Tiger shows promise at Isleworth
He hit the first ball out of bounds on Thursday. It was so far off line that it found the backyard of an expensive Isleworth home. He chunked nine chips in four rounds en route to finishing tied at the very bottom of the leaderboard, a full 26 shots behind the winning score posted by Jordan Spieth. That’s a lot of negativity for any player, much less the former world number one who used to make the game look far easier than it really is.
You know what else Tiger Woods did though? Over the last four days, he showed that he was far from done.
To say that Thursday started off poorly would be an understatement. On a course where 17 years ago he posted the record score of 59, a mark which still stands today, Tiger opened with a 77. He actually chunked chips on four separate occasions, something presumably not seen at Isleworth outside of members bringing relatives on the course for a one-time jaunt around the property. Professionals hit bad shots all the time, and we’ve seen Tiger hit his fair share, but four chunks?
As bad as those were, there were good signs as well on Thursday. The full swing, the source of most of the debate around Tiger for the last few years, looked more natural and athletic. He appeared to be exceedingly comfortable swinging the club, and even though the number of 77 was horrible, thanks in large part to those four chunks, there were reasons to be positive and it continued over the next three days.
Tiger improved seven shots from the first round, posting a 2-under par 70 on Friday and bettered that by one on Saturday with a 69 despite being physically ill. He ended off the week with an even par 72 that included an ugly triple bogey, but the swing stayed solid, and never at any point during the four days, did Tiger appear to be injured, which he confirmed after the round in interviews with the assembled media.
Without any kind of Shot Tracker available this week, it’s hard to quantify how good any of the players in the field really were, but even Brandel Chamblee was impressed with the way Tiger was striking the ball.
Fairways and greens are a little bit of an antiquated stat, but those numbers are far better than they’ve been for Tiger in recent years. From a purely anecdotal standpoint, I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw Tiger look this good from the tee. He was upright, hitting both cuts and draws, and consistently landing the ball at 315-320 yards and in most cases, right down the middle of the fairway. Swing coaches like David Leadbetter and even Tiger’s old coach Hank Haney were impressed with the way he looked, with Haney even going as far to say that it looked like Tiger wasted the last five years.
Over the last few years, Tiger had gone from a guy who had every shot in the bag, to a guy who just kept hitting baby cuts, and I mean, when he was healthy, he still managed to win eight times under Sean Foley, so it’s not like he was completely broken as a player, but he never really seemed to look like the player that he should have and to make matters worse, he couldn’t stay healthy.
Now, the nine chunked chips were awful and the type of thing that you wouldn’t expect any tour pro to do, but considering that he’s only been swinging the club for about a month with the changes he’s made under Chris Como, I’d be more concerned with him making bad shots with full swings than anything around the greens, which is something that Frank Nobilo touched on during Saturday’s broadcast.
We likely won’t be seeing Tiger now for a little while and if we’re still seeing these short game problems at his next few stops, I’d say it’s cause for concern, but until that point, I wouldn’t be too worried and I doubt that he is either. When Tiger got in the booth on Sunday to talk with NBC’s Dan Hicks and Roger Maltbie, he addressed the chipping issues.
“The difference is that as I change my full swing, my short game changes. My release pattern is different and if I release the club the way I’m releasing it now with some of my old patterning, it’s going to be a fat ball and I just need some time to rehearse it. From about 40 yards on out, it’s really good, but inside of that, it’s not very good.”
All told, it wasn’t the best week for Tiger, but there were more positives than negatives over the last four days, especially considering that we hadn’t seen him at all in the last four months. Combine that with swing changes that look promising and it’s totally understandable that we saw growing pains on the course, even for Tiger Woods.
Ask yourself this question: Would you be surprised if Tiger was chipping this way the next time he tees it up? I would. Assuming that he can get those issues worked out, an already intriguing 2015 golf season is going to get even better.