- The Masters
Surprised by Tiger's meltdown? We shouldn't beAlex Dimond April 7, 2012
Should we really have been surprised by Tiger Woods' 'performance' on Friday?
By the golf he played, that is, not the petulant attitude he displayed. Actually, maybe on both counts. After all, it's hardly like he has not been guilty of both offences in the recent past.
It is perhaps amazing how one or two wins - both at tournaments he knows like the back of his hand - can make people forget or ignore the other, less encouraging signs about the modern state of Woods' game. After all, last time we saw him playing at a major championship - in last year's US PGA up the road in Atlanta - we were left grimacing as he slashed from bunker to bunker on the way to an emphatically missed cut.
It certainly wasn't any old missed cut - Woods ended up 10-over for the 36 holes he was allowed to play. Since then he has won at the Chevron World Challenge (his own tournament, against 17 other players) and the Arnold Palmer Invitational (an event he had previously won six times).
Wins are always good, but they do not always tell the full story.
Woods' performance over the last two days at Augusta National have given us a better idea of where his game really stands at the highest level, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's any easier to properly dissect. He's still quite clearly a great golfer - few people would have made the cut striking the ball like he has been - but by the same token his swing clearly isn't where it needs to be - after all, few other players in the field have been hitting it as erratically as the 14-time major champion.
On Thursday, Woods acknowledged that a number of his shots had the backswing implemented by his new coach Sean Foley, but the through-swing of his old guru (now nemesis) Hank Haney. On Friday there was a sorry turn of events; it suddenly looked like maybe the backswing of Jim Furyk had creeped into the equation.
Two horrible iron shots - from the fairway at the 15th (blocked well right) and the par-three 16th (same result) - were utterly shocking to watch. Woods admitted as much afterwards, while attempting to put a positive spin on a round of 75 that leaves him a seemingly insurmountable job to do over the weekend if he wants to grab a fifth green jacket.
"I squeezed a lot out of that round - I hit some of the worst swings I've ever hit," Woods noted. "I didn't hit it very good at all - and warmed up bad too. I need to go do some work."
Woods' issues should not be a real surprise, however - it seems fairly obvious he is currently in a sort of 'No Man's Land' as far as his golf swing is concerned. In 2011, he arrived at Augusta National still shepherding the ball round with his old 'Haney swing', an action he had neither the faith in nor the physical condition to execute properly. He got into contention early in the final round through sheer force of will (the eagle at the eighth was a glimpse at the unstoppable Tiger of old), but ultimately those flaws saw him fade from view with some haste.
A year on, 2012 Tiger has a new swing - courtesy of new confidante Foley - that he still doesn't entirely trust. The action takes the strain off his unreliable legs (at least, as much is possible) but only adds to the strain on his mind as he addresses the ball. By all accounts he absolutely stripes the ball while on the range (Friday excluded, it would seem); but tournament pressure is something altogether harder to deal with.
That's why we've seen a Frankenstein's monster of a performance over the closing stages on Friday. For so long wrestling between the new groove ordered by Foley and the familiar 'bad' habits of the Haney era, Woods lost control entirely - and it cost him.
That is forgivable, of course - but what is not forgivable is that he also lost his cool at the same time. After his second block in succession at the 16th, a shot - in the minds of some, if not all - that confirmed he was going to give him too much to do over the weekend (particularly with Rory McIlroy looking so ominous), Woods dropped his club and then proceeded to kick it away from the tee box.
It was the petulant act of an immature man, or possibly the immature act of a premature man. Either way, it spoke to a basic lack of grace.
World No. 1 Luke Donald may have been visibly fuming as he saw his lofty ambitions limited to simply making the cut after another poor start to his round, but the Englishman never allowed those feelings to escape his face and ignite a physical reaction. Woods, in contrast, had unleashed a string of expletives and 'Goddamn Tiger!' cries at shots long before his meltdown at the 16th.
"I think we can officially say Tiger has lost his game ... and his mind," Sir Nick Faldo, commentating on American television, noted as his tee shot floated off towards the right-hand bunker at 16 - and it was hard to disagree.
This is not to write off Woods' chances completely - maybe just for this week, not the rest of all eternity. A poor performance at the Masters is not a death sentence for Tiger Woods the golfer. When his swing changes have fully bedded in and he completely trusts his new rhythm, then he simply has too much golfing nous and hunger to win to be kept too far from the leaderboard.
The 2013 Tiger, injury permitting, should be a formidable beast.
For Tiger Woods the character, however? Well, we've probably known for a while that there's unlikely to be any salvation in that department.