ROCHESTER, Mich. - You've heard the rumors, right?
The one about how Tiger Wood's wildly popular commercial of a few years ago is fake, a work of art from digital images of a golf ball dancing on his wedge bounce after bounce.
After all, have you tried that trick? It's nearly impossible to do it five times, let alone 100. It's even more inconceivable to do it going behind your back. Or between your legs. Or plucking the ball out of the air and bashing it 100 yards all in one motion.
Golf fans from around the country who have seen Woods' impressive golf clinics know those rumors aren't true. Watching Woods step on a driver and blast it 325 yards over the driving range fence is fun, but nothing beats his circus act with a wedge.
With chants of "USA, USA" coming from the crowd just days before the 35th Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Woods conducted a special ball-striking display in front of several hundred die-hard fans at the Oakland University Learning Center.
He tried to convey his secret to his game - "It's really pretty simple. I just hit the same shot with a different club," he says - while preaching to the crowd the benefits of his warm-up routine. Woods performs only a handful of clinics a year, many for his corporate brethren at Nike or Buick. The chance to see him swing in such an intimate setting is rare indeed.
Woods, 28, who has won 40 times on the PGA Tour, including eight majors, certainly didn't look like the player who has struggled in recent majors. He nailed all his shots. After nuking his first 4-iron straight and long, carrying well beyond the 200-yard sign, he giggled and said: "That was a good shot wasn't it? I was happy with that."
He hit demonstrative duck-hooks and searing slices, all on command. Yet, we're all good on the range, right?
Woods gave credit to Jack Nicklaus for borrowing his warm-up routine. Woods always hits three sand wedges, then moves to the 8-iron, 4-iron, 2-iron, 3-wood, driver and reverses field again.
"When I hit my first three sand wedges, I don't care where they go," he said. "I just hope the ball gets in the way. I just try to feel the club and the ball on the face. From there on out, I hit every shot to a target."
Throughout the clinic, Woods emphasized balance to help amateurs improve their consistency.
"The key to consistency is always solid contact," he said. "In the pro-ams, I see so many players swing so hard. They get out of balance. Great balance has always been one of my biggest keys."
Woods said he carries his sand wedge "118 yards comfortably" and the 4-iron "210 yards comfortably" and added when he's swinging well, his ball draws 1-2 yards in the air. When the 2-iron came out, Woods hit his vaunted stinger - a low missile right over the 250-yard sign.
His favorite drill involves hitting five clubs all the same distance. To demonstrate, he hit his 8- through 4-irons 180 yards, all within a five-yard radius of one another. "I used to fight this drill so bad. I was not good," he admitted.
The club that is so maligned in Wood's bag, his NIKE ignite driver, looked like his best weapon during the clinic. His first try flew the 300-yard sign, and almost hit a cop car driving by.
"That was the wrong car to get to," he said as the crowd roared its approval. "How are those Detroit Metro cops? Are they all right?"
He said he's lengthened a lighter version of his old shaft from 43.5 inches to 44.5 inches within the last year to give him an added 18-20 yards of distance.
"I fought technology for the last three years with my steel shaft. Then people started blowing it by me," he said. "I'm not the longest driver on tour, but I'm decent. I can compete."
That quip only drew more chuckles from the gallery. Woods said he usually swings at 80 percent power, a scary thought considering ranks sixth in PGA Tour driving distance at 303.5 yards a pop. He said he only steps it up to 90 percent, "one or two times a tournament when the risk is worth it."
"Anything above 90 percent, I don't hit it square," he said.
To finish the day, Woods executed a perfectly placed flop shot - with a 7-iron. To accomplish the task, he squatted nearly on his knees to open the clubface.
He got even lower for his final shot, a driver from his knees that carried 200 yards.
Many of the media members that had gathered were hoping for comments from Woods on his game heading into the Ryder Cup, but he was whisked away to a waiting limo before anyone could get close.
Still, fans seem to appreciate their once-in-a-lifetime demonstration from the world's most popular athlete.
"I'm thrilled that Tiger came to my home course," said Molly Beresford, a member at Oakland University's 36-hole facility. "He is an inspiration. He talked to really all levels of golfers. That was fun."
Driver - Nike Ignite, 9-degree
3 Wood - Titleist Pro Trajectory 970, 15-degree
Irons (2-9) - Nike Forged with True Temper Dynamic Gold X-100 shafts
Wedge (PW) - Nike Forged
Wedge (SW, LW) - Nike Forged, 56-degree, 60-degree
Putter - Scotty Cameron by Titleist Studio Stainless Newport 2
Ball - Nike One TW
September 16, 2004