Tiger Woods loses his fastball

Rob Carr

Tiger won’t be going after golf balls with the ferocity of days gone by, at least not in his first tournament three months removed from back surgery.

Tiger Woods, version 3.5, will have to find a way to win on a PGA Tour in which younger and burlier guys can hammer golf balls farther than the former world No. 1 who, in his prime, could keep up with the longest of the long-ball hitters.

The days of matching John Daly, 300-yard drive for 300-yard drive, are in Woods’ past and he has had to adjust his motion yet again to ensure he does no further harm to his surgically repaired spine.

"We made a few tweaks here and there but nothing major," Woods said Tuesday about slight modifications he and coach Sean Foley have been working on since doctors gave Tiger the go-ahead to swing fully following back surgery at the end of March.

Woods said the modifications he has made were "nothing that probably you would observe with the naked eye," and likely not nearly so dramatic as those he made in the past each time he changed instructors. But the 14-time major champion served notice that he would not go full out on all shots and that his "explosiveness" was gone.

Golf fans hope to see more of this swing from Tiger Woods, post-microdiscectomy:

And no more of this, before back surgery:

"It [getting his power back] still hasn’t happened," he said two days before he will take his first swing in competition since March 9 at Doral when he was in such agony he could barely make it through 18 holes. "Not to the level that I’m used to ... We haven’t done any explosive lifts that I’m used to doing."

Like a fastball pitcher who loses velocity following Tommy John surgery, Woods must adjust to his new reality and become a savvier, more strategic player than the "taller, bigger ... more physical" next generation of golfers who keep coming to the plate and knocking it out of the park.

"You look at these kids in college, all the long hitters are 6-2 to 6-4. They are just big guys and they can move it out there," said Woods, who will test his back's strength at the Quicken Loans National starting Thursday. "As I've aged, I can't play the way I used to. I was No. 2 in driving distance for a number of years [1997, 1998, 2000, 2005], only behind John Daly. Now if you average over 300 yards, I don't think you're in the top 10."

The aging superstar preferred a basketball analogy to describe how he’ll put the adage about "old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill" into play.

"It's changed dramatically. But, just like MJ [Tiger’s pal and six-time world champion, Michael Jordan], I've got a fadeaway now," Woods said. "I've had to rely on different parts of my game and strategy and ... course-management skills ... where to miss it, how to miss it."

Woods came to the conclusion during his rehab that he had to adapt or go home when he watched 56-year-old Champions Tour golfer John Cook, who has dealt with his own bad back, slugging balls past him on the range.

"I’m out there pumping 8-irons 135 and that’s all I had," said Woods, who added that while it "was frustrating there for a little while," he had improved and "got my numbers back."

With temperatures expected to be in the mid-to upper-80s through Sunday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Woods believed the weather would work in his favor.

"This week especially, since it’s going to be warm all week," he said, "I don’t have any problem staying loose."

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