AT&T a natural place for Tiger's continuing next act

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June 27, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

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BETHESDA, Md. -- Much like there came a time in Michael Jordan's career when he couldn't beat his opponents by jumping over them, Tiger Woods can't win golf tournaments by simply bombing it by everyone, or intimidating their games.

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Adaptation. Just like Jordan, LeBron James learned it and the Miami Heat won and NBA Championship because of it.

"I didn't want to play the way I did because it hurt, and it hurt a lot," Woods said. "Was I good at it? Yeah, I was good at it, but I couldn't go down that road, and there's no way I could have had longevity in the game if I would have done that."

Four knee surgeries and five swings later, Woods is on another Act of his career.

"I finally have a swing that doesn't hurt," he said.

Other parts of his game do, however -- most notably his short game, which has admittedly taken a hit while Woods underwent his latest swing change.

But in Jordan before him and LeBron after him, Woods can learn some valuable lessons.

"I think what [LeBron] did in The Finals is just absolutely amazing," Woods said. "He showed every single facet of his game. Things he needed to work on versus last year showed up and were not just -- they didn't show up, but they were dominant."

Now Woods, twice a winner on the PGA TOUR this year but still searching for his first major championship since that memorable 2008 U.S. Open victory on one leg at Torrey Pines, is hopeful he can be again too.

Congressional wouldn't be a bad spot.

Woods won here three years ago, the last time the AT&T National was played at the venerable old track in suburban Washington D.C., and by all accounts the course is playing at least as difficult as it did for last year's U.S. Open.

The Heat had its own share of difficulties as well. Down at one point in three of their four series in the NBA Playoffs, King James & Co., led the team back, sometimes from the brink, which is where Woods' game has looked to be at times.

The missed cut at Quail Hollow, the back-to-back WDs at THE PLAYERS Championship, the near-dead last finish at Firestone, the missed cut at the PGA Championship.

All were low points of varying degrees for Woods, just like LeBron, who never won a ring in Cleveland and whose Heat dropped three straight to the Dallas Mavericks after being up 2-1 in last year's NBA Finals.

Tiger Woods press conference

Prior to the week at Congressional, Tiger Woods meets with the media and talks, the status of his game, and the course conditions.

"It's pretty neat to see somebody who's that talented work on his game and then display it under the most extreme conditions," Woods said of James.

Tiger has seen it before, recalling how Jordan learned a different shot after being unable to beat the Detroit Pistons and its "Jordan Rules."

"He mastered going off his right hand, left shoulder," Woods said of Jordan. "He could fade away either shoulder. To me, it's just amazing to watch player development like that."

Tiger doesn't need to look to other sports. All he has to do is look at the player whose record he's chasing: Jack Nicklaus.

When Nicklaus was approaching 40 years old -- Woods is 36 -- the Golden Bear admitted to having some real short game weaknesses.

Ditto Woods, who has struggled immensely with his wedge play and putting the last few years.

"I did the same thing when I was working with Butch [Harmon] and the same thing when I was working with Hank [Haney]," Woods said. "It's because I was working on my full game."

There is some truth to that with Woods going from 60th in putting in 1997 to 147th the following year and back up to 24th in 1999 when he won the PGA Championship -- though the numbers weren't quite as dramatically decreased in 2003 and 2004.

"Eventually I get to a point where the full game becomes very natural-feeling and I can repeat it day after day, and I can dedicate most of my time to my short game again," Woods said.

Those days may soon be approaching.

Woods is second in driving and ninth in greens in regulation and second in scoring average this year.

"I've been through this before," Woods said. "Certainly this golf course is just a fantastic golf course. It's still a great test."

And one that could provide some answers, too.

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