SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Hank Haney, the mainstream golf teaching professional currently with a book on the best seller list critical of Tiger Woods, has made his choice clear as to who he believes will win this week’s U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Haney was part of a press conference that I attended here in advance of the American Century Championship at Tahoe’s Edgewood Tahoe Golf Club.
The Woods/Haney collaboration produced dozens of victories. After six years together, the two parted company only to have his swing changed by new coach Sean Foley. Haney’s book The Big Miss details the time Haney spent with Woods and some of his observations do not cast a favorable light on Woods.
Under Foley, Woods struggled to find success. He went 923 days without a victory before winning The Arnold Palmer Invitational in late March. Then he won again two weeks ago at The Memorial, tying Jack Nicklaus – on the Bear’s home course Muirfield Villege in Columbus – for 73 career wins on the PGA Tour.
“I wasn’t surprised (by the Memorial victory) because every time Tiger enters a tournament I think he’s going to win,” Haney said. “Yes, he’s had a couple tournaments that were definitely substandard for him, but when you look at normal play on the PGA Tour, that kind of thing happens. Players have weeks when they’re not on and weeks when they are on.
“Even before the win at the Memorial, there were only a handful of players who had better years than Tiger. If you analyze the year he’s had, the wins, the second- place finish and the fourth, he’s really right at the top of the list.”
Indeed, Woods is now fourth in the Official World Golf rankings. He’s third in FedEx Cup points. He’s third in scoring average and seventh in PGA tour winnings while playing just nine events.
But Woods is not measured by regular tour events, by money lists or greens in regulation. He’s measured by majors. He has 14. Nicklaus has 18. His pursuit has slowed the past few years – as Woods has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open – but the three-time Open champion has returned to favored status for this week’s major.
Haney is not into predictions, especially because there are so many vagaries and variables in a golf tournament, but he tends to be a realist.
“It’s so hard to pick a winner in golf. Any given week, there are so many players that could win,” he said. “Having said that, if I’m bettor I’m only betting on the best player. And right now given his history, given his record, given how he played (the Memorial), you have to think that Tiger Woods is still the favorite to win the tournament.
“But that’s a difficult golf course and anything can happen. They say that the first six holes are the hardest holes in golf. I think it’s going to be a great tournament to watch. On that golf course, in that venue, if you went with a surprise winner you’d probably have pretty good chance of being correct. But if I had to bet, I’d go with the best player and I think Tiger Woods is the best player.”
Asked what he saw in Woods at the Memorial that made the winning difference, Haney said, “his ball striking was phenomenal.
“He has a good record and the Memorial. It’s a golf course he likes. It’s a Jack Nicklaus course so it tends to be pretty generous off the tee. But he hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. He was first in greens in regulation and pretty good in driving accuracy. So his ball striking was great.
“You very rarely see a player win on the PGA Tour when not in the top 10 in putting. It’s only happened twice this year. Both times on hard golf courses, Rick Fowler at Quail Hollow and Tiger (at Muirfield Village). So it was his ball striking that won the tournament. For the U.S. Open, you have to have good ball striking but the odds are pretty darn strong you have to have a great putting week. The golf course is just so demanding.”
Haney did acknowledge that it took longer than expected for Woods to find success with his latest swing change.
“It’s take time,” he added. “When Tiger changed his swing with Butch Harmon I think he was consistent a lot earlier. I think the same thing happened with me. You never know how long it’s going to take. But it’s certainly look like he’s swinging with power. I expect him to win a lot more golf tournaments.”
The U.S. Open begins Thursday as Woods, Phil Mickelson, who has never won the Open, and this year’s Masters champion Bubba Watson are in the same group.
The American Century Tournament, which features sports figures and celebrities, will be held July 17-22 on the Edgewood Tahoe layout.