GAINESVILLE, Va. — Tiger Woods has been here before. He’s changed his swing at the behest of several different gurus. He’s played the Quicken Loans National and won in 2009 and again in 2012.
Woods knows the course at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, which this week is home to the tournament run in partnership with Woods’ non-profit, the Tiger Woods Foundation. He even competed for the United States in 2005, when RTJ was home to the Presidents Cup.
But this time around, everything is different. The tee boxes are pushed farther than Woods remembers them being a decade ago.
It’s not just the course that has changed. Woods is an entirely different golfer.
“Don’t forget, I came off back surgery, changed my golf swing and done a polar 180,” Woods said Tuesday during a press conference. “You add those two together, it’s a perfect storm. I’ve had to fight through both of those at the same time.”
Woods entered the tournament last year as the world’s top golfer. This time around, he sits behind 265 golfers in the world rankings. He has been cut from three tournaments in the current PGA Tour season, more than any season in his career.
Since it’s the first professional stroke-play event hosted at RTJ Golf Club, nobody can say with confidence how few strokes it will take to bring home the trophy. But Woods has noticed a certain trend in stroke-play tournaments, or perhaps he is just more cognizant of how close the competition is now that he is playing from behind.
“People don’t really realize how close it has been between a person who is winning and a person missing the cut. It’s not as big a gap as people might think,” Woods said. “When I first came on tour, the cut was probably 13, 14 shots from the leader. Now we’re seeing some tournaments [where it’s] eight.”
According to Woods, difficulty with his short game is a large part of what has made his return to form so difficult. In the past, he was able to use his short game compensate for not hitting well off the tee or from the fairway.
Woods has repeatedly emphasized the importance of patience when it comes to his improvement, including on Tuesday. He didn’t necessarily anticipate how much patience would be required.
“I thought I would have my short game earlier,” Woods said. “You can cover up a lot of different things when you’re chipping and putting well. A lot of missteps throughout the years when I’ve changed coaches and techniques, my short game was all pretty good. I didn’t have it at the beginning of the year and hence I had to spend more time hitting golf balls than chipping and putting and so that process of scoring has taken a lot longer because of that. But things are starting to come together. Again, I’m sticking with it, sticking with the process and just trying to make progress each and every day.”
Whether it’s his short game, his new swing, his recovery from back surgery or a combination of all three, Woods’ struggles have led to a historically bad year.
The 39-year-old has missed three cuts in the current PGA Tour season — the most in any single season of his career. He missed the cut at two of his previous three tournaments, most recently at the British Open at St. Andrews and, before that, at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, Washington.
Still, Woods seemed confident that his game was on the mend, and that he could return to his old form at any moment.
“I’ve done it before. I’ve gone through this,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, sometimes I have to get a little bit worse before I can make a giant stride to get forward and get better.”