Woods weighs in on anchoring, victories and 2013
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – As victories go, Tiger Woods was more than happy to talk about the one that served as a bridge from a forgettable part of his career to something he’s more accustomed to.
Last year’s emphatic birdie-birdie finish erased a one-stroke deficit and carried him past Zach Johnson in the World Challenge. Disregard the unofficial status that the World Challenge carries. To Woods, it was a massive achievement, since the man who used to win nearly every time he teed it up hadn’t recorded a triumph since the fall of 2009. The win cannot be understated, especially since it catapulted Woods to three PGA Tour triumphs in 2012.
Yet as Woods met reporters Tuesday in advance of this year’s World Challenge, he was asked about a different sort of victory – the sense that he’s on the winning side in this anchoring debate that has been raging for months. Woods shrugged, seemingly taking very little credit for the announcement that will take the anchoring stroke out of the game by 2016.
“I don’t know (if my opinion) carried any weight or not, but I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves and having it as a fixed point,” Woods said. Clearly, he is adamant in his stance against anchoring, but it’s not as if Woods was taking joy in Wednesday morning's announcement. He simply thinks it’s a rule “that is for the greater good of the game.”
Of course, Woods has been preceded into the interview room by two of his American compatriots who disagree. Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson are success stories who anchor belly putters. They have agreed to disagree with Woods and Brandt Snedeker and Steve Stricker and Nick Watney – just a few of their colleagues who use the conventional putting style and think everyone should.
“I’m obviously not happy,” Bradley said, though he and Simpson were diplomatic. There were no mentions of lawsuits or fighting, no mean-spirited rants against the USGA and the R&A. “I respect the USGA and (executive director) Mike Davis. They make the rules,” Bradley said.
But as the buzz of another visit to Sherwood Country Club by Tiger and his select field kicked into gear on a comfortable Tuesday, it was as if the mingling of L.A.’s glitter and money crowd with 14 of the world’s top 25 players led everyone to think about . . . well, golf.
And since he’s more than the defending champion and five-time winner – he’s the host, and his foundation realizes enormous funds from this tournament - Woods more than anyone appeared thrilled to be in game mode.
“I think I’m very excited, because last year at this point in time I was still not quite where I wanted to be physically,” Woods said. He had come off of a 2011 season that was more than a second straight winless campaign; it was downright horrific. Battered, he played in just nine tournaments. Beaten, he missed the cut in the PGA after having skipped the U.S. Open and Open Championship.
So, yes, finding his game at the Presidents Cup and then winning this 18-player tournament were huge strides. That he carried it over into 2012 pleases him greatly, and he points to a decision to withdraw in Round 4 of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral as perhaps his best move of the year.
“I did the prudent thing,” Woods said. “I was certainly well the very next event (the Arnold Palmer Invitational), which I ended up winning.”
He added wins at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial and the AT&T National, which also benefits his foundation, but Woods gives equal importance to the fact that he played in 19 PGA Tour events, plus the Ryder Cup and the unofficial CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
“This year has been fantastic in that regard.”
But don’t kid yourself; Woods has not lowered his standards from where they’ve always been set. He would trade his 2012 achievements with at least four players from the top of his head – Bubba Watson (Masters), Simpson (U.S. Open), Ernie Els (Open Championship) and Rory McIlroy (PGA).
“Any time you win a major championship, you’ve had a great year," Woods said. "(Those) four guys that had had great years this year, in my opinion.”
Woods came up empty in the majors for a fourth straight season, his drought in the biggest tournaments dating to 2008. It’s the longest of his career, but as he nears his 37th birthday, he was asked to peek toward the horizon and the 2013 major venues. Obviously, he knows Augusta National, but Woods said he never has played Merion, host of the U.S. Open. His memory of Muirfield is a cold, wet and miserable one – he was blown out of contention in 2002 by a third-round storm – and while he thinks Oak Hill, which will host the PGA, is a good golf course, he never did better than 72 there in 2003 and finished T-39.
“I’m looking forward to all four events,” Woods said.
There’s a sense of anticipation, too, for a year-long battle with McIlroy, currently the toast of the golf world, top-ranked, and clearly the best the sport has to offer.
Woods has heaped praise on the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland, and he did so again. “He deserves (to be No. 1). He’s won tournaments all around the world. He’s had high finishes on top of that, and that’s how you do it. He should be very proud of the season he’s had, and I’m sure he’s excited about what next year holds for him, as well.”
Then, a pause, as if the inevitable “but” were being put out there. Woods smiled.
“I still feel I have some of my best golf to play, and in order to do that, I had to be healthy.”
He sure seems to be, unlike his long-putter-wielding brethren who probably are feeling a little nauseous.