Commentary

What's wrong with Tiger Woods' game?

Updated: March 9, 2011, 5:44 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

DORAL, Fla. -- The Blue Monster has been anything but scary to Tiger Woods over the years, another in a long line of golf courses where he has dominated. Three victories at Doral and never out of the top 10 neatly sums up his success.

Such history at a particular venue all but meant you could pencil in another high finish, perhaps even a victory, when Woods returned.

Of course such history has been unkind to Woods over the past year, from St. Andrews to Firestone to Cog Hill to Torrey Pines. The past means very little these days as Woods tries to regain the form that saw him rule the game for so many years.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Stan Badz/Getty ImagesTiger Woods has not won on the PGA Tour since the BMW Championship in September, 2009. He'll try to end that streak this week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

Another opportunity awaits this week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, where Woods will play just his fourth tournament of the year, the last a one-and-done 19-hole defeat to Thomas Bjorn at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship two weeks ago.

That early exit naturally brought out the alarmists, and certainly there is concern that Woods has had so much difficulty this season, having yet to post a top-10 finish or even put more than two good rounds together.

"He really spoiled us to a crazy level of golf with years and years of playing like that," said Sean Foley, who is overseeing the third major overhaul of Woods' swing in his career. "You hit a rut, like anyone else, and it takes a while to get out.

"The panic button gets hit more by the media and their perception of whatever is happening than anyone else who is living with the truth and being part of the situation."

Foley has been working with Woods since last summer's PGA Championship and is learning what it is like to be part of the glare that comes with the world's most famous golfer.

Woods' swing has been dissected, analyzed, scrutinized, picked apart, put back together.

Among the comments: Woods should have never left Butch Harmon or he should go back to him. He won in spite of Hank Haney or he produced some of the best golf of his career. The issues in his personal life were more to overcome than expected, or they should have been put in the rearview mirror by now.

To the notion that Woods should have never tinkered with the swings that brought him so much success, the man whose records he is chasing gave an endorsement to such tinkering.

"I made changes constantly in my swing," said Jack Nicklaus, 71, whose 18 career majors remain the standard that Woods seeks. "That's how you get better. If you don't make changes, you don't improve, I don't care who you are, because your body continually changes.

"He's got a beautiful golf swing. He's always had a beautiful golf swing. But you always continually tweak things that you do within that golf swing to try to improve. Sometimes you're successful and sometimes you're not."

Woods has found success making changes in the past -- and endured some lean times in the process. He won just once in 1998 while re-working his swing under Harmon, then won seven of 11 majors starting with the 1999 PGA Championship.

After leaving Harmon at the end of 2002 and later hooking up with Haney, Woods won just once in 2004 but captured six major titles between 2005 and 2009 with 31 PGA Tour victories and a whopping 56 top-10 finishes in 75 starts.

But Woods had just two top-10s on the PGA Tour last year, and other than a playoff loss at the unofficial Chevron World Challenge in December, has not been a back-nine contender at any tournament since the U.S. Open.

"Tiger's swing looks much different than it did with either Butch or myself," Haney said. "He was successful with both of those two swings and we will see if he can be successful with this new swing. Just because the swing he is using now is different, I don't believe that makes it right or wrong. Just different."

The golf swing is a technical deal, which helps explain why there are no easy fixes.

Haney has often been criticized despite a record that suggests nothing but happy times with Woods. When asked if the changes Woods is making are subtle, Haney said:

"I felt the changes that I suggested to Tiger's swing from what he did with Butch were in my mind subtle changes and as a result it took Tiger just three tournaments to start finishing in the top 10 with regularity. The current changes ... Tiger is making seem quite significant to me."

So does that mean this change requires time?

"There is no telling how long a swing change takes," Haney said. "Certainly the more drastic the changes the longer you would expect the change to take. Early on they said Tiger was making the swing changes much quicker than in the past. Now we keep hearing about how he needs more reps.

"What is confusing is that [Woods' friend] John Cook said Tiger felt like he didn't need to hit a lot of balls. So it sounds like the reps they believe must need to come from playing tournaments, yet he isn't playing more tournaments. Since that is the case, it seems like it may take longer to grasp the changes."

Woods appears set on his usual schedule. He'll likely play the Arnold Palmer Invitational in two weeks, his last preparation for the Masters. Asked why he doesn't play more, Woods said Wednesday: "Because I have a family. I'm divorced. If you've been divorced with kids, then you would understand."

Given the state of his game, perhaps more tournaments is not the answer anyway. Woods has always preferred practice away from the spotlight as opposed to putting his game on display -- especially now that he is struggling.

"When I went through a bad patch, it was a juggling act whether to stay and practice and work on your game," said Lee Westwood, who overtook Woods last fall for the No. 1 ranking and is now ranked second behind Martin Kaymer. "You get more done, or go out and risk maybe not playing well and taking another confidence knock.

"It's very, very much in situations like that up to the individual. Tiger has got to do what he feels is right, [not] what everybody else feels is right and what maybe suits everybody else."

Woods played nine-hole practice rounds at Doral on Tuesday and Wednesday and again talked about the struggle of reverting to old habits, the difficulty of bringing his game from the driving range to the course, the "process" that he is undergoing.

Foley seems content to take the patient route, even as the never-ending scrutiny of Woods' game endures.

"I'm the one who stands there and sees the quality on the range at Isleworth," Foley said. "And then you go on the golf course. You just have to understand at some point, those two have to merge."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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