Rough Going What's wrong with Tiger Woods? There are no easy answers, but almost everyone you talk to has a theory

August 26, 2001

Tiger Woods is slumping. Don't argue; we've got photographic
proof. In one picture, taken at the U.S. Open in June, his right
shoulder is a centimeter or so lower than his left. In another
picture, snapped at the British Open in July, his spine is
clearly bowed a degree or two to the right. That's not a slump?
As for last week's PGA Championship, in which Woods finished
29th and failed to successfully defend a major title for the
third time in as many months--well, when the prints come back
from Walgreens, we expect them to show that Tiger's sternum is a
tad closer to his coccyx than it was last year.

To give proper credit, this explanation for Woods's recent
substandard play comes from Bob Prichard, director of Somax
Posture and Sports of Corte Madera, Calif. Prichard says that
Woods has overused his right stomach muscles, leading to the
formation of inflexible microfibers between his obliques. "As a
result," Prichard states, "he now pulls his head down during his
downswing [and] opens the club face slightly at impact, pushing
the ball." This problem, Prichard concludes, "cannot be resolved
by concentration, instruction or practice." No, Tiger needs a
$300-an-hour Somax massage to release his microfibers.

Sounds squirrelly, but some of Woods's swings at the PGA did
resemble a Halloweener bobbing for apples, and he did launch a
lot of tee balls to the right--when he wasn't yanking them to the
left. After a first-round 73 that included three three-putt
greens and two double bogeys, Woods used the word mistake seven
times, as in, "I need to eliminate a few little swing mistakes."
Trouble is, there's nothing little about a mistake when your
clubhead travels 125 mph, as Tiger's does. He had to scramble on
Friday to avoid missing a 36-hole cut for only the second time in
his pro career, and when he finished on Sunday, Woods resembled a
bottle of Chateau Petrus '92. Great wine, dodgy vintage.

Let's not argue about that, either. This year has been a
disappointment for Woods. During a 12-week stretch of brilliance,
he won the Masters, three other Tour events and a European
tournament, but he has had to get by for the rest of the year
with his C game. His best finish of the summer has been a 12th at
the U.S. Open, which he opened with a four-over 74.

The pattern of bad first rounds has persisted: 75 at the Buick
Classic, 73 at the Western Open, 71 at the British Open, 73 in
Atlanta. Statistically, Woods is a shadow of the player who
dominated most Tour categories in 2000. As of Aug. 13 he was
111th in driving accuracy, 62nd in putting average, 83rd in
putts per round and 99th in sand saves. Curiously, when asked
last week if he was struggling in any particular area, Woods
said, "No, I'm very happy with all facets of my game." He
obviously wants to discourage microanalysis of his troubles, not
wanting to dwell on the details. So let's dwell on them for him.
The most popular explanations for Woods's summer slide, in no
particular order, are:

He's burnt out. "He didn't want much of an entourage with him
this week," said a source close to the Woods camp. "Tiger wanted
his space." Woods lent weight to the burnout theory when he
skipped the Buick Open, the week before the PGA, to rest and
decompress at his home in Orlando. "Didn't touch a club for a
while," Woods said, "and it was nice just kind of not doing
much."

He sold out. When he signed a multimillion-dollar endorsement
contract with the Walt Disney Company in June, Woods agreed to
play in The Skins Game and an undisclosed number of other
made-for-TV trifles. That's on top of his dealings with American
Express, Buick, Nike, Titleist and eight other companies, not to
mention the execrable Battle at Bighorn.

Cherchez la femme. Rumors continue to circulate that Tiger has
the hots for supermodel and pro volleyball star Gabrielle Reece.
The Woods camp denies the rumors and claims that he merely gave
her swing tips at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Las Vegas,
where Reece is training for a try at the LPGA tour.

He is physically impaired. The tired-obliques theory follows
months of speculation that Woods has played with a strained right
Achilles tendon. In one version of the story Woods injured the
Achilles the week before the U.S. Open while walking barefoot
through a mountain stream in Alaska.

He has altered his swing. Some sharp-eyed observers claim Woods
has slightly strengthened his grip by changing the position of
his right thumb. Others say he is swinging the club back more to
the outside than he did in 2000 and cupping his left wrist at
the top of his backswing. "All players tinker with their
swings," says Harmon. Woods won three majors, six other Tour
events and more than $9 million with last year's swing. Why
change?

Any or all of these theories might explain why Woods was
ineffectual in January, unbeatable in March and ineffectual again
come June. Then again, they may be bunk. The injury hypothesis is
refuted by the fact that Woods has walked limp-free all year and
doesn't wince when he slugs the ball out of deep rough. His
failure to tune up for the PGA invites scrutiny, but he did the
same thing in 1999 and won. Business distractions? Making deals
didn't stop Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer, who won majors when
their briefcases were bulging.

That leaves love or his swing to blame, and until someone can
demonstrate that heartache leads to an open club face, you have
to think the problem is Tiger's technique. "His posture and
balance are a little off, and his swing plane is too steep," says
David Leadbetter Golf Academy staff pro Brian Mogg, who watched
Woods practice in Atlanta. "When a swing gets too upright and you
clear the hips too early, you're going to lose it right."

It's that simple? Probably. Woods's swing is the most powerful
and efficient in the history of the game, but it kept slipping
off plane in Atlanta. It was only through astute course
management and exceptional concentration that Woods shot 73
instead of 80 on Thursday. His second-round 67 was even more
remarkable. He couldn't find a fairway at the start, but pride
kept him going, and he made long birdie putts on 15 and 16 to
extend his streak of survived cuts to 74, the fourth-longest run
in Tour history. (The record is 113, by Byron Nelson.)

The weekend was a trial for Woods. He Jekyll-and-Hyded it with
the dawn patrol on Saturday, holing a fairway shot for an eagle
at the 9th and clawing to three under for the tournament only to
give it back with bogeys on the last two holes. On Sunday he made
two bogeys and two birdies, finished at one-under 279 and tried
to shrug off the feeling that he has spent the summer
surrendering trophies. "I just didn't have the feel of the greens
today," he said.

None of this alarmed veteran Woods watchers, who know that
Tiger's A game returns with the suddenness of a summer storm.
Neither the alignment of his spine nor the alignment of the stars
will keep Tiger Woods mired in mediocrity for long. The world's
best golfer will find his swing. He will reassert his command of
the game. He will kick ass. To argue otherwise is mere
posturing.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY SIMON BRUTY COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH Cut below Woods's string of consecutive cuts almost ended at 74.

The injury hypothesis is refuted by the fact that Woods walks
limp-free and doesn't wince when he slugs the ball out of deep
rough.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)