Tiger woods is slumping. Don't argue; we've got photographic proof. In one picture, taken at the U.S. Open in June, his right shoulder is a centimeter or so lower than his left. In another picture, snapped at the British Open in July, his spine is clearly bowed a degree or two to the right. That's not a slump? As for last week's PGA Championship, in which Woods finished 29th and failed to successfully defend a major title for the third time in as many months-well, when the prints come back from Walgreens, we expect them to show that Tiger's sternum is a tad closer to his coccyx than it was last year.
To give proper credit, this explanation for Woods's recent substandard play comes from Bob Prichard, director of Somax Posture and Sports of Corte Madera, Calif. Prichard says that Woods has overused his right stomach muscles, leading to the formation of inflexible microfibers between his obliques. "As a result," Prichard states, "he now pulls his head down during his downswing [and] opens the club face slightly at impact, pushing the ball." This problem, Prichard concludes, "cannot be resolved by concentration, instruction or practice." No, Tiger needs a $300-an-hour Somax massage to release his microfibers.
Sounds squirrelly, but some of Woods's swings at the PGA did resemble a Halloweener bobbing for apples, and he did launch a lot of tee balls to the right—when he wasn't yanking them to the left. After a first-round 73 that included three three-putt greens and two double bogeys, Woods used the word mistake seven times, as in, "I need to eliminate a few little swing mistakes." Trouble is, there's nothing little about a mistake when your clubhead travels 125 mph, as Tiger's does. He had to scramble on Friday to avoid missing a 36-hole cut for only the second time in his pro career, and when he finished on Sunday, Woods resembled a bottle of Chateau Petrus '92. Great wine, dodgy vintage.
Let's not argue about that, either. This year has been a disappointment for Woods. During a 12-week stretch of brilliance, he won the Masters, three other Tour events and a European tournament, but he has had to get by for the rest of the year with his C game. His best finish of the summer has been a 12th at the U.S. Open, which her opened with a four-over 74.
The pattern of bad first rounds-has persisted: 75 at the Buick Classic, 73 at the Western Open, 71 at the British Open, 73 in Atlanta Statistically, Woods is a shadow of the player who dominated most Tour categories in 2000. As of Aug .13 he was 111th in driving accuracy, 62nd in putting average, 83 rd in putts per round and 99th in sand saves. Curiously, when asked last week if he was struggling in any particular area, Woods said, "No, I'm very happy with all facets of my game." He obviously wants to discourage microanalysis of his troubles, not wanting to dwell on the details. So let's dwell on them for him. The most popular explanations for Woods's summer slide, in no particular order, are:
He's burnt out. "He didn't want much of an entourage with him this week," said a source close to the Woods camp. "Tiger wanted his space." Woods lent weight to the burnout theory when he skipped the Buick Open, the week before the PGA, to rest and decompress at his home in Orlando. "Didn't touch a club for a while," Woods said, "and it was nice just kind of not doing much."
He sold out. When he signed a multimillion-dollar endorsement contract with the Walt Disney Company in June, Woods agreed to play in The Skins Game and an undisclosed number of other made-for-TV trifles. That's on top of his dealings with American Express, Buick, Nike, Titleist and eight other companies, not to mention the execrable Battle at Bighorn.
Cherchez la femme. Rumors continue to circulate that Tiger has the hots for supermodel and pro volleyball star Gabrielle Reece. The Woods camp denies the rumors and claims that he merely gave her swing tips at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Las Vegas, where Reece is training for a try at the LPGA tour.
He is physically impaired. The tired-obliques theory follows months of speculation that Woods has played with a strained right Achilles tendon. In one version of the story Woods injured the Achilles the week before the U.S. Open while walking barefoot through a mountain stream in Alaska.
He has altered his swing. Some sharp-eyed observers claim Woods has slightly strengthened his grip by changing the position of his right thumb. Others say he is swinging the club back more to the outside than he did in 2000 and cupping his left wrist at the top of his backswing. "All players tinker with their swings," says Harmon. Woods won three majors, six other Tour events and more than $9 million with last year's swing. Why change?