Back at world number one for the first time since October 2010 and hot favourite to win his fifth Green Jacket at the Masters this week. The 37-year-old has certainly been in impressive form, winning three times in four strokeplay events this year, and six times in his last 20 starts on the PGA Tour.
So is this the start of a new period of dominance for a player who was the game’s eminent force for more than a decade? And can the Masters kick-start the American’s quest to break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors? After all, he has been stuck on 14 major titles since 2008, derailed by scandal, injury and struggles with a new swing.
How has his game changed since those halcyon days of a decade ago, and can he become even better than he was back then?
Woods has been working with Canadian Sean Foley since 2010 following the departure of long-term coach Hank Haney, with whom he won six majors.
At times Woods has struggled with Foley’s concept, most notably at the Masters last year, when he appeared to fight the swing and struggled home in a tie for 40th, his worst finish as a pro at Augusta. Now he appears comfortable with what he is doing and the results show it.
“Foley has got his arms working a lot more up and down whereas Haney had the swing working around him more, like Ben Hogan,” says Tour coach Jonathan Yarwood.
“The techniques are quite juxtaposed. Foley is trying to use the body through impact to reduce hand action and achieve more consistency. It’s working well with his irons but with the driver it is still a work in progress.”
Driving, accuracy, rather than length, has always been Woods’ nemesis. It’s easy to get bogged down in statistics, but since he won his first major in 1997, he has only featured in the top 100 in driving accuracy stats five times (1997, 1999, 2000, 2009, 2012). Even then, 53rd last year was his highest position. After his latest Bay Hill win he was ranked 142nd.
With his irons he has made substantial progress since 2010, according to the statistics for greens in regulation (hitting every green to allow two putts for par). But he is yet to reach the heights of the Haney or Butch Harmon (Woods’s coach from 1993-2004) eras, when he regularly topped the rankings in this category.
“The golf swing is like a painting that never gets finished,” said Yarwood. “They are always refining, tweaking, adding little brush strokes. Woods is the Picasso of golf, and a little brushstroke here and there can make an enormous difference.
“Tiger’s got a little too technical at times but he’s started to come out of that and is starting to flow.”
Woods agrees. “I’m very pleased that some of the shots that I struggled with last year are now strengths,” he said. “My good ones are really good. It’s just making sure the bad ones aren’t that bad. I can still continue to improve and clean up my short game. I don’t want to become as good as I once was. I want to become better.”
“This year his creativity with shot-making has returned in a way that I haven’t seen since 2009,” said international golf journalist and seasoned Woods watcher, Robert Lusetich.
“But he’s better than he was then because under Haney, Tiger feared the big miss to the left, so he became more and more defensive with the driver, sort of bunting shots out to the right. He hits it now much straighter and much longer.
“What he had with Haney was distance control and that’s now where he’s getting to with Foley. Once he has distances dialled in, he’s hard to beat, especially because his putting is off-the-charts.”
In his glory days, Woods was one of the hottest putters ever to play the game. Time and again he would drain key putts, not only for birdies but to save crucial pars. The sight of a Woods fist-pump as another bomb disappeared from view became legendary. In the last few years, the focus on his long game has impacted on his putting and short game. But a 45-minute putting lesson from his Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team-mate Steve Stricker at Doral seems to have been the turning point.
Stricker played down the significance of their session but admitted Woods left in high spirits and went on to win the tournament, following it up with victory at Bay Hill on his next outing. Woods now tops the overall putting statistics, compared to 28th at the end of last year.
“There were just some set-up issues,” said Stricker. “He got into some poor positions. I’ve watched him over the years I know his stroke and just tried to get him back into the positions that he is usually in.”
Lusetich said: “The thing that separated Tiger for many years, and allowed him to win tournaments with his “B” game was the fact he canned so many 20 footers. If he leads the field in putting, it’s game over.”
Injuries have played a key role in the Tiger Woods story and shaped the way he swings the club and how much he has been able to practise. He won his last major while suffering from a double stress fracture of the left leg and knee ligament damage, and immediately took eight months off for reconstructive surgery, his fourth operation on the same knee.
Woods also missed the 2011 US Open and Open because of further left knee and Achilles tendon problems suffered when he hit a shot out of the pine straw at Augusta that April. He was still being plagued by the Achilles in early 2012.
“If I get healthy, I know I can play this game at a high level,” said Woods after his win at Bay Hill.
“I know I can be where I’m contending in every event, contending in major championships and being consistent day in and day out. That was the first step in the process. Once I got there, then my game turned.”
Veteran US golfer writer Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press said: “If you look back, his health was big part of it. He couldn’t work as much as he used to. When he finished his second round at Bay Hill he went straight to the range and stayed there for an hour and a half. That’s the sort of thing he couldn’t do from late 2010 onwards.”
Now, though, he is playing injury free and that has played a key part in his rise back to the top of the rankings.
Much has happened to Woods since that fateful night when he crashed his car and the details spilled forth about his extra-curricular activities. But the talk from the Tour is that he is now a much happier individual. Clearly winning helps, but after divorce in the summer of 2010, Woods has a new love interest in US ski star Lindsey Vonn.
When quizzed about the link between a new squeeze and an upsurge in form, Woods grinned and said: “You’re reading way too much into this.” The old Tiger would have stonewalled.
“He just seems in a better place, mentally, to me,” said Stricker. “I don’t really know too much about his personal life, but it just seems like he’s happier, a little more at peace or at ease with himself. He seems to be having fun, to have a lot of confidence in himself and his game.
