Tiger Woods scrutiny begins to go beyond the boundaries

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Tiger Woods will certainly face some tough questions next week in the build-up to the 143rd Open at Royal Liverpool. On any 'normal' occasion, he'd face an inquisition.  Is this going to be the end of the longest major-trophy drought of his career? In case you didn't know, Tiger, you've not won one since '08. 

But this time around is far from normal. He's not appeared at a major championship in 2014, having undergone surgery on a pinched nerve in his lower back just before the PGA Tour headed to Augusta for the Masters - a tournament he's not missed since turning pro, nearly two decades ago now. 

Then he withdrew from major number two, the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, although Martin Kaymer did his best to make us forget golf's star attraction was not in the field. We forgot, momentarily, but the viewing figures were unrepentant. 

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So when he announced, perhaps prematurely, or just in very Woods-like fashion, that he was returning to the course at the Quicken Loans National at Congressional two weeks ago, Tim Finchem breathed a sigh of relief and golf fans worldwide were quick to follow.

He missed the cut with rounds of 74 and 75, drawing him level with Rory McIlroy - a man 14 years his junior - on 10 career MCs, but admitted to feeling "fantastic" post-round that Friday.

But the particularly tough questions won't centre on any of those. He'll be asked about his back, his missed cut; how he feels about his first major appearance of '14, sure, but they won't be tough from his perspective. He's had plenty of practice in those areas. 

Tough questioning

What he will find particularly uncomfortable will be when he's asked to respond to not just his former coach, Hank Haney, questioning how much he cares nowadays, but also Paul Azinger's comments regarding the worsening of his swing in his quest for perfect golf.  

They'll most likely start with Haney, who, in an interview with The Scotsman, suggested the reason the 38-year-old had not chosen to play at neither the Greenbrier Classic nor this week's Scottish Open was because he "doesn't care as much as he used to". 

The pair's relationship has been somewhat fraught ever since the man Woods called coach between '04 and 2010 released his book 'The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods', which was met with obvious disapproval from the multiple major winner. Regardless of that, his recent comments will sting the returning Woods. 

Poor attitude?

Questioning someone's attitude is often understandable in any sporting context. Arsenal fans questioned Mesut Ozil after his below-par displays in last season's Champions League. England fans regularly queue up to take out the frustration of watching a limp national side on the supposed star man Wayne Rooney. 

But for Haney to question Woods for simply not playing seems, well…wrong. Firstly, he's returning from back surgery after just four months away. Of course he's fit to compete, he wouldn't have returned otherwise, but that doesn't mean he can handle back-to-back tournaments of high-intensity, professional golf. 

That's not the only reason that makes Haney's comments appear strange, though. This is Tiger Woods we're talking about; a man whose first sentence probably contained the name Jack Nicklaus. A man who has been hell-bent on becoming officially the Greatest of All Time - or the GOAT, as he likes to call close friend Roger Federer. A man who will push his body to the absolute limit if it meant another major win - remember, 2008. 

Strange comments

Puzzlingly, though, from coaching him, presumably Haney knows about his insatiable appetite for the game; his hunger to be history's number one; his utter desperation to claim 19 major titles, or at least 18 shall we say. 

Then you have Azinger wade into the discussion, this time to question why the man who had won eight major titles with another former coach, Butch Harmon, would up sticks and head elsewhere for advice on his swing.

The 2008 Ryder Cup-winning US captain - otherwise known as a collector's item these days - said: "Tiger has made astronomical changes in his quest to get better, and as a result Tiger has got a little bit worse. 

"Most golfers have made the same mistakes in some weird way about changing their golf swing . . . and I think Tiger has done that to his detriment. Jack never made those mistakes. Jack understood that if he could stay the same, he would still dominate.

"Tiger didn't need to get better. He just didn't need to get worse. He needed to stay the same and he could still dominate, and in his quest to get better, it's kind of backfired on him."

Backfired on him? Maybe in the instance that he's not reached Nicklaus' haul of 18 yet, but he's won six more majors since the days of Harmon. Six. Only 13 other men, in history, have achieved that. Phil Mickelson's won five. 

So why is their such negativity towards the man who has, at times, single-handedly jostled for golf's position on the front page of newspapers the world over? Why do former players like Brandel Chamblee; former coach's like Haney; former Ryder Cup captains like Azinger, have little to say positively of a man who will have his very own 'Tiger-cam' following him around at Hoylake next week? In hindsight, maybe that's why. 

Hidden agenda

It's time to stop questioning Woods' motives, his swing, his attitude to the golfing calendar. This guy is still golf's leading man, whether you like him or not. He's still the one player on tour who can get even the average sports fan flicking the golf on to see whether he's in contention or not. 

He'll be gone one day in the not-so-distant future, resigned to the history books alongside Nicklaus - above or below. And there'll be no attitude left to pick apart. No swing left to dissect. No possibility of a back-nine charge from the man in red. 

One day, there'll be no Tiger in any field, on any golf course, in any competition. So it's time we stopped questioning his attitude, and time we start marvelling at his continuous achievements that have been earned not just on one, or two, or even three, but four different swings - with some of those mechanics forced upon him by his ailing body.  

Azinger's right, he has "gotten worse", but he'll contend at major championships for some time to come, and more than likely win (at least) one more. Then…then it might be time for Woods to do the questioning. 

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