Tiger Woods started his 2015 season Thursday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
It wasn’t pretty. He shot a +2, 73, his worst ever season-opening round. That puts him tied at 104, out of a field 132.
The reason Woods posted an ugly number is that he struggled to hit fairways, struggled to hit greens, and his short game was shockingly bad. His lag putting was pretty good though!
After his round, Golf Channel zeroed in on his short game, which was abysmal. Woods, at his peak, had an incredible touch around the greens. But now, he’s got the “yips,” said Aaron Oberholser on Golf Channel. “It’s flat-out the disease,” said Oberholser.
Brandel Chamblee, the lead analyst for Golf Channel, didn’t mince words about Woods’ problems:
The issues around the greens, this is an issue that I’ve never really seen anybody fully recover from. And those that came to his defence at Isleworth [where he last played] talked about the difficult turf conditions. These are some of the most friendly turf conditions that the players will face all year long and Tiger Woods was as bad, not as I’ve ever seen him, not as bad as I’ve ever seen another tour pro, the worst I’ve ever seen a tour pro around the greens and it is a long way from there to playing competitive golf again.
Why is Woods struggling with his short game? He blames his most recent swing change.
Late last year, Woods changed his coach yet again, and is going back to the future with his swing. He’s trying to recreate his swing from when he was younger. This new old swing is more shallow than his previous swing, and so he says he’s having trouble adjusting.
“I’m just having a hard time finding the bottom,” said Woods after his round. “Because of my old pattern, I was so steep on it, I have a new grind on my wedge and it’s sometimes hard to trust and this is a similar grind to what I used to use in the early 2000s, but it’s a different grind. But some of the shots were into the grain with tight, tight pins and either I would flop it or I would bump it, and I chose to bump it.”
That quote is, frankly, mostly nonsense. Woods is the greatest golfer in history with one of the best short games ever. Five years ago, he would be able to get the ball close with just about any wedge, regardless of its grind. But, golf is a mental game, and if Woods needs to tell himself this stuff, then so be it.
Woods missed almost all of 2014 with a back injury, so it’s unrealistic to expect him to be contending in his first tournament.
The short game is a real concern, but other parts of his game showed some promise. He was +5 after 12 holes, but managed to shoot -3 to close it out. His driving improved toward the end of the round, which made things easier. (He drove the green of the 340-yard par 4 17th hole.)
He goes out early on Friday and will have to post a good score to make the cut. He needs to make the cut because Woods needs as many tournament rounds as possible to get comfortable with his new swing. If he’s sitting at home Saturday and Sunday, that does him no good.
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