If Tiger Woods ends his long wait for another major title at this week’s U.S. Open, it’ll be the greatest achievement of his glittering career, says leading golf coach David Leadbetter.
Dogged by injuries and frustrations with his game, the former world No. 1 has slipped to 195th in the rankings ahead of Thursday’s opening round at Chambers Bay in Washington.
Woods has been stuck on 14 major titles since his third U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines seven years ago, when he overcame a serious knee injury which would sideline him for the rest of the 2008 season.
This month he carded the worst round of his pro career with an 85 at the Memorial Tournament — which surpassed January’s previous mark of 82 at the Phoenix Open.
“Winning another golf tournament would be a major success,” Leadbetter said in CNN’s live webchat The Clubhouse. “If he does win a major, it could be considered as a greater feat than what he has achieved to this point in his career.”
Leadbetter, who has coached multiple major champions such as Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Ernie Els, and now works with women’s golf sensation Lydia Ko, suggested an in-form Woods is the greatest player to have picked up a club.
“We had 12 phenomenal years out of Tiger. Nobody in the history of the game played any better,” the 52-year-old said.
“Things have happened in his life, plus injuries, plus Father Time, plus strong competition. They have all, added together, made Tiger not the player he once was.
“It’s not to say going forward that a player of his superior talent cannot catch lightning in a bottle periodically, but my feelings on the old-dominant (Tiger) re-emerging is very slim.”
Leadbetter says Woods, who over the years has constantly remodeled his game with a succession of coaches, should go back to basics and rediscover what made him great in the first place.
“To Tiger — Go and figure it out yourself. You have more than enough knowledge ‘to dig it out of the dirt yourself,’ as Ben Hogan used to say.
“Forget cameras, launch-monitors, biomechanics — get back to your creative self and trust your innate ability.”
Leadbetter is tipping Woods’ old rival Phil Mickelson to grab the one major title to have alluded him during his 23-year pro career come Sunday at the U.S. Open — a tournament where the veteran American has been runner-up a record six times.
“I correctly predicted Jordan Spieth for the Masters, I’m going to go for Phil this week,” the U.S.-based Englishman said.
“He would certainly be my sentimental favorite as his career deserves a grand slam.
“I wish my two young players, Alex Levy from France, Byeong-hun An (Ben An) from Korea, youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur, the best of luck for the week.”
Leadbetter is confident that Ko’s recent dip in form is just a blip on her incredible learning curve.
In February, the New Zealander became the youngest professional golfer in history to be ranked at No. 1 when she was just 17 years of age.
Now 18, she gave top spot back to Inbee Park when she missed the cut at last week’s PGA Championship in New York and the South Korean won the title. It was the first time in 67 professional starts that Ko had failed to make the weekend rounds.
“Lydia is a very special player who seems to have found the formula at a very young age,” Leadbetter said.
“The strength of her game is that she basically doesn’t have any weaknesses. But like all players throughout history, they all have their peaks and valleys.
“Right now, she’s in a little valley after having played so well for so many months, but I don’t expect it to be long before she bounces back.
“Pressure can do strange things to players whether trying to stay No. 1, win a major, etc. and this is the area that Lydia is working on — learning to handle the pressure that comes with success.”
By Matias Grez