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"He hasn't forgotten how to play. And once he gets a swing he's comfortable with," Duran said finally, "who knows what he's still capable of?"
Most of golf's greatest champions collected their majors over 8-10 years and crested the hill by their mid to late 30s. Bobby Jones retired at 28. Tom Watson and Byron Nelson never won another after 33, Arnold Palmer, 34, and Walter Hagen, 36. Gary Player won only one of his nine after 38 and Nick Faldo his last at 39. Ben Hogan was an anomaly, finding his "secret" after a car crash nearly killed him and winning into his early 40s.
Jack Nicklaus, whose 18 career majors was the benchmark Woods set himself as a youngster, won all but one of his over an 18-year span; and that last one, the 1986 Masters at age 46, was what people mean when they use the phrase, "catching lightning in a bottle."
Woods turned 35 last December and collected his 14 majors between the 1997 Masters and 2008 U.S. Open, where he won effectively playing on a broken left leg. He's now had four surgeries on that leg and arrived at the PGA Championship after a two-month layoff to rehab the bad wheel -- and a year into his latest swing overhaul with Sean Foley, the third coach he hired since turning pro.
"If he works at it, he'll get his game back. He'll either figure out how to put it together or go in a different direction," said Hank Haney, who coached Woods the half-dozen years between Butch Harmon, his first pro coach, and Foley.
"Criticizing the method any of us used, frankly, is irrelevant. This guy has so much talent, he can learn to make almost any swing work. And if it doesn't work, well, that's just temporary. Like I said, he's not afraid to go in a different direction. ...
"In my mind, what happened this weekend raises two questions: Will his body hold up so he can practice enough to make this swing work? And if his body can take the work, does he still have the passion to plow in all the practice it will take to make it work?"
Haney said he and Woods were in touch, either in person or on the phone, some 200 days a year. In the past, after a performance such as this one, he might not have heard from Woods for a week.
"If he missed a cut, he'd be so mad, he was probably back practicing somewhere that Sunday," Haney said. "The problem now is the longer he slides, the tougher it becomes climbing back up the mountain. And now, he's already got a long one ahead of him."
Woods has been erratic off the tee since he first picked up a club. That's why Harmon and then Haney, provided safe shots he could use to consistently hit the fairways on narrow holes or when a tournament was on the line.
With the driver, Woods mastered a cut that moved the ball predictably left to right with a suitable margin for error. On shorter holes, he hit a 3-wood "stinger," a low, boring shot that flew dead straight and rolled out with enough distance to keep him competitive.
Since working with Foley, Woods acknowledged he has yet to develop even one consistent bailout shot from the tee box. That has increased the pressure on every part of his game.
"Now," Woods said before leaving the Atlanta Athletic Club, "I'll have nothing to do but work on my game."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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