There were plenty of good signs for Tiger Woods fans on Thursday, as Woods completed 13 holes on a weather-delayed day in one under par. He was moving well, holing a few putts and hitting quality iron shots on a very windy day. Yet perhaps the best sign that Woods can play his way into contention over the weekend came before he even teed off.

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Early in ESPN’s opening-round coverage, cameras cut to Woods warming up on the range, where he was seen making a deliberate rehearsal move—one that will look familiar to avid Tiger fans. Take a look:

Tiger is working on creating hip depth, which is key to preventing early extension in the downswing. When your hips move toward the target, or early extend, in the downswing, you lose your spine angle which puts a lot of stress on your lower back.

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Early extension also causes you to lose control of the clubface, as the club tends to get “stuck” behind you. Essentially, there is not enough room for the club to be in front of your body when your hips lunge toward the ball.

At the peak of his career resurgence in 2019, just after winning the Masters, he was spotted working on a similar move at the Memorial Tournament. He explained what he is trying to achieve with the rehearsal.

“It’s trying to get the right hip deeper,” Woods said. “And then from there, keep the left hip deep as well, which puts the club out more out in front of me instead of, a lot of time when I’m feeling tight, I don’t quite get deep enough loaded on my right hip and I start standing up, which puts a lot of stress on my back.”

That, of course, was in 2019, after his spinal fusion surgery but before the car accident that severely damaged his right leg. Back then, it was much easier for Woods to load into his right hip in the backswing to, as he says, get the club more out in front of him on the downswing.

Fast forward to the 2021 PNC Championship, where Tiger was seen practicing the same rehearsal move.

However, three years later, Tiger’s right leg has been shattered and put back together, with his ankle completely fused. That has made it much more difficult for him to load into his right leg in the backswing like he prefers to do. The issue is he still has an aching back, and when he doesn’t load properly, he early extends, which in his words, puts a lot of stress on his back.

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Yet on Thursday at the Masters, Tiger was back to working on increasing his hip depth. If Tiger can properly load his trail leg, as he was exaggerating, then he will not only take stress off his lower back, but he will recapture the move that Jon Rahm’s swing coach Dave Phillips said made him the greatest iron player ever.

J.D. Cuban

“You’ll actually see him kind of pushing his butt back as a drill, trying to feel like he creates space,” Phillips said in 2019. “This is a huge factor in the golf swing. And for me, one of the reasons why he’s been the best iron player ever.” Phillips is the founder of Titleist Performance Institute, which specializes in tailoring golf swings to each player’s unique physical capabilities.

“As long as he’s sitting deep, what it does is it enables him to get his arms back out in front of him, and that brings him back to being the greatest iron player of all time,” Phillips said.

The biggest question is whether Tiger’s impaired right leg will allow him to properly load into it, but seeing that he is back rehearsing the old move, Tiger fans have reason to be optimistic, even if his outlook after Thursday’s play was more understated.

“The body is okay. We’ve got some work to do yet tonight,” he said.


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