You've seen the swing. How close is Tiger Woods to playing tournament golf?
Add plenty of caveats.
He's only just started hitting balls with any regularity.
The back isn't 100 percent yet.
His strength isn't back to normal.
It was (according to Tiger) the first five real holes he played since his third back surgery.
But there Woods was Monday, playing at the grand opening of his first American course design, Bluejack National, outside Houston.
Woods even posted video of some swings on Twitter, as if to give armchair swing gurus some fresh source material.
Even the untrained eye can see some uncharacteristic stiffness in the follow-through. But several top teachers say the move Woods debuted at Bluejack (and at a clinic last week) isn't so much awkward or stiff as it is a probable long-term adjustment to reduce pressure on his back.
"It's way better than I thought I'd see," says 50 Best Teacher Brian Manzella. "The main overall theme looks like he's going with less side bend coming through the ball -- more of, say, a Ben Hogan level-shoulder finish."
Georgia teacher Brandon Stooksbury's analysis mirrored Manzella's: "Much, much less side bend through impact, and much more rounded, flatter finish position," says Stooksbury, who is based at the Idle Hour Club in Macon. "It looks less violent than before -- and from a biomechanical standpoint, it should put a great deal less pressure on his back."
Putting his game on display is just the first of several real hurdles Woods will need to clear before playing tournament golf again. He needs to be healthy enough to put in the work it will take to improve a game that was scratchy even before the injury hit. And then there's the task of rebuilding confidence in a game that hasn't produced a tournament win since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August 2013 -- 31 months ago.
"The original injury could not have helped him swing good, no matter what he was trying to do," says Manzella, who is based at English Turn Golf & Country Club in New Orleans. "If the surgeries have been successful -- and everybody is obviously rooting for that to be the case -- hopefully that means he can do some of those things with his swing. He's still going to have to deal with the fear of re-injury, something that the new finish probably helps calm down."
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