Sunday, January 29, 2012
Updated: February 6, 11:44 PM ET
So is Tiger Woods back?
Each week during the 2012 golf season, ESPN's experts will weigh in on the pressing -- and not-so-pressing -- issues in the game.
After his tie for third at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, we tackle all things Tiger.
And we've started including the best tweets from you, the readers, who post answers to the questions sent out on our Twitter account, @ESPN_Golf, so make sure to share your opinions and we'll include the best of the best.
1. Tiger Woods fans will say he's back. Doubters will disagree. Where do you fall on the spectrum?
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Tiger is not "back" even after he wins the Masters this spring. He'll be back when he has four (not three) solid rounds on a tough course and wins by 3 or more shots because he had fewer than 31 putts every day.
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Tiger Woods has to win an event. He struggled on Sunday at Abu Dhabi and it's hard to say from just a few tournaments if he's back. I'd like to see how he performs over a couple of months.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer, at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship: He's not quite back. Not yet. But he's getting there and three straight top-3 finishes in stroke-play events is a strong indication that he is very much headed in the right direction.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: In percentage terms, he's 75 percent back, but we're not talking Tiger 2000 back. We're talking about winning multiple tournaments a year and contending in a few majors back. He proved he can get into contention on the back nine on Sunday, but closing the deal is another issue altogether.
@ESPN_Golf Tiger Woods was never gone
@ESPN_Golf A very good start, only time will tell if he is all the way back!
@ESPN_Golf TW was most dominant athlete on Earth. He's not back. Rock's hair got to him. Shoes-least impressive. A brunette.
@ESPN_Golf tiger is back just not all the way he didnt have the control Sunday he had the first three rounds. Really like his swing
@ESPN_Golf tiger is back physically,but has to relearn how to do it at crunch time. That will take time. Success breeds success.
@TigerWoods about 98% back. If he was 100% he would have taken the tournament in Dubai.
2. What kept Tiger from ending his 26-month official victory drought?
Michael Collins: His putter. As we've seen for the past two years (and we'd never seen it before), Tiger is missing those 6-to-8-foot par-saving putts he never used to miss. Or maybe he did miss them occasionally in the past, but he made so many, it just seemed that way, like Jack Nicklaus always making birdie on Sunday at every tournament.
Farrell Evans: You can point to the stats -- the missed fairways and greens -- but Tiger has never been the grinding type of player to wear out his opponents with pars. He makes birdies. In his prime, you had to go out and make birdies to keep pace with him. I can't remember any of his wins coming when he shot even par in the final round.
Bob Harig: Ultimately it was his inability to hit the ball in the fairway Sunday that cost him. He hit just two fairways, only one on the back nine. As a result, he hit just five greens in regulation all day, leaving him scrambling for pars rather than going after birdies.
Kevin Maguire: The par-5s. Tiger was just 3-under playing 20 par-5s during the course of the week at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. He even bogeyed the par-5 10th hole in the final round, which feels more like dropping 2 shots to the field, which is exactly how many strokes he lost by to winner Robert Rock.
3. Which part of Tiger's game impressed you the most -- and the least -- in Abu Dhabi?
Michael Collins: His driving accuracy until Sunday. He was very much in control of his swing for the first three days. I was least impressed by his scrambling Sunday. Normally when Tiger's in trouble, he has the ability to pull off amazing shots from trouble; he hit none Sunday.
Farrell Evans: Tiger's ball-striking through the first three rounds was excellent. I didn't see any of the desperate swings that I saw from him at last year's PGA Championship. Since teaming up with Sean Foley, he says he's longer with his irons. Distance control had been a problem for him with the new swing, but at Abu Dhabi, he did a good job of controlling his trajectory and distance with his irons.
My least favorite thing about his game was his putting. He complained on Thursday of the grainy greens, but he's looked troubled with the flat stick, at least since early last year.
Bob Harig: His iron play has been particularly good, going back to his starts in Australia last November, despite his difficulty hitting greens on Sunday. He had missed just eight through 54 holes, a very impressive number.
Least impressive right now is the short game, particularly chipping. Two poor chips on the fourth and fifth holes led to bogeys in the final round. On Saturday, he failed to execute a simple pitch and run on the par-5 eighth, settling for par instead of birdie. Just those 3 shots right there might have cost him the tournament.
Kevin Maguire: The most impressive was his clutch putting. Several times down the stretch Sunday, when the tournament was still in doubt, Woods made lengthy par putts. The biggest momentum saver came on No. 11, when he got up and down from some nasty rough around the green by draining a 15-footer for par. Rock was staring down a birdie and if Tiger missed and Rock made, the Englishman would have had a 4-shot lead on Woods with seven holes to play.
The least impressive? His drives down the stretch. Woods hit just a single fairway on the back nine Sunday. Making birdies late helps produce wins, and it's very difficult to do that from the rough.
Least impressive was his wedge/iron game by end of the week best part was his putting
4. After his T-3 finish in Abu Dhabi, what's next for Tiger?
Michael Collins: Expect Tiger to get a top-10 finish at Pebble Beach, when we're going to see him next. I think it'll be the same thing we've seen so far from Tiger, three good rounds (not great), and one that has everyone scratching their collective heads.
Farrell Evans: Tiger will turn his attention to the PGA Tour, where he'll be trying to build momentum heading into the Masters. He's got a ton of confidence in his swing, which of late has been his major preoccupation. Hopefully, he can put all the mechanical thoughts aside and just play golf.
He's had success everywhere on his schedule -- Pebble Beach, Bay Hill, Augusta National -- so he shouldn't have problems getting into contention on the weekends. By Augusta, his game should be peaking. What happens from there depends on the strength of his nerves and experience as a 14-time major winner.
Bob Harig: The swing appears to be where he wants it. Tiger is hitting the ball far, and it is repeating -- despite the final-round struggles. The key now is to trust it, and you wonder if he truly does. Tiger hit several shots too long, especially with his 3-wood. He has some distance control issues to work out before his next event at Pebble Beach.
Kevin Maguire: He can take away a good confidence-building performance in which all parts of his game excelled -- at least at some point in each of the four rounds. But Woods isn't about moral victories, so being in the hunt again in the final round is good, but there's always still work to be done before he tees it up at Pebble Beach in two weeks.