In perhaps his most revealing comments, however, Woods sought no disguise at all. At 36, he very much sees himself adapting to age and injury in the same way as Jordan. And he also thinks that his path back to winning more major championships, later this year or in ’13, is almost identical to a process — full of frustration — that he’s endured twice before.
“We saw it with M.J. He couldn’t jump over everybody and eventually learned a different shot,” Woods said. “He mastered going off his right hand, left shoulder. He could fade away either shoulder. To me it’s just amazing to watch player development like that.”
Are Woods’s swing changes after injuries similar to Jordan’s adjustments with age? “Absolutely,” he said. “I didn’t want to play the way I did because it hurt, and it hurt a lot. Was I good at it? Yeah, I was good at it, but I couldn’t go down that road. There’s no way I could have had longevity.
“Four knee surgeries later, here we are. I finally have a swing that I am still generating power. But it doesn’t hurt anymore.”
The cost of ingraining the Sean Foley swing, on top of the old memory paths of the Hank Haney and Butch Harmon swings, has been a serious neglect of the rest of Woods’s game — for a couple of years.
“Certainly my short game is something that has taken a hit. It did the same thing when I was working with Butch and . . . with Hank . . . Eventually I get where the full game becomes very natural feeling and I can repeat it day after day. [Then] I can dedicate most of my time to my short game again.”
In Woods’s practice routine, putting is part of short game. Can a man, once as great as any putter, neglect the short stick for three long periods in a dozen-year span and still reclaim it like a hat checked at the restaurant door?
So far in his career, the most accurate analyst of Woods, and sometimes the only one, has been Tiger. So, put me in the benefit of the doubt category on “more majors still to come.” Woods makes his case very simply: all three of his returns from swing changes have had a similar arc. Though 0-for-his-last-16 majors is certainly a new record.
“I went through a period there in ’97, ’98 where I didn’t really do anything in major championships and then finally I had a pretty good year in ’99 at the beginning. I won a few tournaments, and then finally put it all together at the PGA,” said Woods, whose two PGA Tour wins this year, a third certainly possible by Sunday, would fit a similar pattern.
“And the same thing when, was it ’03, ’04, I didn’t really do anything in the majors and finally put it together in ’05 and ’06. I’ve been through this before, been through a process like this,” he said.
Until the last three months, with his wins at Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus’s events, then his 36-hole tie for the lead at the Olympic Club, there was plenty of room for doubt. Now, the balance has probably shifted. When Sam Snead’s name came up, Woods said, “Amazing. He won at Greensboro when he was 52.” No, the quest for 19 majors isn’t over, not by decades.
Of James, Woods said, “It’s pretty neat to see somebody who’s that talented work on his game and then display it under the most extreme conditions.”
As usual, it wasn’t too hard to figure out whom Tiger was really talking about.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.