- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

LEMONT, Ill. (AP) — When Tiger Woods looks at tapes from 1997, the year he won his first Western Open, he barely recognizes his swing.

It’s more open now. His positioning of the clubface has improved. His footwork is better. His speed is more consistent. It’s more fundamentally sound.

“I can hit different shots,” he said. “So much is not reliant on pure power to play a golf course.”

When Woods decided to do a complete overhaul of his swing in late 1997, the notion seemed absurd. A tweak here and there is one thing. But to take it apart and rebuild it? He’d won six PGA Tour events in less than two years with that swing, including the 1997 Masters, which he won by 12 strokes.

There was a method to his madness, though. Oh, sure, he could crush the ball, routinely outdriving other players by 20 yards. But his swing was too dependent on perfect timing. If everything was in sync, it worked. If not, everything was up for grabs.

He wanted more accuracy and to have the subtleties in his game that make every shot poetry.

“I was very one-dimensional. Everything was pretty high,” he said. “I couldn’t hit a half-nothing eight iron from 120 yards. It wasn’t part of my game.

“My swing plane and the things that I was doing in my game didn’t allow me to hit that shot,” he added. “So I had to fix it.”

You certainly can’t argue with the results.

A runaway victory at the 100th Western Open on Sunday gave Woods his 38th career win and fourth of the season.

That marks his fifth straight year with at least four victories, a feat no other golfer has managed — not Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan or Arnold Palmer.

Hogan, Palmer, Tom Watson and Lloyd Mangrum had four straight years with four or more victories.

While Woods has collected records by the bunches since turning pro in 1996, this one is special. Not for what it says about his place in history, but for what it says about his game.

“That means I’ve been consistent,” he said. “I’ve been able to not only be consistent, but to close the deal, too. That’s where you ultimately want to be.

“One of the reasons why I changed my game back in ‘97-‘98, the beginning of ‘99, is to be more consistent, put myself there more often and give myself a chance to win. And it’s paid off.”

He’s won 31 events in this five-year span, including six majors. And the game has seen few runs better than the one he made in 2000. His nine victories were the most since Sam Snead won 11 in 1950. He set or tied 27 PGA Tour records.

He won three straight majors, completing the career grand slam. He won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, a record for a major championship.

Yet he still wasn’t completely satisfied.

“As a golfer you’re always trying to figure something out,” he said. “You have to look at the positives and say, ‘This is what I did right that week,’ but you also have to take a hard look at the negatives, some of the things you did wrong.

“That’s some of the toughest things to do.”

But he continues to do it. Though he won three of the first four events he played this year, Woods started tinkering again. He felt as if his swing was getting “stuck” on his drives, and he tweaked his putting stroke, too.

This wasn’t as drastic as the remodeling project of 1997-98, but it was enough to alter his game. After saying for the last few weeks that he was getting close, he finally seemed to put it all together at the Western.

“It’s satisfying, the fact that I went out there and did the things I’ve been doing in practice,” he said. “It was getting better and better each and every week, and the things I was starting to work on were starting to come together.

“That’s what’s fun,” he added, “when you can put things together, take things from the range to the course.”

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