Commentary

Tiger Woods struggling with confidence

Originally Published: August 10, 2010
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- Early in his career, when he spoke a bit more boldly and feared not the consequences, Tiger Woods would rankle a few of his colleagues by suggesting he won despite not having his best stuff.

He called it his C-game, and the implication was, of course, that Woods was beating up on his peers -- and knew it -- with plenty of room for improvement.

Confidence has never been in short supply for Woods, going all the way back to his teenage years. He has dominated the game at every level, winning junior, amateur, college and professional events with ease and regularity.

[+] EnlargeWoods
Stuart Franklin/Getty ImagesThe last time Tiger Woods played in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits back in 2004, he tied for 24th.

Even when Woods suffered through his rough patches, he likely was just a putt, a drive, a round, a tournament away from righting all that was wrong. That was always his mindset.

Could that even remotely be the case today?

Woods is coming off his worst performance as a pro and has admitted that the circumstances surrounding his personal life have filtered into his golf game.

He looked lost at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, and doesn't figure to suddenly find himself here at Whistling Straits, a stout major championship venue that is unlikely to be any kinder than Firestone Country Club last week.

Woods, as great as he has been and as well as he has been able to overcome adversity, is in a place where not all the golf-related thoughts are positive and glowing.

"We've all been through periods. … I've been through periods where I've hit it bad. And, yeah, is your confidence not where it needs to be? Of course," Woods said Tuesday during a news conference at the PGA Championship. "I've been there. We've all been there."

But Woods typically hasn't been where everybody else has been. And that, ultimately, is an excellent reminder of how we have taken his game for granted, how we hold him to a different standard.

Think about the fact that last week Woods had his worst 72-hole tournament as a pro since his first one back in 1996. When Woods said, "Hello, world," at the Greater Milwaukee Open to considerable fanfare, he went out and tied for 60th.

Not until Sunday did he finish so poorly again in a 72-hole event. (He was 67th at the weather-shortened 1997 Memorial.) He has missed just six cuts in 14 years.

Really, when you step back, it is probably more amazing that there have not been more weeks along the way like the one in Akron.

In the past five years including this one, Phil Mickelson has missed 11 cuts -- nearly double what Woods has missed in his career. Eight times, Mickelson has finished 50th or worse in 72-hole tournaments.

The point is not to pick on Mickelson -- who has been ranked second in the world for more weeks than any other player -- but to simply give some perspective of Woods' greatness.

Certainly there is good reason to be concerned about Woods' game. Last year he won seven times around the world and captured the FedEx Cup. There was no reason to think his torrid winning pace would cease.

Bouncing back from his personal issues has been more difficult than most expected. The belief was that the golf course would be his sanctuary, that getting between the ropes would produce his legendary focus and resolve.

But Woods, if anything, has regressed.

He is outside the top 100 in scoring average, driving accuracy, greens in regulation and putts per round. He is 85th on the PGA Tour money list -- behind U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, who is 50 years old -- and 119th in FedEx Cup points, which means he is not even a lock for the first playoff event, which takes only the top 125.

"It happens to the best of them," Mickelson said. "We're not used to seeing it happen to him, but it does happen to the best players. It happened to [Jack] Nicklaus over his career. It happened to [Sam] Snead and [Ben] Hogan and all the greats."

It just had never happened to Woods -- not to this extent -- until this year.

"To be honest with you, I thought I would have been here [struggling] a little bit sooner, with all that's going on," he said. "But somehow I've been able to play a little bit better than I thought for a stretch, and then it finally caught up with me last week."

Now what? Predicting when or whether Woods will bounce back has proved fruitless. We all expected the greatness to return at Pebble Beach or St. Andrews. Surely it would come back at Firestone, where he had never finished worse than fifth.

Didn't happen.

Here? Woods tied for 24th in 2004, a year he won just once and was struggling through swing changes that would pay great dividends over the next five years.

On Tuesday, Woods acknowledged that he asked Orlando, Fla.-based swing coach Sean Foley to look at his swing on video. Woods also has talked to a few other undisclosed teachers. He has been seen in practice rounds working on keeping his head still, a common issue throughout his career.

It has been only a few days since the worst professional performance of his career. Expecting much this week is a big ask. But Woods seemed upbeat, not defeated, certainly not as down as he was Sunday.

Call him cautiously confident.

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

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com