Woods rusty but could regain magic this week
Tiger Woods has shown before that he can emerge from a slump or injury to win on big stages
July 15, 2014
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Tiger Woods blitzed Royal Liverpool en route to his third Open Championship title. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, England -- He had played the 2006 Masters knowing it would almost certainly be the last major championship he competed in while his father was alive.
No matter how hard he tried, though, Tiger Woods, already the owner of 10 major titles, couldn't overtake Phil Mickelson. He ended up tied for third.
On May 3, Earl Woods, who had fostered his son's love of the game since Tiger was in diapers, died. Woods didn't play again until the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and not surprisingly, the grieving son missed what remains his only cut in the season's second major.
When he came to Royal Liverpool a month later, though, Woods said he felt at "peace." Even though Chris DiMarco made a run at him, Woods never waivered on the way to victory that Sunday, dissolving in tears on the shoulder of Steve Williams, his caddie at the time, when the two-stroke win was assured.
"I wouldn't necessarily say it was every day, but certainly on Sunday I really felt my dad was with me," Woods recalled on Tuesday. "I said back then ... that it was like having my 15th club.
"I felt that type of peace when I was out there."
As Woods returns to Royal Liverpool this week, though, there is a different kind of turmoil in his life.
The resilient one is on the comeback trail -- again -- after having microdiscetomy surgery in April to repair a pinched nerve in his back. He's missed the first two majors, as well as the cut at the Quicken Loans National in his first appearance since the operation and just his fourth start of the year.
Woods ranks a distant 212th in the FedExCup, which he already has won twice, with just 43 points. He has fallen to 72nd in the Ryder Cup, as well, although U.S. Captain Tom Watson has said he wants a healthy -- and competitive -- Woods on his team.
"If he's playing well and he's healthy, I'll pick him," Watson said on Monday. "But then the caveat is if he doesn't get into the FedExCup, what to do then? And that's the question I can't answer right now."
Woods, though, remains positive. If he follows his normal schedule, counting this week at Royal Liverpool, he'll play three times in the five weeks remaining before the FedExCup Playoffs begin.
"The way this point structure is, you can make up ground pretty quickly with some wins," Woods said. "And if I get in the Playoffs ... you just win one event and you come out of nowhere to the top five very quickly."
First, though, Woods needs to make those Playoffs.
He trails the current bubble boy, Richard Lee, by 333 points but a win during the PGA TOUR Season is worth 500. Two upcoming events -- the Open Championship and PGA Championship -- offer 600 points to their champions while August's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational has a 550-point prize going to the winner. If he doesn't play his way into the top 125 he'll be on the sidelines like he was in 2011 when Bill Haas claimed the $10 million bonus.
Royal Liverpool is not the same course Woods blistered in winning at 18 under, either.
In 2006, the links where Bobby Jones won the third leg of his famed Grand Slam was baked dry, so dry that two fire trucks were stationed on the property in case a fire broke out. The ball was running with abandon, and Woods made the unusual decision to hit driver only once in 72 holes.
"Now we're making ball marks on the greens, which we weren't doing then," Woods said.
The good news for the former world No. 1 is that he feels completely healthy again. The Quicken Loans National certainly wasn't a success in terms of the scores he posted, but Woods was able to go at it hard and play pain-free.
"I was able to recover," Woods said. "To go out the next day and feel fresh."
So to those who would suggest Woods is too rusty to contend this week as he plays in his first major of 2014, he has just one thing to say. Remember 2008? Woods had knee surgery right after he finished second at the Masters and still ailing, he returned to win the U.S. Open two months later.
"The Sunday before the U.S. Open I didn't break 50 for nine holes and still was able to win it in a playoff with an ACL and a broken leg," Woods said. "I've proven I can do it. It's just a matter of putting my game (together) and giving myself the best chances this week to miss the ball in the correct spots, to be aggressive when I can and obviously, to hole putts."
"That's a recipe you find for every major championship but I've just got to do it this week."