Haney is stunned by Woods' zest to improve

As if the vanquished had not been injured enough, then Tiger Woods' coach took aim with another shot at their wounded hearts yesterday. "He's only going to get better," Hank Haney said.

That was some statement in the wake of an 11th major title that took the world No 1into joint second on the all-time list, just seven behind Jack Nicklaus. But Haney knows what he is talking about. He has been with the most eager student he has ever had the honour to teach since the pair ripped up one Mona Lisa of a swing three years ago and replaced it with a veritable Starry Night.

"It probably does not get any better than that, considering all the circumstances and everything," said the wily Texan, referring to the death of Woods' father, Earl. "But it is still a work in progress. His zest to improve is simply stunning. He will never stop trying to learn in order to step up to the next level."

The overwhelming sense in a game waking up quite humble yesterday is that there surely cannot be too many upper levels. For four holes down the stretch at Hoylake on Sunday evening as Chris DiMarco pressed, Woods seemingly hit the ceiling of excellence and when he revealed afterwards that he did not have to consciously crank up his play, the feeling of inferiority only intensified. "I believe the way I play golf you turn the switch on the first hole and you have it on the entire time," he said. "And you don't try harder on each and every shot. You have the same effort level, give it everything on every shot."

But it could have been worse for the rest - his margin of victory was only two shots and it could have been many, many more if Woods had not missed three tiddlers on Saturday's inward half. But even that was not his fault, as Haney gallantly put up his hand. "I was on the practice green with Tiger before he went out," he explained, "and I noticed something wrong with his stroke. But just as I was about to tell him, he holed two bombs across the green so I didn't bother. I was kicking myself when he started missing them as I noticed he had slightly opened his shoulders again."

It was about the only time all week, though, as Woods resisted from giving it the big heave-ho, unfurling his driver just once - definitely an Open first if not one in golfing history. Haney laughed when someone said Woods had "just bunted the ball around" - "some bunt, that," he countered, "290 yards with a two-iron" - and outlined the reason why Woods favoured accuracy before power.

"It was the only way he could see it," he said. "Whatever favours the course best that week. He won his two Opens at St Andrews playing in two different styles - aggressive and conservative. Here, it was obviously the latter."

Whatever it took, then, was the key to Tiger's comeback to the winning circle, although Haney believes it was too much to expect it any sooner. "At the US Open I know everyone wanted to pick on him for that but I think it was kind of a throwaway considering the situation," he said. "No one allowed him a chance to get his feet on the ground again. He hadn't played since April."

But now he is back, Haney suspects he will soon be on duty to help plot the path around Medinah for next month's USPGA Championship.

"Tiger is all about trying to win major championships these days," he said. "It is so hard to win these things. It's incredible. He only missed three irons all week which is pretty 'zoned in', but still only won by two, by a whisker."

It was a long whisker, though. A Tiger's whisker.

How he did it: The numbers that made Woods the Open champion

* DRIVING DISTANCE
1st rnd: 308.5yds
2nd rnd: 288yds
3rd rnd: 273yds
4th rnd: 294yds
Average: 290.88yds
All players' average: 294.32yds

* FAIRWAYS HIT
1st rnd: 11 out of 14
2nd rnd: 12/14
3rd rnd: 12/14
4th rnd: 13/14
Average: 12/14
All players' average: 9.42/14

* GREENS IN REGULATION
1st rnd: 12 out of 18
2nd rnd: 16
3rd rnd: 15
4th rnd: 15
Average: 14.5
All players' average: 11.99

* PUTTS PER ROUND
1st rnd: 27
2nd rnd: 28
3rd rnd: 34
4th rnd: 31
Average: 30
All players' average: 30.5

* SAND SAVES
1st rnd: 1/1
2nd rnd: -
3rd rnd: 0/2
4th rnd: -
Average: 1/3
All players' average: 0.72/1.8

* EAGLES, BIRDIES, BOGEYS
1st rnd: 1, 4, 1
2nd rnd: 1, 6, 1
3rd rnd: 0, 5, 4
4th rnd: 1, 4, 1

* 1, 2, 3 PUTT GREENS
1st rnd: 10, 7, 1
2nd rnd: 6, 11, 0
3rd rnd: 4, 12, 2
4th rnd: 5, 13, 0

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