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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

Personal issues aside, Tiger has to fix his swing

Tiger Woods, who is somehow and inexplicably still the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, begins play Thursday in the year's final major, the PGA Championship, with a swing that is totally out of whack.

This comes less than a week after his shank at Firestone. We could be referring to his score and finish, his worst ever, or to one of his shots, a semi-shank the likes of which have dented many a vehicle on the "road hole" at Spuyten Duyval.

We already had learned that Woods was human in a sordid kind of way. These days, he's hitting shots that prove it in a golfing kind of way.

Golf Magazine (July, 2010) published a series of side-by-side photos of Woods from 2000, when he won nine titles including three major championships, and from tournament appearances this year. It's astounding how many things he is doing differently and, by inference, incorrectly.

A lot of it is technical and could be mumbo jumbo even to an avid golfer. But the bottom line is every aspect of his swing is different - from takeaway to his top slot to a too-steep downswing - and results in a finish that is well off plane, often sending his ball well off target.

Probably the most startling thing about watching Woods of late is that he scatters misses to both sides of fairways. The lack of confidence in his swing and lack of accuracy not only sends him scooting into the rough but costs him considerable distance, too.

Maybe Tiger has had enough. Tuesday, for the first time since parting ways early in the year with swing coach Hank Haney, Woods had an extra pair of eyes with him for nine holes of a practice round at Whistling Straights. Sean Foley, who works with several PGA Tour players, came along at Woods' request and video-taped his swing from different angles.

Since Woods drove into that fire hydrant last Thanksgiving and saw his life careen off a cliff after revelations of serial philandering, he has played in eight tournaments without winning, finishing out of the top 20 in half of them, and his game has gotten progressively worse.

Woods has faced occasional struggles through the years, but always projected the potential of being one swing away from a 65 and another victory. But not this swing. This one has him at rock bottom.

Tiger has carded scores of 73 or higher 10 times in 29 rounds this year and his stroke average is a career-high 71.66. His last seven rounds have been over par. He finished tied for fourth in the Masters and U.S. Open, but didn't exactly charge to the finish line in either event. He closed the Open with a 75 and has since finished 46th, 23rd, and 78th, the last in a no-cut field of 79 in last week's Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.

I suspect any number of injuries - knee, leg and neck being the most serious and obvious - have caught up with Woods and his swing. Dealing with his calamitous personal life, which is by all accounts headed toward an extraordinarily expensive divorce, must certainly have taken a toll, as well. Dealing with pressure, as he has throughout a fabulous career, is one thing; dealing with that type of stress is another.

The sentiment early in the year was that Tiger's No. 1 priority was getting his life back on course off the course and, if possible, saving his marriage and holding his family together.

It seems time for him to move onto the next challenge - holding his game together and finding a golf swing that works.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.

Dave Hackemberg talks sports with Mark Benson on WXKR (94.5 FM) Thursday mornings at 8.



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