Tiger's short game has signs of life

SAN DIEGO -- When Tiger Woods returned to the PGA Tour in 2010 after a brief hiatus from the game to deal with that much publicized personal matter, he focused on rebuilding his golf swing.

At the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Tiger began working with Sean Foley. Since then, the two men have been on a furious pace to piece together a swing that would suit Tiger's physique, old injuries and amazing athletic ability.

At times, the swing -- and the process of undoing the work of Hank Haney -- seemed to consume all of Tiger's energy. Questions about Woods' return to prominence were intimately linked to the state of his famous motion. Nothing else seemed to matter, not even the condition of his mental game.

After a 7-under 65 on Friday in the second round of the Farmers Insurance Open at the Torrey Pines Golf Course, the 37-year-old 14-time major champion was still talking about that swing.

"I have another year in the system of working with Sean," he said. "It's not like something that you can do overnight and make changes and all of a sudden it's great. From where I came from to where I'm at now, it's a big change."

Yet Tiger's biggest change might be his attitude toward his short game. For years, Woods was the best in the world around the greens. His putting and chipping seemed to always bail him out of trouble when his ball-striking failed him.

But in recent years, this aspect of his game has taken a back seat to his work on the full swing. And this lack of attention has come to the fore in critical moments.

A glaring example of this came last February in Tiger's second-round loss to Nick Watney at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, where Woods missed seven putts inside 15 feet. On the 18th hole, Tiger couldn't find the cup on a 5-foot birdie putt that would have extended the match.

Then, after starting the third round of the 2012 U.S. Open in a tie for the lead, he shot a disappointing 75 on Saturday that included a missed 2-footer for par on the par-3 8th hole.

On Friday at Torrey Pines, Woods conceded that his short game had become a liability.

"That's something that I needed to work on, as you saw toward the end of the season, it started to come around," he said. "I haven't had to hit as many golf balls, so I've been able to dedicate more time to my short game and, consequently, it's better."

Foley, who has shouldered some of the blame for Tiger's short-game woes, concedes that Tiger needed work in this area.

"If you look at last year," said the 38-year-old Canadian, "we're refining all the same stuff. But to finish in the top 10 in total ball-striking, top six in total driving with some more putts made, and better conversion of up and downs and maybe that's nine wins instead of three. You never know."

But Foley also believes that Tiger's rededication to his short game is good news for his full swing.

"That he's working on his short game makes me happy, because it means he's getting comfortable with where he's at with his swing," Foley said.

This comfort level with both components of his game could spell doom for his pursuers this weekend at Torrey Pines, where he has won the Farmers Insurance Open six times.

Come April, Tiger might look back at this week as the moment when his game finally came back together, all of it.