Tiger Woods will be making his much anticipated return to golf in a few weeks time. It is certainly an exciting moment for the entire golfing fraternity to be able to again bear witness to the man whose Major Championship record is second only to the greatest of them all- Jack Nicklaus.
As videos of Tiger's golf swing surfaced again as he was given the all clear to practice after his extended layoff due to injury, the questions again flowed. Will he be able to regain his mantle as a top tier golfer? Will he again be able to put fear in the golfers surrounding him on the leaderboard when and if his name surfaces there as the tournament weeks play out?
Watching those updated Tiger videos emerge definitely created a frenzy. Everyone who viewed them were weighing in about the swing itself- the stinger shot he portrayed in one video- his back still looked tight- there was not as much freedom to the swing- the swing looked great and was one he could again win with. Lots of people with a broad spectrum of thoughts openly expressed.
The truth is we wont really know until the tournament juices are flowing again and the "swing" has been under the gun for an extended period of time whether we will see Tiger emerge as he once was- taking all before him and providing excitement in victory or in defeat. Or if we are going to bear witness to the continual decaying of what was once the most recognizable sportsmen on the planet.
For me- the jury is still well and truly out. I don't see any significant difference in a swing that technically over the past few swing changes has continued to deteriorate not only the body of the man but also the mindset of the once invincable warrior of the sporting world.
A healthy contending Tiger Woods is a monumental plus to not only the golfing landscape but to sport in general. His ability to bring the spotlight to himself and to the PGA Tour just through his sheer prescence is sorely needed for golf. The golf world has missed him just as much as I am sure he has missed the golf world.
The incredibly difficult thing after such a long layoff is- tournament golf and practice fairway golf/casual golf are two entirely different kettles of fish. In tournament golf you have to play your foul balls. You dont have the ability to scrape over another ball from the pile and re-execute and pretend the last shot didn't happen.
There was a definite fraility to Tiger's game during his last comeback. This was more accountable to lack of tournament golf- in front of all the friends and fans who were willing him to perform to his stellar level- rather than an injury hangover.
I have been fortunate throughout my golf career to not have to deal with injuries so I can't call judgement on how that affects the ability to perform again after time away from the game. I can however relate to lack of play and being deprived of match practice at the highest level easily erodes a top performers capabilities when they are once again thrust out into the open market for all observers to critique and pick apart their actions and scorecard.
So initially we have to adjudicate Tiger's performance to ability rather than injury- especially since he has from all accounts brought forward the fact he is as healthy as can be despite the recent operations. His upcoming events will allow us to deduct whether that performance-good or bad- is technical or mental.
Mental incompetence is hard to pinpoint. We really don't know what revolves around a competitors head in the process of selecting and executing a shot. We would really have to determine the result as a mental letdown by the golfer's own admission and that is something Tiger Woods doesn't admit freely to- so our real basis will therefore be by technical breakdown if things don't quite go according to plan.
So what technical advances has Tiger made since he last flashed across our radar in tournament play?
Well not a lot really. His swing of the past several years has certainly been a great concern. One of the greatest thinkers and concentrators on the task at hand has hit far too many poor sub standard shots over the past decade to believe there is not a technical issue playing a substantial role in these array of licorice all sorts shot dispersions and mis-strikes
Over time as you alter so many things, the blueprint tolied on for so many years, is shifted away from what your natural feels and instincts are and the whole body/mind process of a free flowing reactive swing dissipates.
Any alteration relating to your setup or your backswing or transition or throughswing- all of it- has a bearing on some other region of the swing. So whilst you may feel the need to focus on one area you can usually restrict and inhibit another area of the swing which was perfectly functional at the same time.
And then the vicous circle of trying to do something your body and instincts won't allow to work in harmony creeps in and in no time at all- all you have is what we call a crayfish...a body full of bones and a head full of sh1t.!!!
Going from cupped and across the line to bowed and laid off- working more behind the ball with a lot of width on the backswing to later on trying to stay more centered or even left on the backswing (a proposterous logic really, given his left knee issues before this alteration)- using a wider stance to build a solid base where the upper body could stand free and tall to succumbing to a narrow stance with more flex in the knees and a more bent over torso- are just some of the mechanics that Tiger worked on - errorneously in an attempt to refine or rehash his swing over the years.
So with trepidation I see a swing that lacks what it needs. It still has the finger prints on it that assisted in the assortment of shots that a 14 time Major Champion shouldn't hit but once in a million years and the same mismatch of motion and dynamics that attributed to the breakdown of the body previously.
I hope my naysayer point of view here in this article is entirely untrue and that Tiger comes out and shocks us all and somehow manages to edge even closer to Nicklaus' record 18 Major haul- I will be applauding along with everyone else if that does come to fruition.
However I really expected a newer version of Tiger to re-emerge on this occassion. Tiger 6.0!!!
He had oodles of time to work out what went wrong- what the best plan of attack would be to help solve the recurring issues of the past comebacks and to turn the recent time off into a windfall for the future.
As we close in on that first tee shot in over a year, I don't see any noticeable differences that could contribute to better play and a more healthier swing for the long haul- I hope I am somehow proven wrong.