Haney now out of the line of fire

Hank Haney did not swing the club, but seemingly lived and died with the result of every shot. He had no championship hardware on his mantle, no green jackets in his closet, but wore major championship emotions on his sleeve.

If Haney had a flaw during his just-ended six-year relationship as swing instructor to Tiger Woods, it was his inability to take the criticism, no matter how far flung, no matter how off base.

And it really did come from everywhere, for almost as long as Haney worked with the game's No. 1 player.

It didn't matter that Woods won six major championships and 31 PGA Tour titles since the beginning of 2005. Nor that he played some of the most consistently good golf of his career after the changes they worked on took hold.

More recently, it didn't matter that Woods returned after an eight-month break in 2009 due to major reconstructive knee surgery and won seven times around the world, with 17 top-10 finishes in 19 starts.

Nope, whenever a Woods tee shot headed for the woods, it was Hank's fault.

And Haney bristled at the conjecture, knowing that no other top player or top coach in the game endured the same kind of scrutiny.

"I've dealt with that for six years," Haney said Tuesday during a telephone interview. "That wasn't something that all of a sudden got to me. It's part of the job. If you have no critics, you have no successes. I've had plenty of success in my career, and I'm going to have some critics."

One of them was Johnny Miller, the two-time major champion and NBC analyst who last week called for Woods to dump Haney and return to the ways of 2000, when Woods won nine times and captured the U.S. Open and British Open by a combined 23 strokes.

Miller is certainly a credible source when it comes to the golf swing, and he obviously saw things he did not like.

But 10 years ago, Woods was 24 and playing golf on a knee that would later require multiple surgeries, including reconstruction in 2008. One of Haney's mandates was to fashion a swing that would take pressure off the knee.

And the issues Woods was trying to work through last week at the Players Championship were very likely borne of the inactivity and mental distractions associated with his leave from the game. The same concepts that garnered all that success a year ago were suddenly flawed? Woods has played in just three tournaments this year, a total of 11 official rounds of golf.

Then came Woods' withdrawal from the Players Championship with a neck injury. Did that not have a role in any perceived or actual swing issues?

"It was just time for me to do something else," said Haney, who has plenty to do with three golf schools in Texas, a junior golf academy in South Carolina, speaking engagements, clinics and the possibility of another Golf Channel show.

"Don't you always mull a decision such as this? Would you factor everything together? You could factor 100 things into this. I'll say that I'm pleased with how Tiger has done, it's a record I'm proud of. There's a lot of things, and I don't know how you know, I just knew it was time to step aside. There was no one incident that led to anything. The criticism, Johnny Miller. ... That's part of the deal."

It was suggested to Haney that the timing is not the best for Woods, that this would appear to be a stage of Woods' career when he needs help -- more than ever -- to get his game back on track.

And given that this was deemed to be a big year for Woods in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' major championship record -- the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and British Open at St. Andrews are places where he has won three major titles -- switching gears now does not appear prudent.

After all, when Woods made big changes to his swing in 1998, he won just once and went 10 major championships between victories. Same for 2004, when he was just getting started with Haney. Woods won just once that year and went another 10 majors between victories.

"I think Tiger is the most knowledgeable golfer that I've ever known," Haney said. "I think he's very capable of helping himself. I don't know what he'll do, what direction he'll go, but if he decided to do it himself, he is very capable.

"If he decides to go a different direction and try a different method, if you will, or a different coach, I'm sure he'll be successful with that, too. He's proven he can do that, too."

Woods figures to go it alone for the time being, simply because you don't just pick anybody. Philosophies have to align, and so do schedules. And would Tiger hire someone who already has a long list of clients?

Last week, the hot rumor linked Woods and Sean Foley, an Orlando-based instructor who works with Sean O'Hair and Hunter Mahan, among others. Foley teaches at a facility close to Woods' home, but would Tiger want to be part of a stable or would he require exclusivity? (Foley denied any such arrangement was in the works.)

Haney didn't rule out the notion of Woods finding another instructor quickly because "change is exciting to Tiger. Maybe that is something that would be a positive. It's very hard to say. You can go either way with that argument."

When Woods first employed Haney, however, their relationship was kept secret for months. And it is unlikely Woods would turn to someone else so soon, if for no other reason than to give validity to those who suggested he make a change.

Under Haney's guidance, Woods had posted 57 top-10 finishes in 78 tournaments starting in 2005. During that span, there have been just nine times when he finished worse than 30th, including missed cuts.

That kind of consistency is taken for granted with Woods, but it really is remarkable.

In the history of the PGA Tour, only 13 players not named Woods have won more tournaments than Tiger has since 2005.

And only nine have won more majors over their entire careers.

The next guy -- whoever it is, or even if there is a next guy -- steps into quite the cauldron, one that Haney appears genuinely relieved to leave behind.

"It's been a great opportunity and experience for me," Haney said. "It's just time to move on."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.