After an encouraging return to golf at the Masters, where he finished in a tie for 17th, it’s hard to know how to judge Tiger Woods’ Players Championship performance.
Should we view it as another step in the right direction for the embattled former world No.1 and hail making the cut in the so-called ‘fifth major’ as a gutsy effort in the same week that he announced his split from girlfriend Lindsey Vonn?
Or should we take the fact that he was tied for 66th at TPC Sawgrass and, indeed, had finished his final round long before the telecast began as further proof that the now 135th best golfer in the world’s career is juddering towards an ignominious conclusion?
That, of course, is entirely subjective. What’s not is where Woods’ problems lie.
Tiger Woods lashes at the ball as though he is trying to knock the ‘Swoosh’ clean off it
Forget his pitching, so maligned in the early part of the year. The real issue with his game is – and remains – his driving.
The way Woods swings the club when he is on the tee is markedly different to the way in which he hits, say, a 120-yard approach shot.
On the tee, he is simply too aggressive. He lashes at the ball as though he is trying to knock the ‘Swoosh’ clean off it, which is no great surprise given his near infatuation with rediscovering his power and ‘explosiveness’.
Put simply, he’s trying too hard to keep up with the biggest hitters on the tour, the likes of Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson. He’s going after every tee shot with as much force and aggression as he can muster, resulting in a loss of balance, control and tempo. Consequently, he is hitting the ball a competitive distance – he’s averaging 297.1 yards for the season, 19 yards behind tour leader Johnson – but a significant cost: he has hit just 71 out of 140 fairways so far this year. Currently, only three players on the tour have fared worse in that category.
What’s even more disturbing is that he appears to be in complete denial about his problems with the biggest clubs in his bag. Following his fourth round at TPC Sawgrass, he was asked which part of his game he would give ‘decent marks’ to. He replied: “For the majority of the week, I hit my driver a lot better and definitely a lot further than I had been hitting it.” He had just hit four out of 14 fairways in that last round.
Speaking in the latest edition of bunkered (issue 139, on-sale now), former Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher sums Woods’ driver issues up rather neatly. “For 20 years or so, Tiger was the big hitter in golf and I don’t think his ego is ready to let go of that just yet,” says the Scot. “But I’m not sure what he’s achieving because, with all the physical problems he has had over the years, he should really be trying to focus on keeping the ball in the fairway, first and foremost.”
Gallacher adds: “Swinging as hard at the ball as he does, you are going to lose control and find yourself hitting your second shots from either thick rough or uncomfortable, uneven lies, which is bound to be taking its toll on his body. I just don’t understand that attitude. He has nothing to prove to anybody but seems to think he does.”
Well said. I couldn’t agree more. If you can’t get the ball in the fairway (or even past the ladies’ tee, as was the case with one of Woods’ more abject efforts last week) then you can’t make scores. It's as simple as that.
Look, I’m no swing expert but I know what I’m seeing. Unless Tiger can rein in his own expectations off the tee and manage to control his own ego, he can forget about re-establishing himself as any kind of a force at the top of a game dominated by guys who are younger, fitter and less battle-weary than he is.
Tiger Woods' driver woes :: your thoughts
Do you agree with Michael McEwan that wayward driving - and an unquenchable desire to keep up with the games biggest hitters - is the biggest issue with Tiger Woods' game? Or is there something else that is undermining his efforts most? Leave your thoughts in our 'Comments' section below.