Monday, May 11, 2009

Will Tiger be ready for the U.S. Open?

The question now isn’t what’s happened to Tiger Woods’ golf game, particularly on Sunday afternoons. Obviously, it’s frayed around the edges.

The larger question is whether his game will be ready for the U.S. Open at Bethpage next month.

You didn’t need to watch the final round of the Quail Hollow Championship or Sunday’s closing 18 holes at The Players Championship to know something’s not right. Just look at the scores.

A 72 at Quail Hollow ending with 10 straight pars? A choppy 73 at The Players that seemed worse than that?

He’s become mortal.

And that’s what bothers us.

We want Tiger to be, well, Tiger.

We want fist-pumps and four birdies in a row. We want to see him saving par from places Special Forces couldn’t help you. We want shock and awe, not aw, shucks…or something that sounds like that.

We’re getting Tiger talking about hitting “spinners,” which is a fancy word for heel/neck cut shots that are prone to producing bogeys.

There’s speculation about whether he’s going to split with teacher Hank Haney (I seriously, seriously doubt it); whether he’s gotten too big (his biceps didn’t seem to bother him at Bay Hill); and whether the doctor fixed his knee but messed up his golf game.

Oh, by the way, Sunday was his 17th consecutive top-10 finish worldwide.

And we’re asking what’s wrong.

Nothing against Henrik Stenson, who’s probably among the 10 best players in the world, but his nearly perfect final-round 66 won that him The Players Championship couldn’t quite overshadow the questions surrounding Tiger.

We’ve come to expect Tiger to deliver every time he’s in position to do so. When he beat Sean O’Hair with a birdie on the 72nd hole at Bay Hill, everybody knew he was going to make it. He’s trained us to believe it just like he’s trained himself.

Now that it’s gone a little sideways on Tiger, we’re left to wonder if he can fix what’s wrong.

Of course he can.

Unless you’re at Tiger Jam this weekend, you won’t see Tiger again until he plays The Memorial in a month. It’s fair to assume he’ll play Jack’s tournament two weeks before going to Bethpage and we should have an idea then if Tiger’s worked through his issues.

He said Sunday that he knows what’s wrong. If you play golf, you understand. You can know what you’re doing wrong but fixing it, especially on the course, can be tougher than trigonometry.

The U.S. Open is where Tiger’s focus is now and Bethpage is no place for a guy spraying his tee shots. It’s a beast and as unforgiving as the New York crowd that will be there.

Watching Tiger chasing his golf swing around the Stadium Course with its baked-out greens was a reminder of how tough the game can be – even for him.

How weird was it to see Tiger in the final pairing on Sunday afternoon and the tour suits waiting for him and Alex Cejka to finish so they could get on with presenting Stenson his trophy?

It was different, no doubt.