Tiger's mojo continuing to drop as the putts don't

Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Once-automatic putts aren't falling anymore for Tiger Woods.
February 29, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- There was a time when Tiger Woods seemingly never missed a short putt.

"You don't just learn that ability to make a 6-footer every time you need it," Jack Nicklaus said. "And he made it every time he needed it."


Except lately.

Whether it was last week in the desert, three weeks ago at Pebble Beach, or at Abu Dhabi in January, the putts that once fell with such regularity they didn't require a second look, much less a second or sometimes third putt, just aren't falling for Woods.

When the putts don't drop, Woods does, literally and figuratively.

Twice this year he's entered final rounds in contention. Twice he's failed to do what he always does, or did: Slam the door on his opponents.

Woods fell down the leaderboard and fell down in the minds of his opponents, at least that's what Greg Norman thinks.

"With the time lag of Tiger not being out there [when he took time off], these kids got more confident," Norman said. "They are winning golf tournaments and they are getting the flavor of what it was like to win on a regular basis. So the intimidation factor all of a sudden gets chipped away a little bit.

"It's interesting reading the comments from some of the players that say, 'I can beat Tiger.' You can go back five or six years and they would not be saying that. They would be saying who is going to finish second."

Amid Woods' off the course tribulations, he's also spent much of the last two years working on a swing change.

In short, it was his short game that suffered. Woods didn't have as much time to practice his putting and the result has been alarming: He ranks 180th on the PGA TOUR this year on putts from inside 10 feet.

"When I feel off with my alignment and my posture, I don't make good strokes," Woods said Wednesday from The Honda Classic, where he is playing for the first time in his career as a professional.

It was way off in his final-round 75 at Pebble Beach, and just as off when Woods barely escaped the first round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship before missing more putts and losing to Nick Watney a day later.

Woods news conference before The Honda Classic

Tiger Woods discusses the reasons he has putted differently in his career and what techniques he uses under pressure.

A microcosm of that final day in Arizona, which was Woods' last start, was a 5-footer he jammed past the hole on the final green that "shocked" even his opponent.

The fix, Woods said, would take a day and to that end he spent four hours over two different sessions the earlier this week simply on putting.

"I had to go back to putting in the reps, and I did," Woods said. "I worked on just going back to my old basics with my dad, and some of the things that he taught me."

Part of that process has included looking at videotape, something Woods has been doing for the last year.

"I got away from some of those things," Woods continued. "My posture was off; the way the club was releasing way off. A lot of things were off."

When Woods was at his best, that part of his game was almost never off. And that is what has left him exposed, says Norman.

It's also left Woods searching -- he no longer uses the same putter that won him 13 of his 14 major championships. He's also tinkered with the grip and his hand position.

"At the Match Play, you could see the swing of the putter was not exactly the same as it was the first day as it was on the last day," Norman noted. "Is that a technique or is that tension or is that a mental block?"

Whatever it is, Woods doesn't think he needs a short-game coach, a route some have opted to take.

"Haven't needed one," Woods said. "I think I've had a pretty good career. I've won my share of tournaments making some putts."

Not to suggest he does need one, but he hasn't made them lately and that's been his biggest obstacle.

"When you see the best struggling, you feel for them because you know what it's doing to them inside, and every 5-foot putt he misses, you feel like another nail might be going in a little deeper and a little harder," Norman said.

Now it's just up to Woods to see if he can stop the bleeding.