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Thomas Boswell

Amid Moods And Swings

By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page D01


For two days and 19 holes here at the Masters, watching Tiger Woods has been like seeing a talented but temperamental teenager who embarrasses himself with one temper tizzy or semi-sulk after another. If he were your nephew, you might wonder if he should be yanked off the course, given a lecture and told not to play again until he could comport himself like an adult.

So far, Woods has smacked his bag with a club, thrown a club in anger and dropped his club in mid-swing in disgust. He putted a ball off the 13th green into Rae's Creek. He had to make a 12-foot putt on Friday to avoid four-putting the sixth green. He accidentally hit his ball dead sideways; the ball caromed off a pine tree, going from the right woods to the left woods.

Tiger Woods on his struggles: "Any time you make changes in your game, it's not going to be an immediate success." (Kevin Lamarque -- Reuters)

Remember, we're only talking about a span of 19 holes. Woods also became so flummoxed after an iron shot hit the pin and ricocheted into a trap that, on the next tee, he did something that few have ever seen an elite player do. Woods muffed his tee shot. His driver hit the ground behind the ball, bounced off the turf and produced a 110-yard smother hook.

Also, Woods came close to two penalties. On a one-inch tap-in putt, he poked the ball into the hole with the nose of the putter -- which is legal. But he almost took an illegal stance as he did so. A ruling was required.

After that putt into the water, Woods may or may not have replaced his ball in the proper spot by the proper method. Again, no penalty or cause for alarm. But Woods's demeanor was one of frustrated, careless irritation.

So, if you want to worry about Tiger, feel free. Don't be concerned that his first-round 74 was six shots behind Vijay Singh and five shots behind three co-leaders in a rain-interrupted second round. Just be concerned about whether a glorious talent has developed a temper problem or a frustration phobia that's in danger of becoming ingrained. In his last 10 winless majors, there have been so many displays of disgust and anger, so many tossed clubs and smacked bags, so many curses (some caught on TV) and incidents of petulant grousing that those of us who've seen them first-hand long ago lost count.

Only one memory works powerfully against the notion that Woods has a self-control problem that he is denying and which no one in his entourage will confront him on. That's because, eight years ago at the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional, Woods acted exactly the same way every day. At the time, Woods was in the only other prolonged slump of his career. Then, too, he was attempting massive changes in his swing.

That week, Woods seemed to be little more than a badly mannered adolescent. All the same concerns rose to mind. Is he a perfectionist who has to drive himself relentlessly, lash himself for every minor mistake, in order to reach his full potential? Or is he just another temper case squandering talent with excess anger?

In retrospect, Woods was a tormented golf prodigy going through an agonizing transformation in his game. And it drove him nuts. If tossed clubs and curses, the symptoms of the dementia that all golfers share, were necessary to his rebirth as a man who executed The Tiger Slam, then so be it. We'll accept the ugly process for the sake of the historic result.

Right now, Woods says we're watching exactly the same thing. Be patient.

"Everybody is always trying to say, 'Get back to 2000,' " Woods said this week. "I don't want to get back to 2000. I want to become better than that. That's the whole idea of making a change.

"I won the Masters in '97. I changed my game. Do I want to go back to that? No, I don't. I wanted to become better than that and I was able to achieve it. That's why I made this change. . . . and I'm starting to see the fruits of it now."

In other words, Woods didn't just dump his old teacher, Butch Harmon, in 2002 after 10 years together, then switch to a new guru in Hank Haney in 2004. He didn't swap that tight, dependable Harmon swing that never reached parallel for a longer, less-repeatable swing that resembled his best buddy Mark O'Meara, another Haney student.

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