Tiger all the talk at Tavistock Cup

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WINDERMERE, Fla. – Rust? What rust?

Layoff? What layoff?

To hear touring professionals John Cook and Arjun Atwal, each of whom played multiple rounds with Tiger Woods last week at Isleworth Country Club, Woods already is ready for the Masters. Both gushed when asked the state of Woods’ game, which hasn’t been seen in competition since last November.

The question posed to both fellow Isleworth members Monday at the Tavistock Cup there was: Based on what you witnessed, in what place do you think Woods will finish at the Masters, which starts two weeks from Thursday on April 8?

“From what I’ve seen the last three days with his ball-striking ... first,” said Cook, a longtime friend and golf mentor who played with Woods last Thursday and Friday and practiced with him on Sunday.

First?

“I don’t see anybody hit the ball like he does,” Cook responded. “It was vintage. If he takes that game up there, I’d be hard-pressed to see anybody beating him.”

But then Cook cautioned that Woods’ first competitive round in about five months will be different from casual rounds with friends at home. “It’s his first round, you have to mark your ball on the first green, sign your card at the end. You have to walk, pace yourself and wait for people. It’s different.”

Atwal said he foresees a finish in the “top 5” for Woods, adding, “If he gets that putter going at all, he’ll probably win. He doesn’t think he putts that well, but he was putting well compared to us mere mortals.” Atwal based his prediction on impressions from having played and practiced with Woods “almost every day last week.”

Reader poll

Does Tiger Woods need to tell us more?

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Their takes came a day after Woods gave a pair of 5-minute interviews on national television regarding his comeback to golf at the Masters and the sex scandal that broke out after a Thanksgiving car accident.

Woods sidestepped several questions Sunday, including what he’d consider a Masters success. However, Cook and Atwal–members of the 10-man Isleworth team that trailed visiting Lake Nona, 6-4, after Day 1 – didn’t mince words.

“(Woods) feels he’s not totally ready, but I think he’s ready,” said Atwal. “He’s very mellow now, very chilled out.”

Atwal said Woods was clearly longer off the tee than before. “He’s killing it,” he said. “Absolutely killing it.”

Asked what part of Woods’ game appeared rusty, he said, “Nothing at all.”

In coming weeks, touring pros probably will encounter awkward moments when around Woods, perhaps not knowing what to say. Even Cook, who has known Woods well since the mid-1990s, said he felt uncomfortable “just for a second” last week.

Cook characterized Woods as a “little gentler” though he said they talked about “nothing. It was a lot about nothing.”

You’d have thought he was talking about the concept for the “Seinfeld” television series.

“You could tell by his eyes there was something in there,” Cook said. “But I don’t need him to say anything to me. As (rocker) Sammy Hagar said – it’s my favorite quote of all-time – ‘What is understood doesn’t need to be discussed.’ ... He’s not handcuffed around us. We don’t talk about what’s going on. We don’t want to know.”

Cook called Woods’ TV interviews “another step in the right direction. Like his (rehabilitation) program, he’s taking a step. He let us into his little world.”

Playing golf is another step. Most players figure Masters crowds will be well-behaved around Woods, but Cook said gallery behavior at Woods’ next event, in a less controlled environment, “could be interesting.” Stuart Appleby suggested Woods could face heckling if he plays the Ryder Cup this fall in Wales.

“I think Tiger probably will be received very well at the Masters, but how do you control a golf tournament?” said two-time Tour winner Charles Howell III, Augusta, Ga., native and Isleworth member. “You can’t control what somebody might yell or say or what questions the media might ask. But every time Tiger has had his back against the wall, he’s come out and done something incredible.”

photo

Tiger Woods speaks to Tom Rinaldi in an ESPN interview that aired March 21.

Like many others, Cook figures Woods’ chief challenge at Augusta will be focusing mentally. “But he just got through something (rehab) that takes all the fortitude you have,” Cook said. “If he can survive that, playing golf is nothing.”

While Cook has spent plenty of time with Woods lately, Mark O’Meara said he hasn’t talked with the world No. 1 on the telephone or in person, adding that he has left messages but hasn’t heard back. Captain of the Isleworth team, O’Meara has been a mentor and one of Woods’ closest friends over the years.

“I care about my friend,” O’Meara said Monday. “He made a mistake. He’s coming forward now and really taking full responsibility. Anytime you do something wrong, you have to have accountability and he’s got it. ...  He has come fairly clean with the fact that he’s got no one else to blame but himself and (he’s looking) in the mirror and he’s trying to get better. You’ve got to respect that.

“Certainly we don’t respect what has happened, but on the other hand we’ve got to let the guy move forward and try to fix himself and get better. I just hope that he learned a valuable lesson here and he comes out a better person.”

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