Chapter 5: New swing coach
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During a 16-month drought in stroke-play events, Tiger brings in Hank Haney to help him get back on the winning track
Written by Jim McCabe @PGATOUR
Mere mortals that we are, we aren’t privy to what goes on inside an immortal’s mind, and so why ask why Tiger Woods would break up his relationship with swing coach Butch Harmon, as he did in late 2002. There had been a parade of wins, four straight majors at one point, and a seemingly unbeatable team had been formed, so why?
Oops, we agreed to not ask why, remember? Instead, it was better to take Woods at his words, that he was making the move to “get better,” that it was always about getting better.
The five wins in 2003 seemed to give fuel to the argument that Woods would be fine, but after another triumph at the World Golf Championship-American Express Championship in October of that year, the unthinkable happened. Woods hit a bit of a dry patch, even after announcing in March of 2004 that he had agreed to work with veteran swing coach Hank Haney. That year, he produced just one victory, a WGC-Accenture Match Play title, his worst season since 1998.
But Woods never has employed a panic mode. He only punches the reset button and so after begrudgingly seeing his stretch of 264 weeks at No. 1 come to an end in August of 2004, Woods remained steadfast in his commitment and soon parlayed Haney’s changes with his impeccable doggedness to put together what some would argue would be his most dominating period of golf.
Win No. 41: Jan. 23, 2005 – Buick Invitational
Tiger Woods wins 2005 Buick Invitational
When a 31-hole Sunday marathon concluded, Tom Lehman shook his head in disbelief. “He whipped the field playing lousy. I give hm credit,” Lehman said of Woods’ three-stroke victory.
Charles Howell III and Luke Donald, who shared second with Lehman, probably would have agreed and Woods did not dispute any of them. He had hit a handful of terrible shots, but the satisfaction of ending his longest winless drought on the PGA TOUR (16 months, 21 stroke-play tournaments) overshadowed it all.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been that long to win on TOUR,” said Woods, who hadn’t prevailed in a stroke-play event since October of 2003.
By the Numbers: Tiger was 12-under par through his first two rounds tying his lowest opening 36-holes at Torrey Pines. When 8-under or better through two rounds at Torrey he has never lost the event.
Win No. 42: March 6, 2005 – Ford Championship at Doral
Tiger Woods wins 2005 Ford Championship at Doral
“I loved it when he made that eagle,” said Phil Mickelson, who had folks scratching their heads. Why would Woods’ epic three-shot play of the 603-yard, par-5 12th hole leave Phil smiling? “Because I want a chance to compete against him at his best.”
Well, Lefty got vintage Woods head-to-head, unfortunately for him albeit much to the delight of a crowd that was capped at 35,000.
“It was electric. I can’t speak for Phil, but I was nervous out there,” said Woods in the aftermath of a closing 66 that made up a two-stroke deficit on Mickelson, who shot 69 and lost by a stroke.
“If you’re not nervous, you’re not alive.”
By the Numbers: Tiger finished at 25-under marking his lowest score to par in a four round event on the PGA TOUR.
Win No. 43: April 10, 2005 – Masters
“In your life, have you ever seen anything like that?”
Verne Lundquist’s iconic reaction to what might be Woods’ most incredible shot – the delicate chip-in from behind the green at the par-3 16th – could be answered with just one word. “No.”
Leading Chris DiMarco by one on a day that would involve 11 hours of golf and 28 holes, due to Saturday weather woes that forced extra play Sunday morning, Woods was in trouble. DiMarco had an 8-foot putt for birdie, while Woods had a near-impossible chip shot, so a two-shot swing was probable.
Then came something improbable.
“All of a sudden, it looked pretty good. All of a sudden, it looked really good. Then it looked like, ‘How could it not go in?’ ” Woods said. His golf ball hung on the lip for what seemed forever, then, incredibly, it fell in for birdie.
Often forgotten is that Woods finished with bogeys at 17 and 18, but the fact that he won the playoff and put on his fourth green jacket was still a cause for disbelief with DiMarco.
“I went out and shot 68 around here on Sunday ... and 12 under is usually good enough to win,” he said. “It’s just that I was playing against Tiger Woods.”
By the Numbers: Tiger opened with a 74, the only time he has started with a 74 and gone on to win.
Win No. 44: July 17, 2005 – The Open Championship
For a third time, Woods went wire-to-wire in winning a major championship, starting 66-67 to build a four-stroke lead and pretty much deflate the competition. His second Claret Jug at The Old Course meant he had become the first player under the age of 30 to win each of golf’s four majors twice – a double career Grand Slam, if you will.
