Sigh Of The Tiger For Tiger Woods, whose rapid ascension left him nowhere to go but down, these are the bad old days. Can he get his game back in time for the U.S. Open?

May 23, 2004

As tiger woods has slashed and hacked his way through this year's
PGA Tour schedule, he's heard more and more of the dreaded
s-word: slump. By his own impossibly high standards Woods has
been slumping since 2000, when at age 24 he won nine tournaments,
including three majors, in what is widely considered to be the
greatest season in golf history. He is still ranked No. 1 in the
world, as he has been for each of the past 253 weeks, and he's
third on the money list. The notion of his being in a slump is so
preposterous that it has obscured an unavoidable truth: He really
is in a slump, and it's getting worse by the week.

Once an overwhelming combination of power and precision, Woods
has sunk to 159th in driving accuracy and 68th in greens in
regulation. He hasn't won a stroke play tournament all year.
While making what he calls "minor adjustments" to his swing,
Woods has basically been reduced to slapping the ball around and
eking out a number with guts and a spectacular short game. He
has, in other words, turned into a flashier version of Brad

There was a time when all Woods had to do was put his name on the
leader board and everybody else's collar got tight: Coming into
this year he had converted 18 consecutive 36-hole leads into
victories. But in each of the past two weeks he's blown
Friday-evening leads. This isn't exactly ideal preparation for
next month's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, which is suddenly
being spoken of as one of the most important tournaments Woods
will ever play. The Open will mark the two-year anniversary of
his last win in a major championship. Not coincidentally, the
summer of 2002 was when Woods parted ways with Butch Harmon, his
celebrated swing instructor. As Woods's struggles have
intensified, the Greek chorus has called for him to swallow his
considerable pride and go back to "Butchie," who fussed over his
client's every twitch as Woods won eight professional majors and
three U.S. Amateurs. But Harmon's brother, Bill, has observed
that Butch and Tiger are trying to "outstubborn" each other,
leaving no end in sight to their stalemate.

Over the last couple of years, Woods has increasingly relied on
his friend Mark O'Meara for input, with help from O'Meara's
instructor Hank Haney. Woods and Haney have both played down
their relationship, but the week before the Masters they worked
together on the range at Woods's home course in Orlando. Last
week Haney walked a practice round with Woods and O'Meara, and
afterward a tight-lipped Woods allowed that he had asked for
Haney's counsel on his takeaway.

O'Meara and Haney have very different ideas from Harmon on how to
swing the club, and it has become clear that Woods has failed to
synthesize these clashing ideologies. His deteriorating technique
is most apparent in his driving. In his last two tournaments
Woods has hit just 42% of his fairways. If his driving is that
wild at Shinnecock Hills, which presents one of the most exacting
tests in championship golf, Woods can forget about keeping his
streak of making 123 consecutive cuts alive, let alone winning.
He'll be lucky to break 80.

Woods has relentlessly worked on his game since he was in
diapers, and he will continue to chase his old form, even as it
seems increasingly unattainable. Says O'Meara, "The way he looks
at it, you're either getting better or getting worse. And if
you're getting worse, you've gotta figure out a way to get it
going in the other direction." Woods expressed a rare
vulnerability last week when talking about trying to trust his
swing changes. "You can hit things on the range," he said, "but
when you've got water left, water right, bunkers, the wind is
blowing, you've got to hit the ball into a tight spot, yeah, it
makes it a little more stressful." The one good thing about Woods
being repeatedly beaten up by the game is that this most
imperious of competitors has never seemed more human.
--Alan Shipnuck


"Iverson wrote me, 'I was disappointed you didn't ask about arms
control.'" --TIM RUSSERT Q&A, PAGE 24

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)