It’s difficult to get away from the Tiger Woods, no matter what else is going on in planet golf. The biggest stories on the weekend were 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott winning the Australian PGA Championship–a home game and a big one for him–and France’s Victor Dubuisson winning the Turkish Airlines Open. That’s the 23-year-old’s first European Tour victory, and it was a big accomplishment for this former #1 ranked amateur in the world.
Then there’s Woods, who continues to offer up a bewildering game allied to a powerful will. He had problems with his driver in Turkey; he’s been having trouble getting the ball in play with the driver for a long time now, especially when it matters. Still, he did tie for third in a tournament where he received a reported $2.75-million appearance fee. Woods shot 70-63-68-67 to finish four shots behind Dubuisson, who closed with three birdies in the last four holes to win.
Woods’ problems with his driver express one of the fundamental truths of the game: Just because you know what you need to do doesn’t mean you can do it. The swing doesn’t always follow the picture in the mind’s eye. I’m not sure what this says about the positive visualization that sports psychologists and mental coaches trumpet, but it does suggest that good pictures and feelings don’t always lead to good swings.
“I know what I’m doing wrong,” Woods told Golf Channel after the last round at the Antalya Montgomerie Maxx Royal course in Belek. “It’s just a matter of stop doing it.”
(As an aside, how’s that for a mouthful of a name for a course? Colin Montgomerie designed it. Can you imagine saying to your buddies, “Let’s have a game at the Antalya Montgomerie Maxx Royal?” Don Valley (in Toronto), Pinehurst #2, or Fraserview (in Vancouver) roll off the tongue without marketing molasses sticking there. But that’s another story.)
As for Woods, he knows exactly what he wants to do with that pesky driver, but he can’t do it. He did shoot 20-under-par in Turkey, which makes you wonder what he’d have shot had he found more fairways. He got within two shots of Dubuisson’s lead on Sunday after making birdies on the 15th, 16th, and 17th holes, and knew he needed to make an eagle on the par-five last hole to have any chance getting into a playoff.
As it turned out, an eagle wouldn’t have been enough because of the way Dubuisson took command at the end. Still, Woods couldn’t do what he wanted to do on that 18th tee. He couldn’t put his driver in play and have a chance to reach the green. Woods parred the hole, and that was that.
Still, it was something to see what he could do even without coming up with the goods when he had a driver in his hands. He smashed his right hand against a tree on his second shot after missing the fairway on the par-five 11th in the third round. That led to a birdie. It did, yes, it did.
Then there was the way he played the last hole on Saturday. He hit his drive miles left, so out of play, or so he thought, that he hit a provisional drive. But his first shot had finished in a place from where he could get at it with an eight-iron. He whacked that shot back in play, hit a sand wedge on the green and holed a 20-foot birdie putt. Come on, I thought. But the birdie did demonstrate Woods’s will.
The way he played the hole, however, also showed he just isn’t in control of his driver. To me, his errant driver is the main reason Woods hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. But he did win five PGA Tour events this year, or was that last year, given the new and confusing 2013/14 wraparound season?
Now, I wouldn’t say that Woods has what’s termed the “full swing yips.” He can hit irons all over the flag. We mostly think of the yips when the dreaded malady afflicts a golfer when chipping or putting. But golfers, even the best, get the yips with the driver as well. Henrik Stenson, the recent FedEx Cup champion, had them. Mike Weir has had the driver yips. Ian Baker-Finch suffered from the driver yips, and there went the 1991 Open Championship winner’s career.
Woods finds enough fairways to compete, contend, and win tournaments. The 2013 PGA Tour player of the year demonstrated that in his five wins. But it’s also true that he hasn’t been able to put the driver in play when he really needs to do that.
Conclusion: Woods remains the best player in the world, although he’s there without an effective driver. He did win those five times. He does deserve being awarded Player of the Year honours. But he’s fighting his driver.
Something has gotten into his head about the club. Until Woods works that out, until he does on the course what he says he knows he needs to do, he’ll probably struggle when it comes to winning the majors, those tournaments that are the most important to him. I’m already looking forward to the Masters in April. What will Woods do, especially with the driver?
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein