OUT OF THE WOODS
Can Tiger Woods rediscover the magic of days gone by?
His incredible consistency at the peak of his powers saw him win seven major titles between 1999 and 2002 and dominate the game like no one before him. Perhaps the best example of ball control came in Woods' last major win at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 almost 10 years ago.
The World No 1 and Williams had a heated discussion about the club selection for his final shot into the 72nd hole which he famously birdied to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate.
“Tiger, you have to absolutely trust me on this one. And if I'm wrong, fire me. I know how much this means to you, so if I'm wrong just fire me,” Williams later said in his book Out of the Rough.
He was right and Woods hit the shot pin-high and went on to claim one of his most famous major wins and called Williams' influence the No 1 call of his career.
Of course, on the eve of another Tiger Woods' comeback (fittingly at Torrey Pines), possibly the last of them all, the golfing landscape around the iconic golfer of our generation has completely changed.
Woods admitted his oncebiggest-strength is now a huge unknown as he strives for the consistency that made him unbeatable. “The biggest concern I have is trying to getting a control on my distance,” Woods told the PGA Tour on his return at the Hero World Challenge.
“I haven't had to play any golf with any adrenalin in my system. Having that surge of adrenalin, how much further is this ball going to go? It is normally around half a club but is it going to be more than that considering I haven't played. Throughout my career I have always been pretty good at hitting the ball pin-high and I am concerned about that and what my body is going to be feeling with that energy.”
Woods, out all last season after back surgery, ended a 522-day absence from the PGA Tour when he teed it up on a course where he has won eight times. His first event back, the Hero World Challenge, told us everything and nothing at the same time. He shared the lead early, fired a bogey free sevenunder par 65 in the second round but in the end battled to a four-over par 76 in the final round to finish 15th among 18 invitees.
Still he was back. And it was a long way from where he was a year ago in 2015 when he delivered a press conference that shocked the world. Deep in the gloom of another back injury Woods conceded he would never break Jack Nicklaus' record major tally of 18.
“The biggest concern I have is trying to getting a control on my distance,” Woods told the PGA Tour on his return at the Hero World Challenge.
“There's really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards,” said Woods in the interview that was quoted around the world. “It's literally just day by day and week by week and time by time. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don't know.”
All of a sudden there is hope again. Woods had to really listen to his body and be patient. “I didn't feel right about it,” said Woods of a possible return last year. “As hard as it was for me to take it off, that amount of time, it was the smart thing to do. As a competitive athlete it killed me inside. I wanted to compete and I felt ready because I had played with less and won. But I had waited 16 months, what was a couple more months? So I decided to be patient and take it a little easier on myself and it gave me a couple more months to get stronger.”
Woods described winning a golf tournament as an evolution. It was going from his home on the range, to his home course, and then going into a tournament, then on the back nine of an event on Sunday trying to win it and then into the ultimate; the back nine of a major championship.
“It's a process and right now I am just happy to compete again. I am at the beginning stages of that process.”
The ultimate goal for Woods, as it always has been, is to win major titles and that of course starts in April when he will return to Augusta National for the US Masters. Whatever happens between now and then, he knows that the world will be watching every step and swing of his comeback.
“I want to get myself in that mix come Sunday afternoon [at PGA Tour events]. I know that is a tall order since I have been away from the game for so long and I have made a lot of different changes in my game but the mind-set is still the same.”
Everyone loves a comeback story. If Woods can rediscover the magic of yesteryear in 2017 it will be one of the great sporting stories of the year, perhaps decade. Can he get back to ball striking that made him unbeatable so long ago? He is pretty sure he can. One thing is for sure, it is going to be fascinating watching the final chapter in the career of the greatest golfer of our time.
“It’s a process and right now I am just happy to compete again. I am at the beginning stages of that process.”
Tiger Woods during the proam ahead of the Hero World Challenge at Albany, The Bahamas on November 30, 2016 in Nassau, Bahamas. Tiger Woods hits a shot from a greenside bunker.
Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth laugh on the practice range.