Good, Bad and Gritty
Tiger Woods' ball striking was a mixed bag, but when his new swing failed him his old determination saved the day
Hank Haney knows too well that for Tiger Woods, the bad shot still lurks.
While the rest of the Masters throng watching Woods stride to the 71st hole was still quivering from the deliciously drawn-out drama of the holy-roller chip that restored a two-stroke lead over Chris DiMarco, Haney leaned his lanky frame hard toward Augusta National GC's 17th tee box and watched worriedly as his pupil's elaborate practice-swing routine was interrupted by the moving shadows of spectators. When Woods proceeded to spray his drive miles right, the teacher bowed his head in frustration.
"Jeez, Louise," Haney said, his jaw clenched. "I hate that friggin' shot. We are fixing that friggin' shot."
No doubt Woods was muttering something similar, but likely spicier. Indeed, it is the way in which player and coach share the same level of intensity, dedication and passion that has bound this duo for more than a year now in the quest for the ultimate swing. But as a startling succession of loose shots by Woods over the last three holes of regulation proved, he still lacks the total command that made him such an ironclad closer during his phenomenal 1999-2002 run. While his good shots at Augusta ranked among the best of his career, his bad shots were worse than any he had hit in his first eight major championship wins as a professional. His swing is still an unsolved riddle, the near automatic nature of his epic golf of 2000 traded in for a psychological tightrope requiring extra concentration to stay upright. The solution is best approached with the quality Haney says is the most important for any student: patience. The best word to capture its current state? What else? "Close."
Although it was widely compared to the "A-ha!" moment in May 1999 that triggered Woods' greatest sustained run of championship golf—seven Grand Slam triumphs in 10 starts from the '99 PGA Championship to the '02 U.S. Open—it turns out his much ballyhooed epiphany before his ice-breaking victory in Japan last November was a bit of a false alarm. Even in his wins earlier this year at Torrey Pines and Doral, Woods wasn't satisfied with his ball striking. "I didn't hit it the way I know I can," he told the media before the Masters. "I still had to continue to work on things." More worrisome, his two most recent performances, at Bay Hill and the Players Championship, were downright poor.
As he always has on the eve of a major, Woods met the issue with hard work. And as much as it will be remembered for his epic hole-out and earlier explosion of seven straight birdies, Woods probably won his fourth Masters during the five consecutive long days of preparation with Haney at Isleworth leading into the tournament. "Tiger knew he wasn't hitting the ball well enough to win the Masters," Haney said. "But I've never seen anyone who works harder or smarter."
According to both parties, no component of the game was overlooked. Haney said there was a particular focus on eliminating "the compression move"—Woods' tendency to lower his head and upper body on the forward swing. It was the cause of two startlingly poor tee shots in the last month, each of which traveled less than 200 yards: a fat pop-up opening drive at Bay Hill and a drop-kicked top off the second tee at Augusta during Woods' nearly disastrous first-round 74. "Except for that shot, Tiger was excellent at staying tall through the hitting area," said Haney.
The work didn't end when the sun went down. With Woods wielding a weighted club in the living area of his Isleworth home, Haney would manipulate his torso and limbs to accentuate the sensations he wanted his pupil to feel in a correct swing.