Tiger puts on game face for major

As Tiger Woods' stock plummets to historical lows, the erudite Australian Geoff Ogilvy offers a contrarian view on the floundering world No.1.

"There are less expectations this week of winning a golf tournament than he's probably ever had as a professional," Ogilvy said Tuesday at Whistling Straits.

"He might like that everyone thinks he's going to play bad."

After last week's debacle at Firestone Country Club, Ogilvy's certainly right in that Woods, the perennial favorite going into majors, has been written off like never before as a serious contender at the PGA Championship.

Even when he's had his struggles in the past, there's always been the notion that he could simply will himself back into the winner's circle, especially at a major.

"This week, I'll be honest, the feeling in the locker room is slightly different," England's Paul Casey said on Tuesday when asked about Woods.

"I'll be honest, the way he played the past week, guys feel like this is wide open, this tournament, and that's not a feeling that a lot of guys have had before."

Woods even had to deal with the ignominy on Tuesday of being asked in his pre-tournament news conference how it felt to hear that he'd gone "from the No. 1 player in the world to, like, one of the worst players on the planet?"

He showed there was still a little bite in the ol' Tiger by responding to the journalist that "the good thing is even though I'm one of the worst players on the planet, I might be able to beat you, so I do feel good about that."

A little feistiness, showing that he still cares after the way he raised the white flag last week, can't hurt his cause going into the year's final major.

Of course, he'll need a lot more than just a little vinegar in his veins if he is to be a threat at a course where the fairways must be found in order to contend.

To that end, Woods has spent two days working hard, both on the course during practice rounds and on the range and putting green.

On Tuesday, he had Sean Foley, the boyish-looking Canadian who's one of the hottest coaches in the game - his pupils include last week's winner Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose and Sean O'Hair - take a look at his swing.

Foley, who's based in Orlando and has been a favorite to become Woods' next coach, told reporters the world No. 1 becoming his star pupil was "a possibility".

"Certainly it's a possibility," Woods said later, playing his cards, as always, close to his chest. "But there also is a lot of other coaches out there that (are) a possibility, as well, that I've talked to."

What must be exasperating to Woods is that he knows the fatal flaw in his swing that causes the wild shots that ruined him at Firestone.

Woods has always dipped his head too much in the downswing, a move that traps the club behind him and causes him to straighten his front leg violently as he comes into contact with the ball.

Over the past two days, he's gone back to an old drill Butch Harmon used to keep his head steady. He's had caddie Steve Williams hold a club to his head to promote the idea of "standing taller" throughout the swing.

"It's something that I worked on over the years (and) I've gotten away from," he said, "The head was moving way too much for me and my golf swing.

"It's starting to feel a little bit better."

But the greater question becomes whether he can start feeling a little bit better, too.

He was not happy in Akron, no doubt a reflection of the divorce settlement he's been immersed in, and there can be little doubt that adversely impacted on his desire to play.

But he appeared more positive on Tuesday.

"I think in life you just have to keep moving forward, and that's what I'm doing now," he said.

"With all that's going on on and off the golf course, I feel that I have to look at the positives and keep pushing myself to go forward and keep trying to get better.

"And that just doesn't mean hitting good golf (shots). It's getting better all around, and that's what I'm trying to do."

And it didn't go unnoticed that he'd shaved off his goatee.

The fact that he kept the goatee for all four days at Firestone - he's rarely ever played with facial hair before, certainly not at tournaments that are important to him - was significant and, to me, became the motif for his haplessness.

Remember that Woods is meticulous about his appearance; this is a man who still irons his own clothes because he wants the creases in his pants to be just as he likes them.

He just wasn't Tiger Woods with the goatee; it was as if he didn't have his game face on.

It was interesting, too, to hear him say that he'd expected to hit rock bottom at an earlier stage during this most traumatic of seasons.

"To be honest with you, I thought I would have been here a bit sooner, with all that's going on," he said. "But somehow I've been able to play a little bit better than I thought for a stretch. It finally caught up with me last week."

Woods is rarely revealing in public, yet every now and again he offers a glimpse behind the curtain. He did so on Tuesday when he compared his views on golf after his father died in 2006 with how he sees being on the course after his sex scandal.

"Two totally different deals," he said.

"I really took solace in going out on to the golf course after my dad passed because it brought back so many great memories of us growing up and practicing and training and competing and giving each other the needle.

"Here it's been different. Every time I come out here, it's been a little bit more difficult."

Difficult to play or difficult to motivate himself to play?

He didn't say.

But as he left the media center to return to the putting green Tuesday, trying to solve the riddle of the eight footers that won't drop, Woods sounded like a man who didn't want to be here a little less.

"One of the great things about this sport is that no matter how poorly or how well you play the week before," he said, "It all begins anew."