Woods prepares for U.S. Open, Western Open; insists he'll 'play great golf again'

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

LEMONT, Ill. - Things are not as we would like them in the world of Tiger Woods. But Tiger, well, he's being pretty patient about it all.

"Every player basically has a window where they play great golf, and I just happened to win a few tournaments along the way," said Woods during a video conference at the Cog Hill Golf and Country Club to promote the Cialis Western Open this July in Lemont, Ill. "When you have those down cycles, hopefully it doesn't last too long and you get up and start playing great golf again."

Yep, pretty patient considering he hasn't won a major in his last seven tries, finished 22nd at the Masters this year, is currently struggling to hit a fairway, and been playing, some would say, the most erratic golf of his pro career. Who would believe that "Mr. Scramble" would describe Tiger Woods.

"I had everything going my way for a little bit, and it's a matter of riding that wave. You get the ultimate wave, you've got to ride it while you can."

This is all very nice, but fans want the old Tiger back, and they want it now. Tiger may be patient. Fans aren't.

As the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and the Western Open outside Chicago await, Tiger insists his game is improving. March and April were troublesome months for Tiger, but May and early June, he says, have been better.

"The results are starting to come together," said Tiger eluding to some swing work he's been toying with.

That may be true, but fans miss Tiger attacking, being in the hunt, scaring off competitors, swashbuckling his way through a tournament. There's been no evidence of that Tiger for at least a year. And through it all, there's been plenty of criticism and speculation.

In his new book, NBC analyst Johnny Miller called Woods an "old 28" and wrote that he believes Tiger's best golf is behind him. There are those who believe Tiger has gone soft because of his impending marriage to former model, Elin Nordegren. And then there are those who say his divorce from swing coach Butch Harmon was a mistake. Harmon has told reporters Tiger had a desire to work on his own, but others believe the two simply got tired of each other. A classic personality conflict.

During his last showing, at the Memorial at Muirfield Village, Tiger showed signs of brilliance with a 3rd place finish, but he didn't win, did he? And that's what has to happen for fans to believe in him again. They want to know that Tiger can still realistically chase Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors.

"I know everyone thought it seemed like it was going to be an easy task, but it takes a long time. It took Jack over 20 years to accomplish that," said Tiger. "You put yourself out there again and again and again, and if you do that, you'll get your major championships."

After the U.S. Open, Tiger comes to the Chicago area for one of his favorite tournaments, the Western Open at the Dubsdread course at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club, July 1-4. He's won the Western three times since 1997 and has said he loves the course and the fans in Chicago.

"I grew up in the WGA (Western Golf Association). I played the Western Junior at Chicago Golf Club, played the Western Amateur just about every year. Then I played here (Cog Hill) in the Western Open as an amateur," said Woods.

What, when & where

U.S. Open
June 17-20, 2004
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southampton, NY
Yardage: 6,996 yards
Par: 35-35 - 70
Defending Champion: Jim Furyk

Western Open

July 1-4, 2004
Dubsdread Course, Cog Hill Golf and Country Club, Lemont, IL
Yardage: 7,224
Par: 36-36 - 72
Defending Champion: Tiger Woods

What's in the Bag

Driver - Nike Ignite, 9-degree
3 Wood - Titleist Pro Trajectory 970, 15-degree
Irons (2-9) - Nike Forged with True Temper Dynamic Gold X-100 shafts
Wedge (PW) - Nike Forged
Wedge (SW, LW) - Nike Forged, 56-degree, 60-degree
Putter - Scotty Cameron by Titleist Studio Stainless Newport 2
Ball - Nike One TW

Woods was his old self at last year's Western when he tied tournament records with an overall score of 267, 21-under par. In his opening round he shot a 63, tying the tournament's lowest single round score.

Truth is Tiger is playing reasonably well this season, for a mortal. He won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and he has 7 top-10 finishes. But where things go awry in the world of a golf genius are in the driving statistics. The PGA ranks Tiger at 144th in driving accuracy. You just can' t get it done when you can't find the middle of the fairway. And where the flaw really become apparent was at the Byron Nelson Championship where Tiger had a chance to make some noise, but couldn't keep his tee shots out of trouble during the final round and came up short by one shot.

This is not the Tiger we know. We know it and he knows it. Butch Harmon knows it. Steve Williams, his caddie, knows it. Elin knows it. Phil Mickelson knows it. Ernie Els knows it. Jack Nicklaus knows it. And through it all, Woods insists he's on the right track.

"The things I've been working on have eliminated some of my old flaws and it 's just a matter of fine-tuning."

But Tiger, would you mind hurrying it up.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

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