“I think he learned a lot from a couple of years ago – be more cordial to everybody, respect other people. He is happier with himself, you can see it. Just the way he is treating people is better. It looks like he is working hard at it.”
“There is no question in my mind Tiger took a very big hit to his confidence,” said Lusetich, author of “Unplayable”, an account of Woods’s tumultuous 2009 season which ended in scandal.
“I’m not sure he believed in himself after being exposed and I think he was deeply embarrassed. Other athletes have been through similar things – probably not of the same magnitude – and they’ve rebounded because they’ve answered on the field of play. It’s been a very awkward time for him but he seems to have healed those wounds.
“That’s obviously a huge part of the answer as to why Tiger’s back. The turmoil has been replaced and there is stability. He’s had a couple of years to get used to being a divorced parent of two young children. He and his ex-wife have figured out how to make that work and he obviously has this new relationship.
Hodgetts writes for BBC Sports
Nigeria, Zambia Join WAFCON Train
Nine-time Women’s Africa Cup of Nations winners, Nigeria became the final side to book their place at the 2024 tournament as qualifiers culminated this week.
The Super Falcons came from behind to beat Cape Verde 2-1 away from home, with Rasheedat Ajibade’s injury-time winner clinching a 7-1 aggregate victory on Tuesday.
Barbra Banda was among Zambia’s scorers as the Copper Queens, who finished third at last year’s Nations Cup, thrashed Angola 6-0 at home to complete a 12-0 aggregate win.
However, two-time champions Equatorial Guinea will miss out on the 12-team finals following a 2-1 defeat away against DR Congo which saw the hosts progress 3-2 overall.
Botswana beat Kenya 1-0 to secure qualification for their second consecutive finals. while Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Tunisia all sealed their places in Morocco, who will host for the second time in a row.
The dates for the tournament, scheduled for next year, are yet to be announced.
Holders South Africa and Algeria secured their spots on Monday, with Banyana Banyana beating Burkina Faso 3-1 on aggregate and the North Africans sealing a 1-0 win in Burundi to progress 6-1 over the two legs.
Ghana will return to the finals for the first time since 2018 despite losing 1-0 away against Namibia, with the Black Queens going through 3-2 on aggregate.
Senegal, Tanzania and Tunisia also failed to win their away ties, but progressed against Egypt, Togo and Congo respectively.
Mali won 3-0 away against Guinea to round off a 10-2 victory overall.
Olowu Targets WABU Crown At GOtv Boxing Night 30
Super welterweight boxer, Taiwo ‘Gentle Boy’ Olowu, on Wednesday , said his target is to claim the West African Boxing Union (WABU) super welterweight title at GOtv Boxing Night 30 on December 26.
The enterprising boxer, who is the national welterweight title holder, will square up to top Ghanaian boxer, Michael Ansah, at the event slated for the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos.
Speaking ahead of the fight, ‘Gentle Boy’ boasted that he would ensure the Ghanaian returned to his country empty-handed.
“I aim to add this West African Boxing Union title to my national title. As a national champion, I cannot allow a foreigner to come and take this belt away in front of my fans. This is a big opportunity for me to be a WABU champion. Ansah will leave Nigeria empty-handed,” he said.
The more experienced Ghanaian boxer has a record of 23 wins, 12 defeats, and three draws from 38 professional fights, while ‘Gentle Boy’ boasts 15 wins and one defeat from his 16 professional fights.
In another title fight, Sifon ‘Best’ Iwatt will battle Saheed Azeez for the national super flyweight title.
Also on the card for the night are five other national fights, including a female national cruiserweight challenge fight between national champion, Bolatito ‘Black Tito’ Oluwole and Blessing Abisoye.
Arabambi Ojo and Ibrahim ‘Golden Boy’ Opeyemi will slug it out in a national bantamweight challenge bout; Abdulafeez ‘Big Name’ Osoba will face Christopher Ucheji in a national super welterweight challenge fight, while Ayanfe Adeoye and Ahmed Ganiyu will duel in a national light welterweight category.
Nigeria Makes Final Team Of The Year Award
Nigeria made the final three shortlists for the 2023 Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) Women’s National Team of the Year award.
CAF announced the final three shortlist on their X handle yesterday.
The other two countries are reigning Women’s Africa Cup of Nations champions South Africa and Morocco.
Nigeria, Morocco and South Africa featured at this year’s FIFA women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The trio all reached the round of 16 at the tournament, which was won by Spain.
The winner will be announced on Monday, December 11, in Marrakech, Morocco.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Super Falcons recently qualified for the 2024 WAFCON, hosted by Morocco.
A 7-1 aggregate win against Cape Verde ensured the Falcons will be making their 13th appearance at the tournament, which began in 1998 in Nigeria.
Business3 days ago
Five Multinationals Exit Nigeria In 10 Months
Rivers3 days ago
Group Calls For Investigation Into Rivers Political Crisis
Sports3 days ago
Nigeria Makes Final Team Of The Year Award
Nation3 days ago
Labour Union Petitions Three Lawyers Over Compromise Allegation
News3 days ago
RSG, TAF, GOSH Sign MoU For 20,000 Housing Units, Spare Parts Hubs …As Fubara Assures Investment’ll Drive Economic Growth
Politics3 days ago
Third Republic Lawmakers Demand Unpaid Salaries, Allowances
Featured3 days ago
NJC Declines Adeleke’s Request To Replace Osun CJ, Sacks High Court Judge
Business3 days ago
Bayelsa, NCDMB Task Youths On Skills Acquisition, Opportunities