. He expected to make everything and forever it seemed he did.

I expect him to contend but not win this week. I can’t forget how dominate he was. I guess you could say I’m still on the Tiger bandwagon.

That’s why I’m so eager to see him in 2012.

 

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