After 16 long months of being without Tiger Woods stalking his way up leaderboards and down fairways, he’s finally making a return to competitive golf. We’ve seen teasings of a possible return through the various charity rounds he’s played, the occasional mention of him returning to full irons on the range, and promises of entries into tournaments, but this time it’s real. The pairing is set, he’ll tee off at 12ET on Thursday in a twosome with resident clubhouse rat, Patrick Reed, someone he became pretty familiar with as Reed was a key part of Team USA’s victorious 2016 Ryder Cup team, a group Woods played a large role in as vice captain.
To help get us all through the anticipation of the next three days, Tiger gave us a little preview of the new swing during a practice round with Derek Jeter and Justin Rose at the course in Albany. So, how does the new swing look? Let’s break it down.
First thing I notice here, (besides how weird Tiger looks in shorts) is how little turn there is halfway through the backswing. Tiger’s halfway to parallel and has yet to get his back facing the target, which signals to me that he’s probably going to be trying to protect that back. Other than that everything looks good, the toe of the club is pointed skyward, arms have good extension. He does look tense in his takeaway though, especially in his right side, and the face of the driver is slightly closed.
Okay, not exactly what I was hoping to see at the top of the backswing. This new takeaway is much steeper compared to his old swing, shown here from a look at his backswing in 2000, which is again meant to protect and take stress off of his back.
You’ll also notice how much more upright he is in the new swing, another indicator of just how much emphasis he’s placing on protecting his back and keeping it virtually out of the process of the swing. Something else I really don’t like is how far he’s taking the club. An upright stance such as this lends the golfer to take the club too far back because they’re not getting those easy body indicators that they’ve reached the top of their swing that a more traditional stance, such as his earlier swings, will provide. Last thing about a backswing that long is the tendency to drop down on the ball and lose your spine angle, something I think we’ll probably see a few times out of Tiger, especially once he gets around guys that are out driving him and he starts trying to keep up with long hitters like Rory and DJ.
Here we are right at impact, and some of the effects of taking the load off his back are pretty apparent. Ideally, you want to be pretty much exactly as you were at impact as you were at setup when you hit the golf ball, and I don’t know if even Hogan did as good a job of that as Tiger did back in the day. Your weight should be going through as it is, so that’s good, but the drop in his shoulders and the lack of resistance in his upper body just further provide evidence for this to be a crutch swing, something intended to get him around a golf course without killing his back. You notice the emphasis placed on the turn in his legs but his body hasn’t quite kept up, so we’re probably going to see a lot of cut shots out of Tiger this week.
Ball is struck, but look how high to the target line Tiger is finishing. This would be okay if his takeaway had him trying to hit a draw, which his tendency to drop in does have him primed for a draw, but the steepness of the hands as well as the quickness of the legs indicate a cut swing more than anything else. Contradictions such as these can be hard to predict, don’t be surprised if you see Tiger get mad over what he thought was going to be the easiest cut shot, but he drew it into the water instead.
Last frame. Not much to analyze here other than the hands finishing on the waist show how quickly in his takeaway he’s pulling out of the rotation and taking all of the load and the resistance off of his back. That sort of quick pull out of the swing’s finish shows the severity of his back problem, which Please God, let it be fixed. You collapse your follow through like that when your back is the first thing on your mind.
All in all, it’s a solid swing. It’s got productive capabilities, but I’m a little troubled that he’s moved to this steeper swing. Steeper swings like this one require a heavy focus on timing and part of the reason his consistency back in the day was so good was because his body wouldn’t let him ingrain poor habits on the range to mess up his timing. Now though the man is 40 with some kids and a sunup to sundown schedule consisting of designing golf courses, running a foundation, managing a clothing brand, and whatever else I’m forgetting keeping him from being able to truly commit to his new swing plane, the length of the takeaway, and his swing tempo. This new swing won’t be so conducive to going weeks at a time without hitting the range like his old one was.
If his schedule is going to be too busy for him to put in the range time necessary to be successful with this swing, then he may as well go ahead and pull out of this week’s tournament because he doesn’t stand a chance. Old Tiger’s swing was so simple, so one piece, that he couldn’t mess it up. This new swing mandates a lot of practice. A lot. It’s going to be mentally exhausting and easily frustrating because he’s moving more body parts, so the potential for error is much higher. My prediction is these first few rounds are going to be feast or famine. Tiger’s gotta figure out how to score with this swing, so it’s a damn good thing he’s so good at this game. Whatever the outcome this week I know I’m pulling like hell for ole Tiger, I’ve missed seeing his name on Sundays.