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Columnist
Pain of swing change not new for Woods
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist

Tiger Woods reacts after hitting second shot on the 13th hole during the second round at the BMW Championship golf tournament Friday.

 

Nam Y. Huh

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Published: 9/11/2010 12:01 AM

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A year ago on Saturday, Tiger Woods fired a 62 and took command of the BMW Championship.

This year, it's going to take something along those herculean lines just to get himself in a position to advance from Cog Hill to the Tour Championship next week.

Woods shot a 1-over 72 at Dubsdread on Friday, leaving him 3-over through the first two days of play and 7 shots out of the top five, a spot he must reach to continue on in the playoffs.

"I (played well) last year on the weekend," Woods said. "Hopefully, I can do it again."

But watching him at times Friday, you wonder if he wouldn't rather go home and practice as he works through the third swing change of his career.

Woods is attempting - while competing at the highest level of a professional sport - to alter his swing plane, body slot and rotation, moving into the forward part of his foot while rotating at same time.

That changes his release point and timing, but when Woods really needs to make a shot, he admits he runs home to what he knows best, and that leaves him caught between the Hank Haney swing of the past seven years and the Sean Foley approach he began working on only a month ago.

"When I concentrate on just hitting a golf shot and get a feel for a golf shot, then my tendency is to go back," Woods admitted postround Friday. "Even if I have to hit creative shots out of the trees, I still have to do it according to the new framework."

Such confusion is hardly a formula for winning a PGA Tour event, even on a course he's conquered five times - the last two winning by 10 shots at a combined 41 under par.

"I've been through this process before, so I understand," Woods said. "I've just got to be patient."

With an early-arriving gallery fully supporting Woods for his 9:10 a.m. tee time Friday, Tiger played the first eight holes at 2-under after making a 26-foot bomb on 17, but had he been able to putt at all, he could have easily been 5-under heading to 18.

"I made nothing. I made a couple par putts, and that was it," Woods said. "Every birdie putt I hit in there stiff, I didn't make them. I hit the ball a heck of a lot better than my score indicates."

His first bogey came on his ninth hole, the 18th, when he pushed it into the right gallery off the tee, costing a spectator a bruise and Woods an autographed glove.

After a decent second shot, he still had an excellent chance for an up-and-down, but he left his chip from the front-side rough well short and failed to save par.

That became the story of his day.

After pars on 1 and 2, he failed to save out of the sand on 3, and doubled No. 5 when his first shot from the bunker hit the lip and bounced back at him.

That 4 over in a stretch of six holes may end up costing him a trip to East Lake.

The surprise was that Woods didn't once lose his temper despite some obvious frustration.

More staggering was watching Woods practicing his short game after so many chip shots and putts, as though it were completely foreign to him.

"When I went through the changes with Butch (Harmon) and Hank," Woods said, "I went through stretches where I didn't chip the ball well or putt well because there's only so much time you have to spend, and I've been working hard on my full swing.

"Certainly my short game is not where it needs to be. I'm kind of caught between takeaways, and I hit some bad shots around the greens because of it."

One of the reasons Woods went from Harmon to Haney, and thus a new approach, was to try to take stress off his left knee - but it's an unpopular swing PGA players have often thought was impossible for anyone not named Tiger Woods.

Many have wondered why a young player with a nearly perfect swing and ideal mechanics would have ever changed in the first place, and it may be something even Woods thinks about now.

"What I'm doing now feels very similar to what I used to do as a kid," Woods said, cracking a smile for one of the few times all day. "Obviously, there were a few tweaks to it, but the speed I'm able to generate, the contact I'm able to generate, is what I used to do as a kid.

"I moved back onto the ball a lot more than I did as I got older. Now, I just eliminate the back part."

Despite it all, Woods hit 2 approach shots Thursday and a couple more Friday that no one else on the planet - besides, perhaps, Phil Mickelson - would even attempt, let alone accomplish.

But when you can't make a putt, a part of his game that has often saved him, it doesn't appear from afar that Woods is getting anything done on the golf course right now.

Walking 18 holes with him, however, you understand his game is not as far away as it might seem while he attempts another metamorphosis in mid-swing, as it were.

More than a trip to Atlanta, or Wales for the Ryder Cup, what Woods really needs is a few hundred hours on the range to get accustomed to a new formula, so that when he gets on the course he's not making it up as he goes along.

For Tiger Woods, and for so many reasons, the off-season can't come soon enough.

brozner@dailyherald.com