Tiger Woods returns to Torrey Pines, where he has won eight times including his most recent major title, still struggling to recover his touch after the worst round of his professional career.
Woods practiced Wednesday on the eve of the opening round of the PGA Farmers Insurance Open on the same course where he captured his 14th major crown at the 2008 US Open.
But the former world number one has fallen to 56th in the world rankings, in danger of failing to qualify for a World Golf Championships event for only the second time in his career, and he’s a 50-1 longshot with Vegas oddsmakers in the wake of an 82 last Friday to miss the cut at the Phoenix Open.
“I was in the back yard chipping a lot, hitting plenty of golf balls, analyzing it,” Woods said of his weekend after he skipped the Super Bowl to work on his game with advisor Chris Como.
“My good is really good. Unfortunately my bad is really bad.”
Woods has looked uncomfortable with his swing and unhappy with his short game and spoke Wednesday of trying to put his game into proper shape in time for the Masters in April more than making a run at another Torrey Pines title.
Como’s changes to Woods’ game, based on his swing styles from younger days, run at odds with those of previous Woods coaches Sean Foley and Hank Haney.
– Swing changes test Tiger’s resolve –
As Woods tries to reconcile the differences, establishing new patterns has come as hard as managing his once-mighty chipping game.
“The patterns are polar opposites,” Woods said. “That’s just like it was when I first started working with Sean versus Hank. They are completely different release patterns. I went through the same exact phase that I’m going through right now.
“It’s just battling, trying to find it, at the same time trying to get feel and develop new patterns. When you’re under the gun, you got to hit a shot, you just get so target oriented that sometimes old patterns come out.
“I know what the fix is, but can I save it during the swing itself.”
The humbling failure of a player who dominated the game 15 years ago has prompted plenty of comments about what Woods needs to do to restore some semblance of the form that gave him 79 career PGA titles, three shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record, and put him within reach of Jack Nicklaus’ landmark of 18 major wins.
Part of the problem has been the nagging back injury that ruined Woods’ 2014 campaign after he won five times in 2013.
“I think he’s capable of turning it around,” US veteran Fred Couples said. “He has got a lot of speed. He’s hitting it a mile. He hasn’t played much golf in a year and a half and I don’t know how good anybody would be after that.”
Woods, who plays alongside fellow Americans Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel in the first two rounds, could jump back into the rankings top-50 with a top-five finish. He needs to crack the top 50 by the end of the month to qualify for March’s WGC event at Doral.
– Tiger’s game ‘a mess right now’ –
Woods has not won a major title since limping through a playoff on a broken leg to defeat Rocco Mediate at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines. And Mediate is stunned at how far Woods’ game has fallen.
“It’s a mess right now,” Mediate said last week on The Golf Channel. “For some reason the best short game that was ever alive in the history of golf is gone.”
England’s Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open winner, says the lack of playing can lead to a lack of success upon returning and that can take a toll on confidence.
“He’s coming off injury and was coming off not playing very much,” Rose said. “Obviously he’s getting back into playing and he’s playing in some different tournaments, which I think is good to see. But in terms of the short game and the chipping, of course it is always surprising to see that.
“But it just shows golf is a hard game and it’s a game of confidence as well and sometimes if you haven’t played much confidence can disappear. So it’s going to take a little while to get back into tournament mode, get himself in contention. Start to feel good again and the rest comes back pretty quickly.” – Agence France-Presse