Tiger Woods may be at least two rounds shy of warranting the “He’s back” declaration, but the minutely scrutinized and analyzed golf swing of the 36-hole leader of this week’s Australian Open seemed to be rounding into form. Certainly, the 280-yard fade into the wind that Woods smacked onto the green with a 3-wood at the par-5 eighth hole on Friday was enough to convince playing partner Robert Allenby.
“Probably in the last six months, that’s the best I’ve seen him play,” Allenby, who missed the cut with rounds of 75-73, told the Associated Press after the second round. “He’s on his way back, that’s for sure….I think you’ll find if he keeps going the way he is going, he’ll win over the weekend.”
Despite an opening-round 4-under 68 that helped Woods to the first tourney advantage he has held since his brief lead at the Masters in April, however, Brandel Chamblee remained unconvinced.
Chamblee, former PGA Tour player and current Golf Channel commentator, believes the erstwhile No. 1 has been on the wrong track since leaving Butch Harmon. But it’s Woods’ work with Sean Foley for the past year-plus that has really raised Chamblee’s ire.
“In my opinion, Tiger ruined the greatest swing and the greatest physique in golf history,” Chamblee said in a Golf.com interview last December.
Thursday, Chamblee professed pure puzzlement about why Woods would overhaul his form with a third coach since 2004. “Tiger Woods’ decision to once again change his golf swing is the most baffling thing I’ve seen in sports,” he said in a teleconference to boost NBC and GC’s broadcasts of next week’s Presidents Cup in Melbourne.
Indeed, Chamblee stated an observation he had made before — that Woods’ many swing alterations have likely cost the world’s 58th-ranked golfer the chance to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championship titles. “If he decided not to change his swing in ’98 or 2003, he would already have broken [the] record,” Chamblee said.
Chamblee’s perspective has not gone unnoticed by some golf instructors weary of his constant ragging on Woods’ swing — and by extension, Foley’s approach.
“Brandel can’t describe the ball flight [a bone of contention among Chamblee and others on Twitter last month] correctly,” Andy Plummer, one of the two instructors behind the Stack & Tilt method of teaching that Foley employs, told us by phone Thursday. “So I would take his comments about the swing with a grain of salt.”
Plummer was not the only tutor who believed Chamblee was off base when it came to dissecting Woods’ swing. Wayne DeFrancesco, one of Golf Digest’s 50 Greatest Teachers and Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers, has made a cottage industry out of observing the flaws in Chamblee’s assessment of Tiger’s motion.
“Sheer nonsense,” was one description DeFrancesco, who also offered a detailed look at Chamblee’s critique of Woods’ swing, had for the Golf Channel analyst’s opinions about Woods’ swing.
Woods, at 9-under, will take a one-shot edge over Aussie veteran Peter O’Malley into Saturday’s third round on Sydney’s The Lakes Golf Club, but may well struggle down the stretch and continue his two-year winless drought. Through Thursday’s first round, though, even renowned Tiger scold Johnny Miller was impressed by what he had seen from the 14-time major champ.
“I thought it was good tempo and a nice technique and a lot better than he was doing,” Miller said during the teleconference. “I thought the technique as far as the actual swing plane and the hand action was good.”
Miller, however, could not budge Chamblee from his position. The one-time PGA winner believed Woods still faced daunting challenges as he remade his swing and off-course image.
“When you look at the injury, the scandal, the swing changes and all the other things Tiger Woods has done PR wise that have not helped him, I just don’t see how he’s going to turn this thing around,” Chamblee said. “The pre-scandal, pre-Foley Tiger and post-scandal, post-Foley Tiger are two entirely different golfers.
“The old Tiger is gone,” Chamblee said. “What he creates from this point forward will be very interesting.”
Golf Channel, by the way, could not have scripted a better outcome after two days of play Down Under. Woods, with a 12:40 p.m. Saturday tee time in Sydney will play in prime time Friday night for east coast fans.