Tiger Woods has too much to overcome — massive swing overhauls that have ruined a motion once the envy of his peers, back surgery, and overall shaggy play in his limited time on the course this season — to be much of a factor at next week’s British Open.
So said ESPN analysts Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange during a Thursday conference call to promote the Worldwide Leader’s coverage of the action at Royal Liverpool. While Strange reiterated an opinion he shared with Reuters recently, that Woods has not played well "in a while now," Azinger focused on Tiger’s search for the perfect swing that has "backfired" on the former ace.
"Tiger's quest to get better, I think he's actually gotten a little bit worse," Azinger said about Woods’ four swing changes under three coaches during his professional career. "Most golfers have made the same mistakes in some weird way about changing their golf swing . . . and I think Tiger has done that to his detriment."
Woods, who switched from Butch Harmon to Hank Haney and currently has Sean Foley in his employ, also came up short in Azinger’s comparison of the 14-time major winner to that of the guy he’s been chasing since he was a kid.
"I think one of the big differences that's very rarely articulated is the fact that while Tiger in his dominance always – for whatever reason – was in this quest to get better, I don’t remember Jack ever saying that," Azinger said. "Jack might have made some tweaks and twerks, here and there, minor tweaks and twerks, but Tiger has made astronomical changes in a quest to get better. As a result, Tiger has actually gotten a little bit worse. I think we can all pretty much see that."
Woods’ primary error, according to the 1993 PGA champion, was dabbling "with the fingerprints of his golf swing, not necessarily the fundamentals.
"Tiger remains fundamentally fairly sound in his lower body, but the changes -- I think he's probably the only person that's ever played well who's looked radically different throughout his career," Azinger said. "Jack never made those mistakes.
"Jack understood that if he could stay the same, he would still dominate. Tiger didn't need to get better. He just didn't need to get worse," contended Azinger. "He needed to stay the same and he could still dominate, and in his quest to get better, it's kind of backfired on him."
It is not only his swing but his health that has hindered Woods, who won five times on tour last year but has a withdrawal and two missed cuts (a 54-hole MDF at Torrey Pines in January and a 36-hole MC from the Quicken Loans National two weeks ago) in just four contests in 2013. And while Woods may claim to feel no ill effects following his March 31 microdiscectomy, two-time U.S. Open champion Strange pointed out that there was no way the winner of 79 PGA Tour events was fit enough to contend next week.
"Your body doesn't recover that quickly, so even though he's pain‑free, he's not 100 percent, can’t be 100 percent golf‑wise because of conditioning. He hasn't played but one tournament," Strange said.
Whether or not Woods’ poor play prior to his hiatus was injury-related, the bottom line was that "he didn't play well," said Strange, who looked at the stats. With too few tournaments started to qualify for tour ranking, Strange said Tiger was last in driving accuracy, greens in regulation, and putting.
"We haven't seen Tiger really, really play well in a while now, so back injury, not playing well, hasn't played any competitive golf in over three months now, pushing four months, it's hard to expect anything out of anybody," he said. "I hope he makes the cut … But I don't think you could ever expect him to be on the first page of the leaderboard come the weekend."
As for the never-ending query about whether Woods will ever overtake Nicklaus in the majors race, Azinger wondered about Tiger’s choice of coaches.
"He may look back and have regrets," Azinger said. "I know that he's only worked with one guy that's played golf at a really high level, and that's Butch Harmon. For him to just turn it all over to two guys that have never played on a high level is a bit of a mystery, considering how great Tiger was when he did it."