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Original Issue

Tiger Trouble

On Dec. 30 Tiger Woods will turn 35, and if history is any indication, he will have about five years left before his physical skills and nerves begin to deteriorate. Plagued by injuries, surgeries, a beefed-up and slower body, and a scandal, that drop-off may have already started. Decline happens to all athletes—slowly, imperceptibly but inexorably. That's why his decision to yet again change his swing is troubling.

Over 14 years on Tour, Tiger has decimated fields with three different swings, so what will happen now that he's working on a fourth swing, this one overseen by instructor Sean Foley? While I was always critical of the swing changes Tiger (left, with Foley) made after he left Butch Harmon, Woods never lost touch with the nuances of the sport—putting, short game, shotmaking. He excelled at those things because he continued to work on them.

No one doubts Foley's understanding of the physics of the golf swing, but he is very analytical. From what I can glean from his comments, Tiger is too, and while his latest swing change seems to be on track, he also looks guided and forced. I fear that his pairing with Foley will lead Woods to fall in love with geometry and lose sight of the fact that golf is about hitting the right shot, not making the perfect swing. Foley is a mathematician, and math is perfect. Golf isn't. You can drive yourself crazy thinking that the game will succumb to sheer effort, and in the process lose track of the things that separate great players from great swingers.

Brandel Chamblee is a 15-year PGA Tour veteran and a Golf Channel analyst.

GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Oct. 4 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.