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Amid Moods And Swings

Not in Tiger's mind. This isn't a personality clash or a prolonged prima donna pout. It's Tiger evolution.

His current Holy Grail quest is the search for the perfect "ball flight trajectory" so that almost all of his shots end up traveling exactly the proper distance and ending up "pin high."

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)

"Any time you make changes in your game, it's not going to be an immediate success," Woods said. "Did I take a step back? Yeah, probably. I did [at the] end of '97, all of '98 and beginning of '99, too. Almost two years where I didn't really do anything in the game of golf. But then again, once those changes kicked in, I had a pretty good run . . . When these changes did kick in at the end of last year, it was pretty exciting for me. To go over to Japan and play great, then win twice so far this year [at Torrey Pines and Doral]. It's still coming."

Recently, it's been going. "I just didn't quite play that well at Bay Hill [23rd] and TPC [53rd]," Woods said. "But the things I was working on were starting to come together." Coming together? One of the most famous Masters quotes is, "You don't come to Augusta to find your game. You come because you have one."

Those here with a sense of history reject the idea that Woods has a problem and simply think he's in the midst of solving a problem. "Bobby Jones fought his temper his whole career and said he never really conquered it," Ben Crenshaw said.

As for swing surgery, nobody took that gamble more often than Jack Nicklaus, who retooled for 30 years. This week, Jack and Tiger had lunch to discuss this process of continuous career rejuvenation. And to talk flyfishing, too.

Will Woods ever have another streak like his run from 1999 into 2002?

"He may have a couple more," Nicklaus said. "You get mad at yourself and get upset [during extended slumps]. I did that several times in my career where I got tired of mediocrity and finally went back to work. You can't keep yourself up here all the time. You're going to go through waves, I don't care who you are. But try to control those waves."

Is Woods riding his wave or being carried along by it?

While Woods rages to regain his throne, the current holder of the No. 1 ranking is the placid Singh, who's worked with Joe Parent, who wrote "Zen Golf." "I read a lot of psychology . . . especially Eastern philosophy that I love," Singh said here this week. "There are things you do to calm yourself down. How you breathe, how you walk, how you approach things."

While Woods was putting into creeks and hitting 110-yard drives, Singh quietly opened with a trancelike 68. So, Tiger and his temper are already six shots behind the Fijian who likes to tweak Woods with those Zen zingers.

Is Woods, driving himself furiously all the way, headed back to the mountaintop? Or has he picked up habitual traits of bad temper that are as self-destructive to his golf game as they are unbecoming in a great champion?

No answer is offered. But the question is almost certainly the proper one.

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