Guest Article BY: EastCoastBias
With all due respect to Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning, there is no bigger figure in the sports world than Tiger Woods. Aside from the President of the United States and the Pope, Tiger Woods is the most recognizable face on the planet, and he made his 2011 debut yesterday at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
2010 can be best described as a year of turmoil for TW. The tabloid sex scandal, which broke in November 2009, ended up costing Tiger his marriage and millions in lost sponsorship deals. Additionally, Tiger recorded the first winless season of his career last year. His best finishes were at two majors, the Masters and the U.S. Open, where he tied for fourth.
More importantly, Tiger relinquished his stranglehold on the World #1 ranking. He is currently World #3 behind England’s Lee Westwood and Germany’s Martin Kaymer. There are many questions regarding the status of Tiger’s game coming into 2011 and whether or not he will be able to reclaim the Midas touch. Cynics argue that Tiger’s mystique is gone, and that fellow golfers are no longer intimidated by him. This was best exemplified in December, where Graeme McDowell erased a four shot deficit in the final round and defeated TW in the subsequent playoff. In past years, Tiger would have increased his victory margin to seven or eight strokes
If appearances indicate anything, Tiger looks to be refreshed and ready for new season. When asked in a press conference yesterday about the doubts and negativity surrounding his game, Tiger responded by saying, “I’ve heard it before. I’ve gone through stretches where I haven’t won. All I have to do is keep working and stick to the game plan, just like I have in the past. I think my record kind of speaks to that.”
For the first time in nearly forever, Tiger has had an offseason, where he hasn’t had to spend time recovering from an injury or dealing with media scrutiny about his personal life. And that, quite frankly, does not bode well for the rest of the field. In the past two months, Tiger has been working with his new swing coach, Sean Foley, getting in as many repetitions as he can before the season begins. Rumblings out of the Woods’ camp are that this swing change is progressing at a much faster pace than Tiger’s other two swing overhauls.
Moreover, Tiger, in the past, has used the offseason to hone his short game. His putting was horrendous last year, and he could never make a putt when he absolutely needed to last year. During this past offseason, Tiger was able to work on his putting and address the flaws in his stroke. Ordinary golf followers underestimate the importance of the short game to Tiger’s performance in any given tournament. In the past, Tiger has been able rely on his short game to bail him out of tricky situations, and that ends up saving him three to four strokes over the course of the tournament. With his short game being unreliable, at best, last year, those were three to four strokes that Tiger gave up in every tournament he was in.
Tiger makes his come back at Torrey Pines, a course that he has owned. He has won 7 times there, including his past 5 starts. His 2008 US Open Victory at Torrey Pines was perhaps his most memorable, as he limped his way through an 18-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate. I do not expect Tiger to win at Torrey Pines this week. Although he has been hitting it well during his practice rounds, tournament golf is another beast.
It takes a long time for a new swing (which Tiger has) to be fully ingrained into a player’s muscle memory, and more importantly, the player has to trust their new swing. There are going to be times during a round where Tiger hits a few loose shots, and he is going to have to figure out what’s wrong on his own, not with his coach by his side. This is why I expect Tiger ease into the 2011 season. It will take time for him fully trust his new swing in pressure situations.
Tiger will more than likely finish in the top 10 in this tournament, as he knows this course so well, meaning he can get away with a few bad shots here and there. Tiger typically plays three or four events before the Masters, which is in April. Although Tiger outwardly says he is looking to win these tournaments, he uses these tournaments as preparation for Augusta. The funny thing is, however, he typically wins these tournaments: Arnold Palmer Invitational, World Match Play, and Doral Ryder Open. That’s how good he is- people don’t appreciate it! Often times, he practices shots on these courses that he knows he will have to hit on Sunday afternoon at the Masters.
By the time the Masters comes around, I expect Tiger’s game to be peaking and his swing under control, which is not good for the rest of the field. When undergoing swing changes, Tiger in the past has gone through major winless streaks, but then he goes on an absolute tear. For example, after changing his swing 1998, TW came back and won 8 times in 1999 and 9 times in 2000, including three majors. The following year he won the Masters to round out the “Tiger Slam,” holding golf’s 4 major prizes at the same time.
In 2004, when Tiger changed his swing for a second time, he won only once, but over the next five seasons, he won 6, 8, 7, 4 (in only 6 events), and 6 times respectively. Thus, I believe Tiger will be a factor at the Masters, this time around. Although he finished fourth last year, it was really only fourth in name- he stood no chance of catching up to Lefty. If Tiger’s driving and putting are in good shape heading into Augusta, expect him to be the runaway favorite. I’m looking for a 3rd place finish, with World #2 and German assassin, Martin Kaymer, to win.
Tiger will do the majority of his damage during the summer, and I’m predicting victories at both the US and British Open. When Tiger’s game is clicking on all cylinders, he has the ability to hit shots that will turn these two tournaments into a walk in the park. The US Open prides itself on being the toughest test in golf, with inch wide fairways and sky-high rough. As a result, there is a premium on driving. As mentioned earlier, Tiger’s swing changes are progressing at a quick rate, and I expect him to have his swing down pat by the Masters. Thus, with his length and newfound driving accuracy, Tiger will be able shoot under the par (which is rare at US Opens) and win the championship.
The British Open, on the other hand, requires another set of shots. Many Americans are not successful at the “Open” Championship because they hit high shots, which get eaten up by the winds. Although Europeans are used to links-style golf, they still do not have the arsenal that Tiger possesses. Being full of confidence from his US Open victory, look for Eldrick to hit long-iron “stingers” and pitch and putt his way to victory in England.
2011 will see a new and more mature Tiger. There may be some growing pains early on with the new swing, but Tiger will, undoubtedly, figure that out. Look for him to make this summer, the summer of the Tiger and reclaim his rightful seat atop of the golf world.