Analysis: Will divorce give Woods more on-course freedom?

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (BestGrowthStock) – With his divorce finally behind him, Tiger Woods will compete in his first tournament in six years as a single man at this week’s Barclays Classic in Paramus, New Jersey amid much speculation over his form.

The scandal-hit American world number one has been a shadow of his former dominant self since his double life was exposed at the end of last year following multiple revelations of his marital infidelities.

Woods has yet to win in nine starts this season, produced the worst four-round performance of his PGA Tour career at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and has struggled with his mental focus — an area of his game where he is usually peerless.

It could be, however, that the finality of his divorce from his Swedish wife Elin will help him practice and play competitive golf more freely with his mind now less prone to wander, quite literally, off course.

The dissolution of their marriage took place at the Bay County Circuit Court in Florida on Monday and Woods is set to tee off in the opening round of the PGA Tour’s Barclays Classic at Ridgewood Country Club on Thursday.

Time is not on his side, though, as his 2010 campaign draws to a close. The Barclays Classic is the first of four lucrative FedExCup playoff events and Woods needs to perform well this week if he is to advance further.

The 14-times major winner lies 112th in the standings and only the top 100 players on Sunday will qualify for the second playoff event, the September 3-6 Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Massachusetts.

By his own admission, Woods has struggled to regain consistent form since taking a self-imposed five-month break after his private life spectacularly unraveled in late November and December.

ENCOURAGING RETURN

He made an encouraging return to the PGA Tour when he tied for fourth at the U.S. Masters in April and again at the U.S. Open in June but the rest of his year has been forgetful.

Among the low points were a missed cut at the Quail Hollow Championship, a withdrawal from the Players Championship due to a neck injury and a tie for 78th at Firestone in a field of 80 at this month’s Bridgestone Invitational.

Eight days ago, Woods tied for 28th at the U.S. PGA Championship, the year’s final major, where he began working unofficially with a new swing coach in Canadian Sean Foley.

Asked whether he might recruit Foley full-time, Woods replied: “I still want to pick his brain a little bit more, I don’t really have all of his whole concept yet.

“But I like some of the things he had to say about my golf swing and where I needed to go.”

Comfortably the greatest player of his generation, Woods has not won anywhere in the world since the Australian Masters last November and has lost the aura of invincibility he once enjoyed.

“I don’t know about entering a new era but there is a slightly different feel,” British world number nine Paul Casey told reporters before the PGA Championship.

“The feeling in the locker room is slightly different. The way he played (at Firestone), guys feel this tournament is wide open, and that’s not a feeling a lot of guys have had before.”

MAJOR TARGET

Woods has long targeted the record 18 majors won by his childhood idol Jack Nicklaus and, with just four opportunities each year, he certainly needs to get his game back on track if he is to close the gap.

Earlier this month, he conceded for the first time he had been unable to practice as much as normal. With his divorce impending and golf frequently keeping him on the road, he tried to see his two young children whenever possible.

“Life has changed,” Woods said. “I haven’t practiced as much as I used to, nor should I. My kids are more important.”

Whether his practice time will increase now that his six-year marriage is over remains to be seen, and the jury is also still out on whether he will be able to regain the unwavering on-course focus for which he is renowned.

“It depends on the extent to which he is able to compartmentalize,” Dr Joe Parent, Vijay Singh’s former mental coach, told Reuters. “The ability to separate things out has not been as strong as he might have thought it would be.

“Before, he always seemed to put his game face on and shut everything else out.”

Parent, who helped Fijian Singh become world number one in 2004 and American Cristie Kerr rise to the top of the women’s rankings earlier this year, said it was impossible to separate the technical aspects of golf from the mental.

“Your state of mind affects every swing you make,” he added. “Tiger would have an easier time finding his swing keys if he had peace of mind in general.

“In the same way, if he was swinging the club pretty good, he would be able to compartmentalize things a little easier. Inevitably, your mind wanders to other things and those other things (his private life) haven’t been much fun either.”

(Editing by Rex Gowar)

Analysis: Will divorce give Woods more on-course freedom?