The time is now for healthy, confident Woods

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October 05, 2011
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- When Tiger Woods sustained an injury to his knee and Achilles during the third round of the Masters earlier this year and subsequently returned at THE PLAYERS Championship, he admitted at the time that he'd come back too soon.

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That decision cost Woods nearly three months as he rehabilitated his battered body. When he was declared physically able to perform, it was his head that needed the rehabilitation.

"I didn't have it," Woods said Wednesday from the Frys.com Open, admitting that his confidence had been shaken by the fact that he wasn't able to hit the shots he knew he was capable of.

That admission was a glimpse into the usually fortified mind of someone who Rocco Mediate calls "the strongest, most brutal mentally (strong) person in the entire history of this game."

"He owns the mental side," Mediate said.

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Now Woods hopes to once again own the physical side, because you can't have one without the other.

This time, Woods has had exactly that -- time -- on his side after spending the last two months practicing full speed at home in Jupiter, Fla., where, oh by the way, he set the course record at The Medalist with a 62 last weekend.

The last time he did something like that he went on to win the 1997 Masters in record fashion a week after shooting a 59 at Isleworth.

That's not to suggest any such performance is about to happen here. But Woods is in a different place mentally and physically than the last time we saw him.

"He knows where he's at, what he needs to do," Woods' swing coach Sean Foley said. "When you have pain, it takes so much energy and effort to block it out. You'll be more frustrated, whereas when you're pain-free you'll be in better mindset.

"It's going to be a lot easier for him to trust [his swing] and to be committed to something he's done a hell of a lot more."

Which is why Woods is here in the first place.

The last time he played competitively was at the PGA Championship, where he missed the cut before failing to qualify for the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup.

The nearly two months off is the longest non-injury layoff of Woods' career. It also may have been the best thing for him.

When Woods returned from injury too soon earlier this year, his range sessions were limited to 45 minutes and he was on a strict ball count.

The last seven weeks have been a different story, though. He's been able to play as much as he's wanted and, at least in practice, the results have followed.

"Sean kind of alluded to even today, he said, 'You're just kind of stepping up there and just hitting it,'" Woods said. "I've kind of done all that legwork and now it's time to play. And that's where I needed to get to, which I hadn't been able to get to because I wasn't healthy enough to get there.

"That part was frustrating because I know what I can do in the game, and I just needed the time to practice. And that's why I'm so excited about being here and playing."

As for what would mark a successful week for Woods, Foley said it's difficult to quantify.

"If he loses by two or wins by five, we still have a lot of work to do," Foley said. "To me, winning is a function of him being able to play without pain and have good control of his ball. That's what I would like to see this week, is good control tee-to-green."

For Woods, it's much simpler than that.

Asked how he would measure success this week, Woods said the same thing he's always said: "Getting a W."

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