How Tiger Woods' game and golf have changed since his 2005 Masters victory

Daniel Zeqiri
The Telegraph
Tiger Woods is back in the old routine at golf's highest level - but what is different? - Getty Images
Tiger Woods is back in the old routine at golf's highest level - but what is different? - Getty Images

Things were different in 2005: Labour won a third successive general election, you still had to pay for a copy of the New Musical Express and Motorola mobile phones were the height of technological sophistication. 

Tiger Woods also ended a 34-month wait for a major championship by winning the Masters, a dry spell that now seems a temporal speck on the arc of history compared with the 11-year drought Woods brought to a close with his dramatic win at Augusta on Sunday

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

Although the red mock turtleneck shirt and triumphantly raised fists transported fans back to a lost time, look beyond the surface of appearances and things have changed significantly. 

How could they not after self-inflicted public humiliation, a spine injury that left Woods house-bound, surgery, missed cuts, thinned chips, frayed nerves, swing changes and the generation of players he inspired winning majors in his absence? 

This transformed landscape makes Woods slipping back into the old routine all the more impressive. 

Woods has lost his length advantage - and Augusta played longer than ever

Woods knows Augusta National like the back of his glove and loves the course, but last week's conditions arguably made it as hard as possible for Woods who was forced to regularly pull driver from the bag. 

Augusta has been stretched out to 7,435 yards, and the wily tournament organisers mow the fairways from green to the tee so the grass grows towards the player and the ball does not roll out. 

The new tee on the already stringent par-four fifth, extending the hole to just shy of 500 yards, was this year's new addition. Woods made bogey on five in all four rounds - the first time in his Masters career he has made bogey or worse on the same hole in one week. 

The Woods of 2005 was dominant in almost every aspect of the game, including with his power that could cut courses down to size and intimidate his opponents. 

Woods ranked second for driving distance on the PGA Tour that year, averaging 316.1 yards from the tee. This year, he ranks 51st and averages 299.6 yards despite the advances in clubhead technology. 

<span>Tiger Woods' troublesome driver behaved at Augusta (most of the time)</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Tiger Woods' troublesome driver behaved at Augusta (most of the time) Credit: Getty Images

The fact he finished one shot clear of power-players Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka - Koepka denied Woods at the USPGA Championship last Augusta - was testament to the quality of his approach play. 

In fact, winning majors on long, soft tracks was something Woods himself had doubts about, stating last year that the Open Championship might be his best shot of major success going forward. 

"You get to places like Augusta National where it's just a big ballpark and the course outgrows you. That's just the way it goes," Woods said before the Open in July.

"At Carnoustie there are not many opportunities to hit the driver because the ball is going to roll 80 yards, so it's hard to keep the ball in play.

"I hit a three iron 333 yards in practice on the 18th hole so when I get a bit older I can still chase a long club down there, so distance becomes a moot point.

"But creativity plays such an important role. There's a reason Tom (Watson) won five of these - he was very creative."

It could be argued then, that the shorter and bouncier Pebble Beach and Royal Portrush this summer are an even better chance for Woods to add to his major tally.

But he is finding more fairways...

Nostalgia can play tricks on the brain, and it is worth stressing that although Woods was supremely dominant he was not quite flawless. 

From 2004 onward, when he struggled to adapt to graphite-shafted drivers, the big stick proved his nemesis and wild tee shots were the one thing that stopped Woods winning every time he teed it up. 

In 2005, he ranked 191st on tour for driving accuracy finding the cut and prepared just 54.58 percent of the time. His driving problems were documented in former coach Hank Haney's tell-all book The Big Miss.

Like this year's Masters, in 2005 Woods had a two-shot lead stood on the 17th tee. It is sometimes forgotten that errant drives lead to consecutive bogeys and Woods needed a play-off to see off Chris DiMarco. 

While Woods was fortunate to find wayward drives at the second, 10th and 11th in playable spots, in general he displayed more confidence with the driver - smoking crucial tee shots into perfect position on the 15th and 17th.

The tone was set early in the week when he crushed two drives down the first and second on Thursday, showing no signs of the early nerves that have blighted him in the past. 

This season, Woods ranks 64th for driving accuracy finding 64.68 percent of fairways. It was a similar story at Augusta when he found 62.5% of fairways. 

Those raw numbers are quite average on their own, but combined with Woods' stellar iron-play they are sufficient.  Woods lead the field on stokes gained approach-to-green at the Masters last week. 

Woods will never hit as many fairways as a Jim Furyk or a Fred Funk, but as Jack Nicklaus pointed out on Sunday he does not need to. 

A change to a more lofted driver and old shaft last August have contributed to a more confident Woods, and he appears more comfortable experimenting with new technologies. 

