Commentary

Woods continually seeks improvement

Originally Published: June 30, 2009
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

BETHESDA, Md. -- It ain't easy being Tiger Woods.

Oh, sure. The private jet and the yacht and the bazillion-dollar bank account are pretty sweet … and yes, the ex-model wife is a nice perk … and having everyone from Barack Obama to Michael Jordan on speed dial doesn't suck … and …

OK, so maybe your days spent in the cubicle pale in comparison to those of Woods. It might not exactly be difficult walking a mile in Tiger's metal spikes, but that doesn't mean life is all eagles and birdies for the guy playing host to this week's AT&T National event, either. Along with the world's most recognizable smile and those 14 major championship trophies come perhaps unreasonable expectations for Woods' future accomplishments.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
AP Photo/Rob CarrIn 2009's first two majors, Tiger Woods finished tied for sixth at both the Masters and the U.S. Open.

How else to explain recent criticism of his 0-for-2 start to this season's majors so far? A few months ago, Woods parlayed a stunning come-from-behind victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational into a T-6 result at the Masters.

Almost instantly, popular reaction called for him to fire instructor Hank Haney and make major renovations to his swing. Woods didn't heed the advice and followed by winning in similar fashion at the Memorial Tournament, then finished in a share of sixth at the U.S. Open while playing on the unfortunate side of the draw during the opening two rounds. Once again, talk shows debated what was "wrong" with the No. 1-ranked golfer.

It all leads to one pertinent question: Has Tiger Woods set the bar too high for himself?

"I don't know," he responded during a Tuesday afternoon interview session at Congressional CC. "I certainly have won my share of tournaments, but I've lost more than I've won. And that's the nature of our sport."

The truth is, Woods has finished outside the winner's circle in 163 of 230 appearances on the PGA Tour since turning professional in August of 1996. While that equates an all-time best success rate of 29.1 percent (and includes a mark of 2-for-8 so far in 2009), it also means he fails on more than two out of every three occasions -- a statistic often lost on those who expect him to secure the hardware each and every time he tees it up.

For a take on how improbable that theory really is, just ask some of Woods' contemporaries.

"Apparently, he hasn't played too well in any recent majors," said Paul Casey, tongue firmly planted in cheek. "He's finished in the top 10 in nine of his last 10. Are you kidding me? That's phenomenal. I thought I was on a good run, but that's really amazing."

"Well, if that's a slump, I'd like to get in one just like it, you know what I mean?" Boo Weekley said. "Everything falls back to the media, of what their expectation is of him. He's got an expectation, we've got an expectation, and everybody's expectation of him is different. Just because he don't win don't mean there's something wrong. It means he didn't have his A-game that week and somebody else did. We all wouldn't be out here if we wasn't any good."

Even without his A-game -- and maybe the B- or C- versions, too -- Woods has remained on the leaderboard throughout each of the year's first two majors despite having some major flaws in his game at both Augusta National and Bethpage Black.

"The Masters, I didn't hit the ball particularly well, but I hung in there, and just by knowing how to play the golf course, I got around and gave myself a chance, but I wasn't hitting it well enough," he contended. "In all the years that I've won there, I've hit the ball a lot better than that. But understanding how to the play the golf course helps and where to miss it, and I kept missing in the correct spot to give myself a chance. And I did that and I had a realistic chance at it on the back nine.

"But at the U. S. Open, I hit the ball really well and I made nothing. I didn't have my speed right, and I hit a lot of putts that lipped out. … And consequently I didn't win the tournament. Certainly hit the ball well enough to win the golf tournament, but just like all major championships you have to have all the pieces going. You have to hit the ball well, chip well, putt well, think well, and that's the whole idea of majors. … Every single facet of your game is tested and it has to be going well, and just didn't work out."

Every world-class player battles the cyclical effect of the ebbs and flows of the game, and though his highs are often higher and his lows not nearly as low as his peers, Woods is hardly immune to such varied swings.

That is one major reason he is constantly working on his craft, attempting to chase even greater results. And it's the one reason this prohibitive pretournament favorite shouldn't be expected to claim the title every single time he tees it up.

"You know, we do lose a lot of events," Woods said. "But I've won my share, and hopefully I can win a lot more in the future."

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.