Commentary

Instructor Haney says different standard applied to Tiger's game

Contrary to popular belief, Tiger Woods' accuracy isn't all that bad. Just ask Tiger's instructor, Hank Haney. Harig

Updated: December 13, 2007, 10:50 AM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- If he swears, we hear it. If he flails, we see it. If he does just about anything not in keeping with his greatness, we are aware of it.

Perhaps it has something to do with our awe of Tiger Woods' talent, dedication and record. Because when there is a flaw, however minute, we jump on it, examine it, expose it. And then dissect it some more.

"No one in the history of golf has ever got anything close to the scrutiny of Tiger,'' said his coach, Hank Haney, who knows a bit about being scrutinized himself. "Just the way it is and the way it will always be. It just comes with the territory, but it doesn't seem fair, does it?''

It depends.

Given his celebrity-like status, events such as the birth of his child, the purchase of his mansion, the docking of his yacht … the curiosity is probably justified. Woods might be the most famous athlete in the world, a man who transcends his sport. Scrutiny is part of the price Woods pays for enormous fame and wealth.

But what about within the game itself?

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods and Hank Haney
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziHank Haney, right, says Tiger Woods's fairway accuracy is unduly criticized.
Certainly, his game is going to be analyzed more than anyone else, good or bad.

There has been plenty of praise for Woods over his 2007 season -- which will end this weekend at the unofficial Target World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club -- that saw him win seven times on the PGA Tour and capture the first FedEx Cup.

And yet, whenever there is the slightest struggle, alarm bells go off. If Woods misses a cut in a PGA Tour event (it has happened just five times in his career as a pro), it is front-page news. Not so much for Phil Mickelson, who is nearly as popular and probably the next biggest draw in the game. (Mickelson missed six cuts this year.)

And when Woods misses a fairway and winces with disgust, we see the pictures and the video as if the man is on his way to shooting 85. Meanwhile, Ernie Els just blew a tournament in South Africa by hitting balls in the water on the final hole to make a triple bogey. Did anybody notice?

Since starting to officially work with Woods in 2004, Haney has seen a different standard applied to the game's No. 1 player. And some of that came in the form of criticism toward the instructor.

Woods' switch to Haney coincided with one of the few lulls in his career. Woods won just once that year on the PGA Tour and did not contend at any of the major championships, his best finish a tie for ninth at the British Open. The man who had won seven of 11 majors through the 2002 U.S. Open had now gone 10 straight without winning one. Haney heard it, too.

And the easy place to look was at Woods' driving accuracy, which had dropped from over 70 percent in 2000 to under 60 percent this year -- with varying degrees of difficulty in hitting fairways during that time.

"Wouldn't it be more relevant to compare Tiger to the other players?'' said Haney, who pointed out that most players have lost accuracy over the past five years.

Among the reasons Haney cites are the fact that players are hitting the ball farther, fairways are tighter, they are using more drivers off the tee in an attempt to overpower courses and they are using drivers with longer shafts (45 inches now, compared to 43).

"Simple geometry says that even a driver that averages one yard farther will miss more fairways,'' he said. "And Tiger is much longer" -- 293.3 yards in 2002 versus 302.4 yards in 2007 -- "than he was.

"Fairways are much tighter … and this is further evidenced by the fact that Fred Funk -- who is the benchmark for fairways -- is down in accuracy about 6 percent, despite the fact that he has lost distance since 2002.''

Haney said that when Woods needs or wants to be more accurate off the tee, he can be: examples being the 2006 British Open at Hoylake and the 2007 PGA at Southern Hills.

"Tiger has been criticized for his driving accuracy but he hits a driver 320 yards,'' Haney said. "You can't compare accuracy with someone who hits it 290 [because of] geometry. But when Tiger decided to drive the ball 290 at Hoylake, he finished first in fairways hit. When Tiger decided to drive the ball 295 at Southern Hills, he finished sixth in fairways hit. If Tiger wanted to back it down to 290, he could easily finish in the top five in driving accuracy for the year. He has proven that at two of the toughest driving venues in major championships.''

As Haney pointed out, only two players -- Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker -- among the top 20 in the world are ahead of Woods in driving accuracy. And among the top 30 in the world, Woods is first in total driving, a statistic that combines driving distance and accuracy.

Tiger Woods
AP Photo/Reed SaxonWoods can be happy with the way he's hitting the ball these days.
Of course, much of this analyzing of the numbers looks silly now, especially where Woods and Haney are concerned.

Since the start of the 2005 season, Woods has been on another of his remarkable rolls. He has won 21 PGA Tour titles during that time. Of the 12 majors played, he has 10 top-five finishes, including five victories, three seconds, a tie for third and a tie for fourth.

One of the two finishes outside of the top five was a missed cut at last year's U.S. Open, which occurred roughly a month after the death of his father and was Woods' first competition in two months. The second came at this year's British Open, where he tied for 12th. Since then, he has won four times, including the PGA Championship, and finished second in his other start.

Woods said it was about as strong of a period for striking and controlling his ball that he's had in his career.

"There's no doubt, right up there,'' he said. "I hit the ball very well, I really felt like I had control of the golf ball. I could hit any shot I felt like I wanted to hit.''

And if that continues?

"I think the chasing pack is getting better, the chasing pack has learned that Tiger is not invincible,'' said Colin Montgomerie, one of 16 players along with Woods in the Target field. "But the trouble is they're getting better, but so is he. I always felt his best time was in 2000, when he held all four majors at one time, and I think he's getting back to that level again.

"And who says that 2008 won't be the time that he does all four, you know?''

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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