Tiger: 'I'm starting to see some progress'

September 02, 2010

NORTON, MASS. - Tiger Woods comes into this week's Deutsche Bank Championship, which starts Friday at TPC Boston, as a fascinating work in progress - and that's a remarkable statement for someone who has achieved as much as he has in his profession. On Thursday, after his pro-am, he looked drained - perhaps from the mid-90s temperature -- but he spoke with a calm resolve that hinted good things may be just around the corner.

Twice before in his professional career, Tiger Woods has gone through swing changes. The first was in 1997-98 under the direction of Butch Harmon, the second in 2003-04 in view of the watchful eye of Hank Haney. Remarkably, both times Woods committed to those changes he was coming off pretty impressive performances.

It was soon after Woods won the 1997 Masters by a record 12 strokes that he decided he could do better. And when Tiger's father, Earl Woods, said we hadn't yet seen the best of his son, most shook there heads at was clearly hyperbole. Except history proved that Earl was right.

The 2000 season was Woods' masterpiece. He won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, the British Open by eight strokes and the PGA Championship in a playoff. He completed the Tiger Slam in the 2001 Masters, becoming the only player ever to have all four major championship trophies on the mantle at the same time.

After winning the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage - a year in which he also won the Masters and finished second in the PGA - Woods began to take a step back from Harmon. Shortly, he began working with Haney in a pursuit of making things even more perfect.

On both occasions, the Tiger swing changes were marked by stretches of 10 consecutive majors without a victory. It has been 10 majors since Tiger won his last one - the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Granted, he missed the last two majors of '08 because of knee surgery, but he has now gone two full seasons without winning one of the big ones.

And a new swing change is under way - this one with Sean Foley waving the baton. But there is a lot different this time. For one thing, Tiger will be 35 in December. And for another thing, his left knee has been operated on four times. Likely what Tiger needs is a swing that will take him into middle age.

That will be a key if Woods wants to break the Jack Nicklaus record of 18 professional major championships. He is going to need longevity. He is also going to have to get his focus 100 percent back on golf. As he said, "This has been a different kind of year." But Woods is an extremely talented athlete and there is not reason to think he wound turn things around.

"They're three different philosophies, three different ways to hit a golf ball," Woods said Thursday of Harmon, Haney and Foley. "There's a lot of learning to different philosophies and probably the biggest thing is you first have to understand the philosophy in order to buy into it and then be committed to it."

So how close is he? "I'm starting to see some progress," Woods said. "It's just a matter of making it a little more natural, and that's just reps. " The next step in the process comes this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Woods played his first complete round of the year last Thursday when he shot 65 at in the Barclays. Is he now ready for his first complete tournament of the year? And remember this: The other two times Tiger changed his swings he came back better. Earl was right.

-- Ron Sirak