Blog Entry

Haney as confused about Tiger as we are

Posted on: March 1, 2011 4:50 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- You are not alone.

Like most everybody, even some prominent former members of the Tiger Woods camp are perplexed about the state of the fallen world No. 1's game.

If not about its direction.

In fact, Hank Haney, Woods' swing coach for six dominant years, is posing the same queries that the rest of us are asking. A sampling of quick-n-easy ones spring to mind.

Where is he and why isn't he playing? What's the deal with the swing changes? What's taking so long to post decent results?

They sound all-too familiar.

"It's hard to micro-analyze golf," Haney said. "You can’t make too much of match play last week because it's one round and Torrey Pines was one tournament. I don't know if there has been enough of a sample size. Maybe he just needs to play more."

But, of course, he hasn’t.

It's already March, yet Woods has logged nine live rounds as the tour heads to the Honda Classic and kicks off the Florida Swing, the traditional gateway to the Masters, which begins April 7.

Sure, empires have been built in five weeks. Empires have crumbled in the same span. Haney, watching from afar like the rest of us after severing ties with Woods last May, is scratching his head just as often, too, as Woods sends forth obtuse messages that have caused more confusion than clarity. He is expected to play this month at Doral and Bay Hill, where he can log eight more rounds before the Masters.

Like others, Haney doesn’t understand why Woods keeps explaining that he needs more time and repetitions, yet hasn’t added any stars. After getting bounced in the first round of the Accenture Match Play last week, Woods didn’t play this week, citing unspecified commitments. He's never played at Tampa's Transitions Championship, either, and rarely deviates from his list of annual tournament favorites.

Thus, as time keeps ticking away, so does his stature on the global pegboard. Woods this week dropped to fifth in the world ranking, his lowest position since the week before he won the 1997 Masters, the first of his 14 major championship titles.

If you think his new swing looks foreign, so does his movement in the ranking -- backwards.

Two weeks ago, after reading reports that longtime confidant John Cook said that Woods had suddenly solved his offseason swing issues, Haney recalled a similar moment in their time together and predicted that Woods would win. Then he watched as Woods washed out in the Tucson desert, losing in 19 holes to underdog Thomas Bjorn.

"I get confused when I listen to everything, because everything seems contradictory," Haney said. "He says he needs more reps, but he doesn’t play any more? John Cook said he doesn’t really need to hit a lot of balls anymore, he just needs to play. But I thought he just needed more reps? More reps, but you don’t need to practice? What is it?"

What it isn't is pretty. Woods hasn't posted a win on the PGA Tour in 17 months and hasn’t mustered an official top 10 on American soil since the U.S. Open last June. He again skipped the Honda, played two hours from his Orlando home. If there's one thing we have learned over the course of Woods' 15 years as a pro, is that he views stubbornness as an attribute.  He's not going to add tournaments just because nearly everybody thinks that's what is best.

Note that we said nearly. Lee Westwood, who supplanted Woods as world No. 1 exactly 18 weeks ago, said playing more often might not work to Woods'  advantage at the moment. Westwood ought to know, having endured a slump several years ago in which he dropped out of the top 200.

"When I went through my bad patch, it was a juggling act to stay at home and practice and work on your game, or go out and play and risk maybe not playing well and taking another confidence knock," said Westwood, now No. 2 in the rankings. "It's very much, in situations like that, up to the individual.

"So Tiger has to do what he feels is right and not what everybody else feels is right, not what suits everybody else."

Forget suits, we might need straitjackets. Moreover, Woods himself might not know what's best at the moment. Given their time together, Haney wonders why it's taking so long for Woods to play at a level close to where he performed previously.

"The notion that it should take time, or should take a lot of time, I don’t really buy into the theory," said Haney, also a former analyst for ESPN and ABC Sports. "Once again, it's been contradictory. I thought things were coming along faster."

