Harmon: time for action, Tiger

The doctor's advice
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The Independent Online

The splitting of an item is never a laughing matter for the jilted party. Yet 18 months after Tiger Woods made the seismic phone call which brought their eight-year partnership to an abrupt halt, Butch Harmon remains the most affable of men.

The fallout has unquestionably contaminated the world No 1, who no longer possesses the aura of invincibility he acquired while winning eight major championships and a host of routine tournaments.

For his part, Harmon has taken rejection on the chin and keeps smiling. But the pain clearly lingers. Notwithstanding the wisecracks that pepper his conversation, the 60-year-old American rarely wastes an opportunity to pinpoint the reasons for Woods' decline. And his caustic comments touched a raw nerve during the US Open at Shinnecock Hills last month, when a slanging match broke out between the estranged pair.

A subsequent conversation apparently cleared the air, but Harmon reserves the right to analyse Woods' swing in his capacity as a TV commentator, and is better qualified than most to assess his erstwhile student's prospects at Royal Troon.

"This is not the Tiger Woods of two or three years ago, but we've got to cut him a little slack because when he made a lot changes to his swing before, in 1997 and 1998, he went through a quiet period then as well." However, Harmon's harmless opening gambit was soon followed by a more acerbic observation. "Tiger keeps saying that his game is nearly there, but I think the time has come for him to show us this with results rather than talk.

"His biggest problem is that people were used to Tiger dominating and he's not doing it at the moment. I don't see the intimidation factor with him any more. He has lost a bit of confidence and the others now know they can beat him. Before, they would all be overwhelmed.

"Phil Mickelson has closed the gap. He's given up about 10 yards off the tee and his accuracy has shot up. That had a lot to do with winning the Masters, and I'm sure he's ready to launch his first proper challenge for The Open. As far as winning majors is concerned, Tiger's not going to add to his collection until he learns to drive it a lot straighter. If he can put the ball consistently into the fairway, then he's obviously a big threat in any tournament. Personally, I believe the true world No 1 over the last year has been Vijay Singh. Ernie Els and Mickelson are also challenging."

Mention of Mickelson is especially poignant, as the laid-back Californian bridled a year ago when Harmon outspokenly described his refusal to give up any yardage off the tee as "pathetic". Nowadays they act like best buddies, often swapping gags about Woods.

Harmon has had more time of late to devote to coaching Darren Clarke, Adam Scott, Fred Couples, Steve Flesch and the last two champions at Troon - Mark Calcavecchia and Justin Leonard.

Post-Woods, Harmon has seen Clarke lift his second World Golf Championship title in Ohio last August, and Scott win the Players' Championship in Florida in March.

He believes both have some way to go if they are to fulfil their talents, though. "Darren has all the shots and his game is suited to links courses," Harmon says. "He's worked hard on improving his fitness and stamina by losing so much weight, but he still has to keep his temperament in check. He needs to remain patient if something goes wrong, because everyone is going to make mistakes from time to time in a major.

"I think at the moment Padraig Harrington has the edge on Darren in terms of patience. One thing's for sure, we're not going to get four calm days, so staying patient will be very important. As for Adam, he's still learning how to play in majors. He can be a streaky putter and that's how he's won to date - by holing out from everywhere. He'll probably need to do the same if he's to get into contention at Troon."

Harmon has spent all his life in the limelight after his father, a hitherto little-known club professional named Claude, stunned the game by winning the 1948 Masters.

Also christened Claude, Harmon played on America's PGA Tour from 1969-71. "My all-time hero was Arnold Palmer - he was the greatest influence on me," he recalls. "I used to waggle the club like Arnold, hitch my pants up like Arnold, tried to do everything like Arnold. But that was where the resemblance ended. I wasn't really very successful, so I became a club pro like my three brothers. Now my main job is running my own golf school in Las Vegas." The turning point in his career came in the early 1990s, when he remodelled Greg Norman's game to such effect that the Australian won the 1993 Open at Sandwich.

Soon afterwards he hooked up with Woods, then 17. "We built his swing together," said Harmon, with pride and ruefulness. How ironic that his former client seems intent on dismantling it all by himself.

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