As another notable major-winner, Jack Nicklaus, crossed paths with Woods after Round 2, the conversation was brief.
“Nice playing,” said Nicklaus. “Thank you, sir,” smiled Woods.
If there was a happier golfer than Woods in St. Andrews, it might have been Scotsman Colin Montgomerie, who soaked in the home-crowd adulation as if he had won his first major. In a way, he felt he had. “There is no disgrace finishing second to the best player in the world,” said Montgomerie.
By the Numbers: Tiger became the fourth player to win The Open Championship at St. Andrews multiple times.
Win No. 45: Aug. 21, 2005 – WGC-NEC Invitational
Tiger Woods wins 2005 WGC-NEC Invitational
After so many of the same voices had been asked to describe this man Woods, the thoughts of Marc Cayeux, an unheralded golfer from Zimbabwe who was part of this global field at Firestone, had media members listening.
“It’s the biggest honor and the scariest thing at the same time,” he said of his surprise pairing with Woods. “I admire him. He’s the youngest legend playing the game.”
Hard to argue with that, and Woods went on to support Cayeux’s praise by winning this WGC at Firestone for the fourth time. It meant he had won at least one WGC in seven straight seasons. It also meant more disappointment for Chris DiMarco, who closed with 68 and watched from the clubhouse, thinking he might win.
“But if you’re hoping for him to make bogey, you didn’t do what you need to do out there,” said DiMarco, who instead watched Woods birdie the par-5 16th o prevail by one.
By the Numbers: Tiger led the field in Proximity to the Hole averaging 26' 11" to the hole on all approach shots for the week. This was the first time in his career (in ShotLink era) where he led the field in this category en route to victory.
Win No. 46: Oct. 9, 2005 – WGC-American Express Championship
Tiger wins 2005 WGC-American Express Championship
This was the day, wrote AP’s Doug Ferguson, that “made the PGA TOUR feel like a rock concert.”
A playoff between Woods and John Daly in a golf-mad city, San Francisco, with 350-yard drives the main attraction. “I don’t think there are a lot of people watching football right now,” said Daly.
That it ended on the second playoff hole when Daly missed not only his 15-foot try for birdie, but his 3-footer for par, had even Woods kicking the dirt. “I know Tiger didn’t want to win like that,” Daly said.
He was right, too. Said Woods: “We’re in a playoff. We’re battling and JD played beautifully all week. It shouldn’t end like that.”
But it did with Woods’ fourth win in the last six editions of this WGC as he closed out life as a 20-something PGA TOUR member with a whopping 46 wins.
By the Numbers: Tiger has the most wins by a player in their 20s of any TOUR player (46).
Win No. 47: Jan. 29, 2006 – Buick Invitational
Tiger Woods wins the 2006 Buick Invitational
“I think with age you have a tendency to be able to forget these things easier,” said Jose Maria Olazabal, after he missed a 4-foot putt for par on the second hole of a playoff, nailing down Woods’ title defense and fourth win at Torrey Pines. “And, I’m getting old.”
So, too, is Woods, but life as a 30-year-old sure looked like life as it did when he was in his 20s. His birdie on the 72nd hole enabled him to get into a playoff against Olazabal and Nathan Green. Woods made par at both playoff holes, while Olazabal bogeyed the second and Green the first.
“I was probably a little disappointed with the way it did end up,” said Green. “I wasn’t able to get by Tiger.”
Ah, Nathan, you can join that long line over there, the one that wraps around the block.
By the Numbers: This was the only event (non-major) where Tiger carded 12 or more bogeys and proceeded to win.
Win No. 48: March 5, 2006 – Ford Championship at Doral
Tiger Woods wins 2006 Ford Championship at Doral
Knowing he had a challenge on his hand – try and two-putt from 60 feet at the 72nd hole – David Toms didn’t need any more stress. But he got it when he asked an NBC reporter where he stood against Woods, who was in the group behind.
“It was a mistake,” said Toms, who was told he was tied, thanks to Woods’ birdie at 17. “I shouldn’t have asked.”
Why? “You start feeling different inside,” he replied Because it’s Woods, he meant, without saying it.
It was a deflating three-putt for bogey and another successful title defense went in the books for Woods, who had gone 44-under in eight rounds to win back-to-back at Doral.
By the Numbers: Tiger opened the event with a 64 marking one of 14 events where he has recorded a round of 64 or better and has gone on to win 50% of the time.
