Tiger Woods in the field at Congressional, but is he ready?

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If speculation that Tiger Woods had originally planned to return at the British Open was correct, that means he’s ahead of schedule physically. Or that he’s excited about playing again. Or both. All of which would amount to good news for something other than commercial purposes, although you’d expect a 38-year-old man coming off back surgery to feel giddy about being pain-free.

Two of my colleagues made excellent points regarding Woods over the weekend – one on the air, the other in a phone conversation. My editor, Jay Coffin, pointed out that if Woods spent much of the past six weeks relegated to chipping and putting, he might be exceptionally sharp on and around the greens.

As regular readers of this column might attest, I attribute Red Shirt’s inability to win majors in recent years to poor putting – a diminished short game in general caused by his growing infatuation with swing mechanics, which monopolized his practice time. In short, Woods became a range rat, obsessed with form over results.

Ten or 12 years ago, it wasn’t unusual for him to spend two hours on the practice green before the start of a tournament. By the mid-2000s, however, Tiger began behaving like a man imprisoned by perfection. In that sense, swing coach Hank Haney became the perfect accompaniment – a “method” instructor with unyielding patience and an uncanny eye for detail.

Which takes us to comments made Friday by Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee once news of Woods’ return broke. “Having a long golf swing is the secret to longevity,” Chamblee said. “What I saw [earlier this year with Tiger] was a shorter backswing, and the problems of a shorter backswing accumulate all the way through.

“You have less time to transfer your weight. You have less time to make up for problems. You have less time to build power.”

In recent years, Woods has said on numerous occasions that changes in his body have made it impossible for him to swing the way he did as a 22-year-old. He was obviously much skinnier and more flexible back then, and though I enjoy Chamblee’s opinions and consider him the game’s best on-air swing analyst, I don’t think the shorter swing had anything to do with his back.

The man needs to stop training with heavy weights. In his first start of 2014, back in January at the Dubai Desert Classic, Tiger could barely get the club to parallel. He looked like an old man compared to fellow competitor Rory McIlroy, and there was no evidence to suggest his back was giving him problems six months ago.

What matters now is that he’s healthy enough to play – and eager to get back. Clearly, Woods missed the competitive element during his three months away, and I would expect him to play much better golf with his mind refreshed and enthusiasm level high.

-- John Hawkins, GolfChannel.com

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