Tiger Woods is back, but is his swing? We asked a Top 100 Teacher

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Tiger Woods gingerly walked up the stairs behind the 18th green at Riviera Country Club Tuesday. Behind him there was an army of media members, Tour officials and support staff.

 

The temperatures hovered around 60 most of the morning, but sweat still dripped from Woods’ forehead. He was clad head-to-toe in black clothing from his new brand — Sun Day Red — which he’d revealed to the world the night before. This was our first look at the new clothing line in action, and the 2024 debut of Woods on the course.

 

Since withdrawing from the Masters last April, Woods has seen limited action. He teed it up in December at the Hero World Challenge (a silly season event he hosts) as well as the PNC Championship, but fans haven’t seen him in an official tournament since he called it quits during the third round at Augusta. That all changes this week at the Genesis Invitational.

 

Woods, 48, said in December he’d hoped to play a tournament a month in 2024. The Genesis was always the logical starting point in that crusade. Sprinkle in an event during the Florida swing, make a trip to Augusta and then tee it up in the final three majors and Woods will have kept his pledge.

 

“We have set up right now the biggest events are one per month; it sets itself up for that,” he said at the Hero World Challenge. “Now, I need to get myself ready for all that.”

 

Of course, his schedule all depends on his health. If Woods is in as much pain as he was at last year’s Masters, another hiatus from the game will be in the works. With a little injury luck, though, golf fans can expect a healthy dose of Woods in 2024.

 

Tuesday’s nine-hole practice round was the first step in that journey. And while his health status remains unknown (he had a noticeable gait toward the end of the round), there were some clues as to the status of his game.

 

GOLF.com was on hand to watch much of Woods’ return to the course, and we took plenty of videos of the 15-time major winner’s swing. Afterward, we enlisted the help of GOLF Top 100 Teacher Jonathan Yarwood to break it all down.

 

 

 

To the untrained eye, the swing Woods gamed on Tuesday is very similar to the one we’ve seen in recent years. But when you look under the hood, things are not quite working as they should.

 

“He just doesn’t look sharp,” Yarwood says. “He looks like a player who hasn’t played much. It looks a little untidy here and there compared to normal.”

 

 

 

Consistency starts with a good setup; unfortunately, Woods’ setup wasn’t as fundamentally sound as normal on Tuesday.

 

“His shoulders are open a little bit,” Yarwood says. “His posture isn’t quite as solid as we’ve seen in the past, either.”

 

For someone who’s coming off a long layoff, these issues are not out of the ordinary. The fundamentals are the foundation of a good swing, but they’re often hard to perfect after a long time away.

 

 

 

 

 

Woods’ takeaway is on plane to the top of the backswing, but at the top his swing gets a little longer and narrower than normal.

 

“At the top, he’s almost beyond parallel,” Yarwood says. “Which is longer than he normally has it.”

 

 

As Woods makes his downswing toward the ball, the shaft begins to get steep and his hands track away from his body. Then, the clubhead gets stuck a bit behind his body. This throws off his sequencing and forces him to rely on timing.

 

 

 

The only thing that matters in the swing is the clubface at the moment of impact. But often, the moves we make during the other parts of the swing put us in spots that make squaring up the clubface difficult. In Woods’ case, his swing forces him to flip his hands at impact to square up the face.

 

“Quite often if you get the club stuck, you have to flip it on the way through to try and save it,” Yarwood says. “He can’t ‘close the door’ fast enough or consistently enough. He’s either going to ‘leave the door open’ and it’s going to go right, or ‘close the door too fast’ and it’ll go left.”

 

In other words, he’s in danger of the dreaded two-way miss.

 

 

 

Although Yarwood analyzed only a few swings from Woods’ practice round, his assessments were largely accurate. Woods did struggle with a two-way miss Tuesday, and his normally rock-solid ball striking was absent. Can Woods shake off the rust and find the old magic when play begins in earnest? 

 

Gideon Canice

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