Once upon a time there was a Tour player so good that the other pros treated him like a god. Fred Couples said, "You get the feeling sometimes that the rest of us are all playing for second place." Tom Watson said, "He has raised the bar to a level only he can reach. Someday I'll tell my grandkids that I played in the same tournament with Tiger Woods."
The record book said pretty much the same thing. From 1999 through 2003, Woods won more than a third of the tournaments he entered. As recently as 2009 his winning percentage hovered near 30%, almost 10 points higher than that of Ben Hogan, the only other pro with a win rate above 20%.
Woods won often, and he also won big. He won his first major, the 1997 Masters, by a record 12 strokes. He ran away with the 2000 U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes, and a month later he won the British Open by eight. The following spring, when he slipped on his second green jacket, he owned all four major titles at the same time. Woods was player of the year every year. He won the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average every year. He was the leading money winner every year.
And he had the best tempo.
By best tempo I mean most consistent. Virtually every Tour player swings at about a 3-to-1 ratio of backswing to forward swing. But tournament pros are not robots; some of their swings deviate fractionally. The better measure of a golfer's tempo is repeatability. Which Tour pros can count on their inner clock to function flawlessly over four rounds?
To answer that question, I collect video of the pros under tournament conditions and then check for variability in their swing times. For example, I studied videotape of the 2002 U.S. Open that showed Tiger warming up for his final round and then shooting a cautious 72 to win his eighth major. When I timed his range swings I was tempted to shake my laptop to see if it was broken. Every single backswing timed out at 24 frames of broadcast-standard video. Could Tiger take it to the 1st tee? Oh, yeah. He drilled a three-wood down the fairway and then floated a wedge to the middle of the 1st green. Both shots were 24/8.
Woods gained his consistency after he scrapped the swing he used to win the '97 Masters and started building a new one under the supervision of Butch Harmon.
It's hard to argue retroactively against the switch. Once Woods got the new moves down he went on a half-decade tear highlighted by the Tiger Slam and a six-tournament winning streak. The only thing I can contribute to the discussion is my tempo data, which says that Woods swung faster in 2000 than he did in 1997. That's faster as in elapsed time, not clubhead speed. Tiger's rebuilt swing pared thirteen-hundredths of a second off his rookie-year swing.
But while Woods got faster, he maintained the critical 3-to-1 timing ratio. When I first timed him, using tape from the '97 Masters, he was a consistent 27/9. Five years later, with eight more major titles under his belt, he was an even steadier 24/8.
Different swings, yes. But identical in their adherence to Tour Tempo.