After playing some of the most consistent golf this past week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Tiger Woods looks more like the normal Tiger we’ve known from his glory days. With that being said, Tiger is not far off from competing to win his 15th career Major. Winning a WGC-event is like winning a semi-major; Tiger has won seven times at Doral, 17 WGC-events altogether. Although the field is half the normal size in these WGC-events, you’re still playing against some of the best golfers in the world. Tournaments like these are a true measure of a pro golfer’s potential and future in the game. Tiger’s future continues to look brighter…
Since the fame scandal, Tiger has slowly, but surely, repaired his image both on and off the golf course. On the course, though, Tiger did a ton to revamp his game into something that would make him feel comfortable once again. He parted ways with swing coach Hank Haney, and hired Sean Foley. He also split with long-time caddy Steve Williams, and replaced him with Joe LaCava. He’s done a slightly better job controlling his anger and poor sportsmanship, and continues to be open to the media. Furthermore, Tiger looks more focused than ever. Jokingly, I like to call him Mr. Serious when he plays. He tunes everything out around him and hones in on how he’ll play his next shot.
Ironically, his biggest problem was the putter. As the old saying goes, ‘drive for show, putt for dough.’ Back in the day, that was Tiger’s forte; it’s what made Tiger the best in the world. Coming in the clutch no matter the situation, Tiger would find a way to sink a putt from 20 feet for par when the challenge came. When he was making putts, nobody could catch him. While rebuilding his game, Tiger has had a fair share of scattered rounds where it appears his putter is working in one round, but not in the other four. Just when you think the old Tiger has returned, he stinks it up in the next round. Inconsistency, for awhile, was becoming Tiger Woods middle name.
So after a 45-minute putting lesson from competitor and friend, Steve Stricker, earlier in the week, Tiger found himself absolutely unstoppable once tournament play at Doral got underway. I’ve never seen Tiger sink so many putts from so many distances in a long, LONG time. After reading Hank Haney’s book The Big Miss (which I recommend to anyone interested in Tiger Woods), Haney was convinced that Tiger filed away something like 5-10% of what was taught to him and ignored the other 90-95%; it would be that knowledge he would use to further his game in tournaments. I’m certain what Tiger got out of Stricker’s lesson was part of that 5-10%.
I have no idea where swing coach Sean Foley was. Isn’t that his job to help Tiger with the putting instead of a fellow competitor? It’s rare to see any competitor assist another competitor with an element of their game. I’ve drawn the conclusion that Tiger has a stronger friendship with Steve Stricker, than any other golfer on tour. Outside of his relationships with pros Mark O’Meara and Notah Begay III, Tiger doesn’t welcome too many of his current competitors into his inner circle – Stricker might be an exception to the fact.
Holding that mammoth of a trophy, Tiger’s stats at Doral speak for themselves. He had the fewest putts of his career in any pro tournament he’s played in: 100 putts. Tiger also finished with 27 birdies for the tournament, that’s just one shy of his career record of 28 set back at two different tournaments in 2006 and 2007.
From start to finish, Tiger was dialed in. Every time I sensed a hiccup in one of his rounds at the Blue Monster, Tiger would somehow correct his fault. It was rare this weekend to see Tiger hit two bad shots in a row. If he drove the ball way right, Tiger would blast it out of the trees and put himself in position for a nice up and down, or get a good look at birdie. If Tiger’s chipping or sand play was lackluster around the green, Tiger would connect on the next shot with a 10-15 footer for par. Is this the best we’ll see out of him? And for how long?
The thing is Tiger has now won twice this season on tour, and five total victories over the last year. Tiger is now second in the Fedex Cup Standings behind Brandt Snedeker, and continues to inch his way closer to number one ranked Rory McIlroy in the World Golf Rankings.
Next up on the calendar for Mr. Woods – The Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament he’s won seven times. I predict he’ll win that tournament as well. If he can continue to master his skills around the greens, Tiger will have no problem adding his 77th PGA hardware to his trophy case.
Now, I expect Tiger to win a major this year. If not, it’s time to start questioning whether winning more majors than Jack Nicklaus is even feasible. Tiger’s last major victory came at the 2008 U.S. Open. Tiger has now had several seasons to get back everything he lost during the time of his scandal. If there’s any major he can win, it’s The Masters. He’s won four times there, but was last victorious in 2005. Even when Augusta was ‘Tiger-proofed’, it still doesn’t play as a long course. Sure, the fairways may be tight and the greens will play exceptionally fast, but golfers can definitely put up low scores.
Tiger’s putter has failed him at Augusta for the last several years. If he can do what he did at Doral, he’s got this in the bag – guaranteed. Throughout his career, though, Tiger is still so-so with the driver. If I’m Tiger Woods, use a 3-wood or shorter club off the tee in that tournament. It got him a British Open title back in 2006 using that strategy. It surprises me why he doesn’t use that strategy more often in tournaments, especially if the course isn’t necessarily a long one.
Tiger, we’re all waiting for that next major title. You’re beginning to find your groove once again. Do us all a favor and get it done!