The Hank Haney book, “The Big Miss,” comes out this week. In a related note, renowned book reviewer Tiger Woods issued his blurb over 72 holes at Bay Hill:
“Did I read my old swing coach’s book? Eat my dust! – Tiger Woods.
Maybe his review won’t make the back of the paperback version. His performance, however, resonated around the golf globe.
Nobody authors dismissive “Forget you’s” like Tiger Woods. Whether mentally crushing Sergio Garcia or Ernie Els in the early 2000s – two items mentioned by Haney in the detailed, nuanced, instructive portrait of Tiger – or whether stymieing any talk of a permanent Tiger demise with a five-shot win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the lessons of Tiger remain.
If you give Tiger a stage to flex on, eventually he will flex.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence that Tiger chose the week of the Haney book and his last tournament before the Masters to put together the entirety of the Sean Foley golf swing and unveil its ball-controlling glories. Or, more likely, perhaps it was because of those two things – the book and the azaleas – that Tiger was able to summon up “The Package,” as Haney calls it in the book, or “the mystery,” another phrase Haney uses to describe Tiger’s ability to stand tallest at the most important times.
So much of it was familiar: the red shirt, the seventh win at Bay Hill and, perhaps most notably, the shrinking of competitors. Credit to The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee who pointed out that every challenger, whether Jason Dufner (77) or Charlie Wi (76) on Saturday, or Graeme McDowell (74), Ernie Els (75) or Ian Poulter (74) on Sunday, drowned in Tiger’s wake. Tiger went 65-70 on the weekend.
Taking Chamblee’s cue, we are left with a question going forward: Does this mean the intimidation – the Tiger aura, the atmosphere where his presence on the leaderboard means contenders shrivel up – is back?
As a weekly pontificator in this slice of cyberspace, I have often conjectured that Tiger would win again, that he would reclaim No. 1 and that he still had a 50-50 shot at toppling Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record for major championships. My reasoning always included the following: At 36, Tiger remains relatively young; and with perhaps 10 years of great golf in front of him, 40 major opportunities could surely yield five wins, especially given his comfort level at Augusta National.
On the flip side, however, I included the caveat: He may break Jack’s mark, but he will never, ever be Tiger Woods 1.0 (71 wins and 14 majors before age 34) again. A new generation of players, led by Rory McIlroy, would look at Tiger the way young rockers look at Mick Jagger or Bruce Springsteen: with respect, but with knowledge that the graybeards are past their prime.
The Escalade into the hydrant, the loss of image, endorsements and family, and perhaps most important, the disappearance of his putter and the emergence of a chronic knee injury meant fellow competitors would never fear him again as they once did. At least that’s how I saw it.
But something in “The Big Miss” resonated. Haney details Tiger’s lifelong obsession with the golf swing and ball flight, so much so that you forget all the other white noise that surrounds him, including our dime-store psychology that he was damaged goods. Reading the book reminds you that at his core, Tiger Woods is a golfer and won’t stop for early retirement or other interests or to play minor-league baseball. True, his military obsession, particularly after his father’s death, came close to derailing his focus, but Haney’s explicit description of how Tiger’s golf credo is about the chase for greatness that this pursuit of perfection reminds you that every tinker of his swing is a means to that end, droughts be damned. It’s why he’s on his third golf swing and never settled for the Nicklaus “See Jack Grout Once a Year” plan.
Digesting that information and watching him drive the ball around Bay Hill with some of the most definitive authority of his career made me guess that Tiger feels rejuvenated with Foley’s instruction. Haney writes that Tiger would be bored with a “maintenance” plan on his golf swing, that he gets juiced to learn something new – to re-define his swing. Instead of seeing it as a negative – this switching of instructors – Tiger keeps his gas tank full by taking on new things.
And watching that ball flight around Bay Hill? Being ranked No. 1 in the field in total driving? Playing from the fairway almost every hole? A 35-hole streak of greens hit in regulation? Goodness gracious. It was some of the most gorgeous golf Tiger has played since his Haney heyday.
Yes, the putter and the knee remain the biggest questions. But here are more questions:
Can the re-emergence of Tiger break Rory, as it did Sergio and Ernie?
Can the re-emergence of Tiger stifle Phil Mickelson’s recent mastery over Woods?
Can the re-emergence of Tiger surpass all our expectations and restart the greatest comeback in golf since Ben Hogan, post-car accident?
We’re tantalized. The answers will come.