More loft makes it easier to shape shops, particularly from right to left, and offers a little more margin for error despite sacrificing a few yards of distance. 

The depth of the competition has increased 

Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh were a high-class quartet on Tiger's tail in 2005, but the depth of proven winners at the top of the world golf rankings has undoubtedly increased.

When Woods won the 2005 Masters, nine shots separated the top 10. This year, 28 players finished within nine shots of Woods and 11 finished within three strokes of his 13-under par winning total. 

Woods got the better of DiMarco in a play-off that year. DiMarco was a gritty competitor who also featured in a play-off at the 2004 USPGA, but did not possess anything like the same artillery as the likes of Koepka and Johnson. 

Before the Masters, Koepka had won three of the last six major championships but was barely in the top 10 of the betting at the start of the tournament: that's how many plays teed it up with more than a puncher's chance. 

From the middle of last year it was clear Woods was playing well enough to win a major championships, but getting across the line in one of four weeks per year is no guarantee. 

Top-class performers such as Rickie Fowler and Bryson Dechambeau are still to win a major, while Rory McIlroy has not won one since 2014.

The putting is not quite so unerring...but Woods held his nerve 

One thing that has not changed since 2005 is Woods' trusty Scotty Cameron blade putter, which notched up another major with a simple two-putt from 15 feet on the 18th green. 

The putter had been mis-behaving this season, and Woods still missed the odd short one at Augusta - missing from around 10 feet on the fourth, fifth and sixth at the start of the final round. 

In 2005 Woods was fifth on Tour for strokes gained putting while this season he is ranked 73rd. With smaller sample size though, we should heed caution. 

Woods holed his share of mid-range putts at Augusta, and his two-putt from the top tier of nine on Sunday was one of the all-time great lags, but his week average of 1.67 putts per green was similar to the field's average of 1.64. 

So this was not a stellar putting performance but, again, it did not need to be thanks to his supreme iron play. 

<span>Woods' trusty Scotty Cameron putter has won him another major championship</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Woods' trusty Scotty Cameron putter has won him another major championship Credit: Getty Images

Few players improve on the greens in their 40s when nerves can become a little jangly, but there is no doubt Woods was in control of his mind and body over the closing holes at Augusta. 

The history books may document 2009 to 2018 as the wilderness years for Woods, but he was in great position at several majors only to fall away at critical moments: the 2012 US Open at Olympia Fields and 2013 Open at Muirfield are fine examples.

Woods' stirring challenge at Carnoustie last summer also unfolded with a double-bogey at the 11th on Sunday. 

The signs were overwhelmingly encouraging, but there was still nagging sense that Woods might get in his own way when the biggest prizes were within touching distance.

The critics had their gloomy predictions thrown back at them on Sunday, but Woods' win might just silence the most important doubter of them all: himself. 

No more swing gurus

Before battling scandal and spinal injury, Woods frequently battled his technique. 

Another startling aspect of the Woods saga was the way he ripped up his swing and started again with three different coaches: first with Butch Harmon after winning the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, then with Hank Haney two years after he held all four majors and then with Sean Foley as a 14-time major champion. 

Woods had a relentless desire to improve and was willing to employ radical methods and endure short slumps of form to achieve it in the long-term. 'The process' became a staple phrase in his paint-by-numbers press conferences, and there was always a grand idea at play. 

After a short spell with Chris Como - that injury prevented from really starting - Woods is now without a full-time coach and has been since his latest comeback. 

<span>Though Woods has no official coach, Rob McNamara is a weekly confidante&nbsp;</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Though Woods has no official coach, Rob McNamara is a weekly confidante  Credit: Getty Images

Perhaps because his volume of practice is restricted at 43, Woods is relying on his feel and natural rhythm to get the ball around the course rather than a shopping list of technical thoughts. 

His swing is nowhere near as flat as it was under Haney nor as steep as under Foley, it is something in between the two and more like his younger self. 

There is no official coach but long-time friend and former IMG employee Rob McNamara is a second set eyes for his long game (McNamara is a scratch golfer himself). 

At the Players Championship, Woods had Justin Thomas' coach Matt Killen take a look at his putting but it remains to be seen if that relationship will be extended on a long-term basis.

Finally...chewing gum 

Regular Woods observers were intrigued to see him constantly chewing gum at the Masters. Was this a stress relieving tactic or an anti-allergy measure for Woods' hay fever? 

The reason, it turns out, was more prosaic. “Well, I’m chomping on this gum because I usually get hungry, I keep eating so much,  and it curbs my appetite a little bit, which is nice,” Woods revealed. 

So Tiger Woods won the Masters while on a diet - he truly has reached middle-age. 

One thing is for sure: pay a visit to your nearest driving range this week and young and old will be chomping away in the hope their ball-striking can be something like the great man's. 

What to Read Next

Back