Who didn’t? Woods finished fourth against a thin field at the Australian Masters and was second in the short-field Chevron World Challenge last fall, but has been struggling to string together two good rounds since. Along the way, Woods pointed out that it took two years for swing changes ingrained under Butch Harmon to take hold, and 1 1/2 years for his work with Haney to congeal.

Not exactly true, Haney said. The longest that Woods went without recording a PGA Tour top 10 in their time together, which began during the Florida Swing in 2004, was three weeks -- their first three starts as teacher and client.

"That's what he says, but that's not what the record says," Haney said. "Maybe he is referring to how long it took to be confident or comfortable. There is no telling."

Woods is clearly grinding to find a sustainable rhythm on the course, if not some old magic. He took a half-dozen practice swings with a 3-wood on his extra hole against Bjorn last week at match play, then hit his tee shot so far into the desert, it took an aerial shot from the blimp to find it.

Interestingly, new swing coach Sean Foley's other high-profile clients, including Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan, aren't implementing the same moves into their swings and have shown improvement over the past couple of years. Woods, still in an awkward stage, looks like a high-dollar guinea pig of sorts.
"It does look different from them, definitely," Haney said. "Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan have very good-looking, classic swings. Tiger looks like he is trying to do something totally different from what they are doing, so it's confusing.

"Maybe it just needs more time. Not to defend myself, but I started in the middle of the year. He had a whole offseason here. Tiger never lost at Torrey Pines when I was helping him, so I was surprised he didn’t come out of the gate stronger, with a whole offseason to practice and being on arguably his favorite or most successful course. But it's just one tournament."

To be fair, unlike with Foley, Haney never had to deal with any of the residual blowback from Woods' personal issues, the impact of which can't possibly be measured by anyone not named Eldrick Tont Woods.

No longer in the Woods inner sanctum, Haney has kept pretty busy since he initiated the breakup  last May. The final episode of this season's Haney Project on the Golf Channel, with Rush Limbaugh as the high-profile pupil, is airing this week.

"He turned out to be a great student," Haney said of the talk-radio star. "For as big a talker as he is, he's a better listener. He is a great, great listener."

It's unclear what messages Woods is receiving, much less choosing to hear or ignore. Haney made it clear that he is pulling for his former pupil to get his act together and confident that it will happen eventually. It's the vague, eventual part that has Haney's eyebrows raised, just like the rest of us.

"Of course I want to see him do well, I want to see him figure it out," Haney said. "He is great for golf, and golf was better when he was playing great. He is somebody who has so much talent, it's hard to imagine him not playing good.

"I am sure he will right the ship -- he's just too good," Haney said. "Every time I watch him and he doesn’t win, it surprises me."

Talk about a paradox.

It's been 16 months since Woods' spiral first began. These days, the shock and awe, even on the course, no longer are reserved for when Woods is winning.

Category: Golf

Since: Dec 29, 2010
Posted on: March 1, 2011 6:02 pm

Haney as confused about Tiger as we are

To be fair, Haney and Harmon never criticized the former coach and philosophy, never blamed the injuries on the former coach's techniques, and never made bold predictions how things would turn around "sooner than later".  

Since: Apr 28, 2009
Posted on: March 1, 2011 5:42 pm

Haney as confused about Tiger as we are

This all goes back to one thing. No, not that.  Ever since he lost the lead in the final round of the 2009 PGA Championship, he has not had the same level of confidence in his game. All the other stuff should be ignored forever.

Since: Nov 29, 2006
Posted on: March 1, 2011 5:23 pm

Haney as confused about Tiger as we are

Why keep writing this stuff? Why not treat him the same as everyone else on the PGA Tour, and write about him only when his performance merits it. There is a huge contingent of golf fans that are quite satisfied with the excitement in golf right now. Never has it been more wide open, and never has there been so much fresh, young, talent on the rise. Why not join in reality, and celebrate this exciting time with the rest of us. Write about those who are playing well, and those that are currently relevant, instead of a constant post mortem on what used to be. The world moves on, and the sun conitunies to rise every day.

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