Win No. 49: July 23, 2006 – The Open Championship
A third Claret Jug and 11th major championship comes with a big void. Woods’ father, Earl, had died two months earlier. “I loved my dad very much,” Tiger said.
For the third time in his last seven wins – two majors and a World Golf Championship – Woods’ Sunday polish left Chris DiMarco second, this time two back. “When somebody gets close to him, he has an uncanny knack to turn it up another notch,” said DiMarco, whose closing 68 was solid, just not as solid as Woods’ 67.
Woods, who successfully defended a major championship for the third time, explained it this way: “I just think there’s a certain calmness that comes from being able to say with honesty, ‘I’ve done this before.’”
By the Numbers: Tiger hit 85.7% of his fairways for the week marking his best performance in his 14 major championship victories.
Win No. 50: Aug. 6, 2006 – Buick Open
Tiger Woods wins the 2006 Buick Open
Symmetry gone silly, a 66-66-66-66 score line was quintessential Woods, who piled up impressive numbers that served as testament to his utter brilliance. He had three splits of 32, one of 31, and made just four bogeys – one each day.
Throw in that it took him just 196 tournaments to win 50 times and that he had accumulated at least four wins for the eighth time in 10 seasons and, well, Jim Furyk was willing to qualify the disbelief.
“It’s difficult, we haven’t seen an equal of that in the last, I don’t know how many years, but definitely my era hasn’t seen it,” said Furyk, who finished runner-up, three back.
By the Numbers: Tiger made 28 birdies tying his most birdies in an event (2007 TOUR Championship) en route to victory.
Win No. 51: Aug. 20, 2006 – PGA Championship
Tied with Woods through 54 holes offered Luke Donald a fascinating seat on Sunday that soon got uncomfortable. Much to his dismay.
“You walk to the first tee with Tiger and you think all the pressure would be on him, because he’s expected to win,” Donald said. “But it’s just the opposite. He’s a pretty intimidating guy, no doubt about it.”
Dusting Donald, 68-74, Woods’ 12th major came by five over Shaun Micheel, who echoed a sentiment so often heard about Woods. “Unless you’re on top of your game, you just can’t play with him.”
It was the fifth time Woods won a major by five or more strokes.
By the Numbers: This was Tiger's 11th of 17 victories where he won by 5 or more strokes.
Win No. 52: Aug. 27, 2006 – WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
Tiger Woods wins 2006 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
Bad enough he lost on the fourth hole of a playoff to Woods at Firestone, but Stewart Cink then had to be reminded of a prediction he once made. “I told everybody (Woods) was going to have a hard time getting his card.”
It was brought up because the weekend of this WGC marked the 10-year anniversary of Woods’ pro debut and Cink didn’t deny that he ever envisioned 52 victories for Woods in that time. “I stopped making predictions about Tiger at that point and I’m not going to do it now.”
Cink did erase a three-stroke deficit over the final three holes to pull even with Woods, but in the extra session, he couldn’t make a putt and Woods kept making slippery par-saves. It resulted in Woods’ fifth win at Firestone and his fourth win in a row this season, a stretch during which he was 70-under par for 12 rounds.
By the Numbers: Tiger finished inside the top 5 of the leaderboard after each round en route to victory. He has been inside the top 5 after every round of an event 38 times of his 77 stroke-play TOUR victories.
Win No. 53: Sept. 4, 2006 – Deutsche Bank Championship
Tiger Woods wins the 2006 Deutsche Bank Championship
Renowned as a front-runner, Woods doesn’t mind proving whenever possible that he can come from behind, too. Like this tournament, where Vijay Singh was three clear of Woods into the Monday finale, only to see his arch-rival catch fire. Woods eagled both par 5s, the second and seventh, and was out in 30.
“It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?” said caddie Stevie Williams, of Woods’ 3-wood second shot from 270 yards that set up a 10-foot eagle putt.
No matter that he came home in 32 and shot 68, Singh got passed. “Normally, that would be good, but today it wasn’t. Tiger played incredible on the front,” Singh said.
And he reminded one and all just who he was.
“I love to compete,” Woods said. “I love to feel that rush of getting out there and trying to beat everyone. I love to win.”
By now, everyone had noticed.
By the Numbers: 4th time in Tiger's career with a 63 or better in the final round. At the time this was his lowest final round where he has gone onto win (now tied 63 at 2007 BMW Championship).
