PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods is about the only person not in a panic about his game.
These remain curious times for the guy trying to show he can still dominate golf as he once did. In his last four tournaments, Woods walked off the course in the middle of the final round at Doral with tightness in his left Achilles tendon, won by five shots at Bay Hill for his first PGA Tour title in 30 months, was an also-ran at the Masters with his worst performance as a pro and missed the cut at Quail Hollow for only the eighth time in his career.
In the absence of trophies, there is no shortage of opinions.
Peter Alliss, the player-turned-broadcaster, said before his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame that Woods is “gone at the moment.” Nick Faldo, a six-time major champion who works for CBS Sports and Golf Channel, said Woods no longer has the self-belief that made him No. 1 for all those years. Brandel Chamblee, a journeyman on the PGA Tour and now an analyst for Golf Channel, said Woods should fire Sean Foley and call his old coach, Butch Harmon.
“And I know he’ll never do that because he’s letting his ego get in the way of common sense,” Chamblee said on a conference call for The Players Championship, which starts Thursday.
“He wants to prove to people he’s right. He would rather prove to people he’s right than be right.”
Woods has been down this road, though not with so many detours.
“Guys, I’ve done this before,” Woods said. “I’ve been through this. Actually, a lot of you guys lived it with me, went through those periods where I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. I had some pretty good runs after that, and this is no different. It takes a little bit of a time, and I keep building and things eventually come around to where they feel natural and efficient.
“I think that’s probably the most important word, is that you get out there and you feel efficient in what you’re doing.”
Woods shot back with subtlety at the TV analysts.
“I can understand that everyone has an opinion, and he’s entitled to his. But he’s no longer playing anymore, so, so be it,” Woods said of Chamblee, who won once in 380 starts in his PGA Tour career.
As for Faldo’s comments on his self-belief?
“I always find it interesting since they’re not in my head,” Woods said. “They must have some kind of superpower I don’t know about.”
If he is looking for good vibes to turn his fortunes, the TPC Sawgrass might not be the best place.
No other course on his regular schedule has given him more fits. Sure, Woods won in 2001 with that “better than most” 60-foot birdie putt on the island-green 17th in the third round, and he was runner-up to Hal Sutton’s “Be the right club today!” moment in 2000. But he has had only two other finishes in the top 10 at The Players Championship, and the last two years were particularly troubling.
In 2010, returning to the scene where he made his first public appearance since the scandal in his personal life, he withdrew halfway through the final round with what turned out to be a minor neck injury. Last year, he withdrew after nine holes and a 42 on his card with injuries to his left leg, which kept him out of golf for the next three months and prolonged his “process” in the new swing Foley is teaching.
“I had a few issues going on physically there,” Woods said of last year. “I was wondering whether I should have played, and because this is a big event, I tried to tee it up and it didn’t work out. But it’s nice to actually be healthy again and do all my training and everything I need to do to get ready to play. That’s something that I could not do at the time.”
He had a little extra time to work on his game after missing the cut at Quail Hollow by one shot.
Woods tried to explain why his game can be up-and-down – a winner one tournament, a weekend off at another tournament – by saying that his new move is still uncomfortable, and that when he feels comfortable over the ball, it often results in old swing patterns.
He said this was nothing new, either.
Woods said it took nearly two years for the overhaul with Harmon to feel natural, and about the same time with an entirely new swing from Hank Haney. He began working with Foley at the 2010 PGA Championship, though he missed nearly four months last year without competition, and it wasn’t until a year after he hired Foley that Woods was able to practice and work out with no restrictions.
“I haven’t been able to put in the time,” he said. “In essence, it takes time. It takes time, takes a lot of reps.”
Even so, he never missed a cut during the heart of the other two swing changes, and he still finished in the top 10 more often than he didn’t.
He is older this time around, having turned 36 during the offseason. He has gone through four knee surgeries. Whether the competition is stronger is difficult to measure, though Alliss on Monday said during his best years, Woods was “Gulliver in a land of Lilliputians.”
Rory McIlroy returned to No. 1 in the world with his playoff loss at Quail Hollow to Rickie Fowler. Both are 23.
Woods is No. 7 in the world, so far back that he most likely couldn’t get to the top unless he won his next three tournaments, concluding with the U.S. Open. With Woods, though, expect anything – except panic.
“Unfortunately, the last two tournaments I’ve played in weren’t that great,” Woods said. “No big deal. We’ll just continue working and try and put it together this week.”