x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tiger is back in the swing

An examination into how Woods has been able to put right problems with his game ahead of the US Open.

Tiger Woods looks like he has been able to remedy the problems he has been having with his swing.
Tiger Woods looks like he has been able to remedy the problems he has been having with his swing.

Lee Trevino once told me that he went 72 holes without missing a single fairway or green on his way to winning a PGA Tour event. That happened in New Orleans, apparently, and while Trevino was the best talker I ever came across on a golf course, I've no doubt over the accuracy of his story.

It was one of many he told me when we were paired together for the last two rounds of the 1985 British Masters at Woburn. The two things that stand out most about Supermex were that he never stopped talking, and that he played the most accurate golf I've ever seen, tee to green. One of the few fairways he missed that week at Woburn was the 18th, in the final round, although it didn't matter too much. He struck a masterful three wood from the rough 250 yards short of the green, and his ball finished a foot from the flag, giving him a tap in for an eagle and victory in the event.

At his best, Trevino was nearly unbeatable. He won six majors and might have won a lot more but for the fact he was an average putter. I was reminded of him when watching Tiger Woods produce his brilliant final round to win the Memorial Tournament on Sunday. It must have taken a Herculean effort from Tiger to turn his game around after the Players Championship. Of all the players who made the cut at Sawgrass that week he hit the fewest fairways. But in a huge turnaround at Muirfield Village, Woods was suddenly second best in fairways hit.

His length off the tee makes that statistic even more remarkable. He dominated with his driver, that is the combination of accuracy and distance. For the week he had an 87 per cent success rate in hitting fairways, and his driving display was a master class as he found every one off the tee. It did look as if he had a little compromise going on in his swing. He has been losing his height coming into the ball. As a consequence he has been getting his arms stuck behind him, and as a result finding it difficult to square up the club face.

But at the Memorial, he was aiming further left than usual. This meant that when he lost height and the club came through on a left inside to outside path, he didn't have to make any compensation as this was the right path towards the target. Trevino played that way and still to this day I haven't seen anyone control the ball better than he did in his prime. For Woods, it isn't ideal, but with his talent, his co-ordination, his short game imagination and his will to win, it's still good enough to beat the rest.

With half a dozen holes left to play on Sunday, several other players had a chance to win but none of them could handle the pressure the way the world No 1 does. Johnathan Byrd squandered his two-shot lead by playing the last six holes in four over par, a quite amazing slump. Davis Love III, who had been level with Woods, stumbled through the last two holes in four over par. Jim Furyk played nicely on the back nine to get within a shot of the lead, but his challenge ended there and after that there was only one winner.

Woods still had to finish with successive birdies to capture his fourth Memorial title, but his most telling stroke came at the 11th when he chipped in for an eagle from an almost impossible position. His ability around the greens is astonishing. He intrigues me in the way that Seve Ballesteros did, because I find myself getting excited as I wait to see how he is going to play certain shots. He'll need all his short game wizardry if he is to capture his 15th major title next week, but who now would argue against him successfully defending his US Open title at Bethpage, which is possibly the most difficult course to stage the great event. It is a wickedly tough, 7,214-yard par-70 layout, with narrow fairways and small greens.

If the greens are firm next week, and the rough is as treacherous as it was when the US Open was last played there in 2002, it could destroy many a top golfer. It will be a battle out there, and when that happens these days there is usually only one winner and that's Woods, as it was at Bethpage seven years ago. pparkin@thenational.ae