Augusta offers comfort factor but will it be enough for Woods?
Tiger Woods returned to competition at last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in the Arizona desert under increasing pressure to clean up his game and his on-course demeanour.
Although he showed distinct signs of improvement in the latter category, his week ended abruptly when he was eliminated by Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn after 19 holes in the opening round.
It is now a distant 15 months since Woods last won a tournament anywhere in the world and he would dearly love to end that barren run with the first major of the year – the April 7-10 U.S. Masters — fast approaching.
Woods is a four-times champion at Augusta National, the permanent home of the Masters, and that venue offers him a comfort factor more than most others.
However there is no doubt the American one has been totally frustrated by his inability to string together four good rounds in one week while undergoing the fourth swing change of his career.
Comfortably the best player of his generation, he has struggled to regain his former dominance after trying to repair his deteriorating marriage last year and spending less time at practice than usual.
“Still in the process, still working on it,” Woods said last week about the swing changes he initiated with Canadian coach Sean Foley in August.
“That’s what I went through with Hank (Haney) and went through with Butch (Harmon), he added, referring to his previous swing coaches. “It took 18 months to a couple of years.”
Woods arrived at Dove Mountain for last week’s Match Play event with renewed confidence in his revamped swing after being blown off course at the Dubai Desert Classic two weeks earlier.
“The game is progressing, no doubt,” he said on the eve of the opening round. “Had to work on a few things that we found were not right in Dubai, which was good. And it feels like we’re heading in the right direction. Just have to work on it and solidify it.”
However erratic play continued to be the order of the day for the former world number one as he came from two down after five holes to go one up after 12 before losing to Bjorn on the 19th green.
“Disappointing, very disappointing,” Woods said before heading home to Florida to prepare for his next event, the Mar. 10-13 WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
American television analyst Johnny Miller, the 1976 British Open champion and U.S. Open winner in 1973, compared the downward spiral of Woods to the spectacular fall from grace by boxer Mike Tyson.
“It’s a little bit like a Mike Tyson story to be honest with you,” Miller said in a Golf Channel round-table discussion last week. “Sort of invincible, scared everybody and performed quickly under pressure until Buster Douglas came along. Tiger sort of hit that and it’s life. And his life crumbled.”
“It’s like Humpty Dumpty,” Miller added. “He was on a high wall way above all the other players. He had a great fall and there are pieces all over the place. He’s trying to put them together. It’s a tough thing.”
Woods, a 14-times major champion, has not won a tournament since the 2009 Australian Masters and he has slipped to number five in the world — his lowest ranking since the week before he won the 1997 Masters.
PHOTO: Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships golf tournament in Marana, Arizona, February 23, 2011. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan