Tiger Woods has been back in Florida on another golf hiatus, trying to re-locate his swing and likely attempting to avoid the cacaphony of media noise that keeps asking the same collective question: What's Wrong?
The fact that he is still the No. 1 ranked player in the world, has already won once on the PGA Tour and finished a shot out of a playoff in his last start at the Byron Nelson two weeks ago seems to make little difference to the carping critics, who keep focusing on his frequent failure to keep his golf ball in far-flung fairways around the globe.
Just last week, a fellow in Sports Illustrated, noting that Woods is ranked 159th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy and hitting only 42 percent of the fairways, opined that "If his driving is that wild at Shinnecock Hills (in the U.S. Open in three weeks), which presents one of the most exacting tests in championship golf, Woods can forget about keeping his streak of making 123 straight cuts alive, let alone winning. He'll be lucky to break 80."
It says here, that not only will Woods easily make the cut on Long Island, he also will contend for his ninth major title on Father's Day Sunday, and if he doesn't win it, he's going to come very close.
It doesn't take an ostrich to know that Woods is no longer the same player who dominated the game at the turn of the century, or that he has been struggling with his swing for a good portion of the last two seasons. And yet, with all that struggling, he still managed to make himself the player of the year in 2003, and if I were a gambling man, I'd wager he'll do it again in 2004.
Woods cares too much about the game, and more significantly, his game, to be content with the current situation. He's also far too stubborn to go back to his long-time swing coach, Butch Harmon, if only because he knows so much about his own swing, he probably feels in his heart and mind he can correct his problems with a little help from his other friends.
They would include Mark O'Meara, Woods best friend and mentor, and O'Meara's instructor, Hank Haney, who worked with Woods before The Masters. Basically, it also says here that Woods is going to figure this out, and sooner rather than later.
When he was in that zone of winning seven out of 11 majors in one torrid streak, I also remember the often-repeated quotes from many of the players he was dominating back then. Virtually to a man, they all admitted he was essentially playing a different game than they were, and that if they hoped to catch up, they'd have to work that much harder both on the range and in the gym to approach his breathtaking level.
I do believe that's exactly what many of them have done.
Vijay Singh always had the work ethic, and if it's possible, Woods has made him work that much harder to get to his current position as the No. 2 player in the world, including Singh's own high caliber fitness regime.
Phil Mickelson spent most of his offseason and the early portion of the season working on changing his swing and focusing on his short game, as well as going through a new fitness and nutritional routine. Mickelson would never admit it, but Woods probably was as much responsible for his re-commitment to the game as much as any talk of him being the best player in the world without a major.
Sergio Garcia, thought by most to be Woods next great rival when he was challenging him for the PGA Championship at Medinah at the age of 19, has spent a good portion of the last two years re-tooling his swing to make it more consistent and perhaps beat Woods down the stretch in a major himself.
He did just that in winning in Dallas two weeks ago, his first victory in two years after finishing fourth at The Masters. It also had to be good for Sergio's psyche to know that Woods led after 36 in Dallas before Garcia eventually prevailed in a playoff that Woods missed by a shot.
Other top players — Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Darren Clarke and many more — have made significant commitments to their games, the better to catch-up or at least get competitive with Woods. They've all got the callouses on their hands and the muscles on their torsoes to prove it.
They've clearly narrowed the gap everyone was talking about in 2000 and 2001, and Woods less than stellar play has also been a contributing factor. Maybe his recent engagement has been a distraction. Perhaps his outside business and social interests have diverted a bit of his focus away from the game.
But never for a moment doubt Woods commitment to be the best player there ever was. At the moment, you can call it a slump if you like. I'd prefer to look at it as a lull. And knowing Tiger Woods, it won't last very much longer.