SAN MARTIN, Calif. – On the eve of his first competitive round since Aug. 12, Tiger Woods sounded confident and talked of his swing and game feeling comfortable, even second nature again. He pronounced himself “ready to go” for the Frys.com Open that starts here Thursday at CordeValle Golf Club.
“I can just go out and play,” Woods said.
The reason is, now that he’s healthy again, he has been playing and practicing like a golf junkie the past couple of months. To hear him, he has been out at his new home course – the Greg Norman-designed Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla. – from dawn to dusk.
“I’ve been playing 36 and 45 holes a day,” he said, “trying to get my playing instincts back and my playing feels.”
Apparently his instincts reverted nicely last week. He shot 62 at Medalist, no easy playground, and came away feeling the score could have been lower.
“It was pretty easy, and I left a few (strokes) out there,” he said. “Finally, I’ve started to turn the corner.”
This week will reveal much more. It will reflect his progress as he takes his game from private to public, from behind an exclusive gate to inside PGA Tour ropes.
Talk is one thing. Action is another. We’ve seen this over and over in golf, with Woods and other major champions whose careers hit major bumps. Despite optimism, you’re never sure exactly what you’re going to get.
Before the 1997 British Open at Troon, the dean of Australian golf writers told me that slumping Ian Baker-Finch’s game was in great shape, that a new instructor had him back in wonderful form, that we could see something special in his first competition in months. Baker-Finch shot 92 in the first round and withdrew in embarrassment.
Before the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, David Duval’s sports psychologist at the time told me that a free-falling Duval had “turned the corner” and was ready to play great again. Duval hit the ball all over the lot, opened with 80 and withdrew on the fifth hole of the second round with a back problem.
Before this year’s PGA, Sean Foley, Woods’ coach since last summer, said, “I think (Tiger) looks great. This week has been the best I’ve seen him.” As it happened, a rusty Woods opened with his PGA-high of 77, found 23 bunkers and four ponds over 36 holes, shot 150 and missed the cut by six strokes.
Point is, numbers talk in golf. Not words.
We don’t know until the flag goes up.
This is not to say Woods won’t do well here. He probably will. After all, he says his goal this week is “getting a W (win).”
This is not to say Woods is Duval or Baker-Finch or even the Woods of August. He’s anything but. He’s healthy and rehearsed this time. And oddsmakers think enough of his chances to have made him the betting favorite at 7-1 in this Fall Series event with a weak field.
Still, we just don’t know exactly what we’re going to get until we get it. And that’s what makes his appearance here intriguing.
So far we’ve gotten positive vibes and just about his entire glossary of terms. You’ve heard them before, and he served them again Wednesday: reps, explosiveness, feels, W, start lines, shot shapes and prep time, for starters.
More important, Woods talked like someone who has won 71 Tour titles, including 14 majors, not someone who has gone winless on Tour for two years. Not like someone whose life turned upside down, with emotional (scandal and divorce) and physical (leg) pain.
“I’m happy with how everything has progressed from tee to green,” he said.
Foley, too, says he has seen improvement. He says there’s no doubt Woods will find his winning ways in time.
Their good feelings stem from the fact they believe Woods is finally playing golf instead of swing.
“(Foley) said today, ‘You’re just kind of stepping up there and just hitting it,’ ” Woods said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t need to worry about whether I have the club here or here or here or here.’ I’ve kind of done all that legwork and now it’s time to play. . . . The major overhauls are done. I’ve done all that work. Now it’s just fine-tuning.”
It took a healthy leg and thousands of balls.
Now, finally, we get to witness the value of his sweat equity.