OUT OF THE WOODS

Can Tiger Woods re­dis­cover the magic of days gone by?

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS FEATURES - WORDS PETER THORN­TON

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.

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