Win No. 54: Oct. 2, 2006 – WGC-American Express Championship
Tiger Woods wins 2006 WGC-American Express Championship
A virtual lock at several tournaments, Woods’ hold on this WGC was most intriguing because he won it for the fifth time in his fourth different country (England, to join titles in Spain, Ireland and the U.S.). It was just a slice of why Adam Scott, co-second with Ian Poulter, but a whopping eight back, could only shake his head.
“He’s phenomenal. We’re up against it,” said Scott after Woods finished at 23 under to run his winning streak to six to close out 2006. During those 24 rounds over a 10-week period, Woods averaged 66.79, with 22 sub-par rounds and 21 in the 60s. He was a mind-boggling 109 under and the silly-sensational numbers didn’t stop there. Woods became the first player in PGA TOUR history to win at least eight times in three different seasons and at one point during this victory he hit 36 consecutive greens in regulation.
“He’s dominating the game,” Scott said, “and it’s not the first time he’s done it, either.”
Was 2006 his most dynamic season? In just 15 starts he had eight wins – two majors, two WGCs – and showed that being 30 agrees with him.
By the Numbers: Tiger hit 65 of 72 Greens in Regulation marking his best performance in any of his stroke play victories.
Win No. 55: Jan. 28, 2007 – Buick Invitational
Tiger Woods wins 2007 Buick Invitational
Quipped Los Angeles Times writer Thomas Bonk, “Sometime soon they may rename this place ‘Tiger Pines’ ” but there was logic to go with that humor.
A hefty seven back through 36 holes, Woods played the weekend on Torrey Pines’ demanding South Course in 9 under with just one bogey. He trimmed the deficit to just two headed into Sunday, then casually brushed aside unheralded Aussie Andrew Buckle by playing the last 11 holes in a bogey-free 5 under to pile up more notable stuff in his win column: It was his seventh straight on the PGA TOUR, and at Torrey Pines it was his third in a row and fifth overall.
All of which was a bit too much for his opposition to digest.
“To win seven in a row? I’d cut off my arm to win another one,” said Charles Howell III, who finished second and, ironically, would get his second PGA TOUR win three weeks later. “But it’s not easy to beat him.”
Filed under “massive understatement.”
By the Numbers: This win marked three of four consecutive wins at this event. Tiger was 60 under in the four total victories.
Win No. 56: March 25, 2007 – WGC-CA Championship
Tiger Woods wins 2007 WGC-CA Championship
And so, the sounds of helplessness filtered in from another PGA TOUR stop that had turned into a Woods playground.
“He’s probably helped everybody get better,” said Sergio Garcia. “It didn’t help anybody win, because he wins all the time.”
Tied for third with Garcia, Geoff Ogilvy put it this way: “He’s just better than us.”
It was the third straight year Woods had won at the Doral Resort (two different tournaments), but his record in this specific World Golf Championship improved to six wins (five as the American Express Championship), including three in a row.
None of which had Brett Wetterich convinced that the chase was helpless. “It would have been nice to see how he played when someone put pressure on him,” said Wetterich, alluding to the fact Woods took a four-stroke lead in Sunday’s final round and only shot 73, “to see if he fired at flags.”
Then again, Wetterich re-assessed his thought and conceded, “to be honest, I never thought I was going to win.”
By the Numbers: At the time, Tiger was the only player to shoot over par in a final round of a WGC event and go onto win (four times).
Win No. 57: May 6, 2007 – Wachovia Championship
Tiger Woods wins 2007 Wachovia Championship
Another week, another quest for someone to try and stop this unstoppable force called Tiger Woods. This time, Rory Sabbatini got into a one-stroke lead over Woods, thanks to a sizzling third-round 64. Had he had a final-round pairing with Woods before? “Nope,” said the South African, “and I’m looking forward to it.”
When Woods closed with 69 to win by two over Steve Stricker, Sabbatini, who stumbled in with 74 for a share of third, merely said, “He got the job done – and I didn’t.”
Sabbatini suggested Woods got a huge break with the eagle at the par-5 seventh (nearly drove it in the water and the 50-foot putt was a lag that somehow fell in) and so he’d sign up for the task again. “I want him every week now.”
Of course, at this juncture of his career, Woods had won 11 of 21 starts since turning 30 and feeling totally in sync with the Haney swing changes. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting Woods one week, never mind every week.
By the Numbers: Tiger made over 417 total feet of putts en route to victory marking his most total footage of putts made during a win in the ShotLink era.
Jim McCabe has covered golf since 1995, writing for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and PGATOUR.COM. Follow Jim McCabe on Twitter.