As Tiger grows older, he insists he will work smarter

March 21, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Arnold Palmer reads the newspapers like the rest of us. He watches TV, too.

So he's seen flashes of what he calls the "old-fashioned" Tiger Woods, the one who has already won 14 major championships and a total of 71 times on the PGA TOUR. But he also notices subtle differences in Woods' Sean Foley-inspired swing and "I question that," Palmer said.

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"I can't tell you just what those things are or what he's thinking about how he's going to continue to play," the legendary golfer and this week's host-with-the most said Wednesday, "I think he's strong enough and he's smart enough and he's got all of the equipment to do the things that he always did do. ...

"So you know, if I were making a prediction, I would say, look out, because one of these days, he's going to come back and play pretty good golf."

Whether that breakthrough comes this week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard remains to be seen. Given Woods' six victories at Bay Hill, though, this certainly seems as good a place as any to end a PGA TOUR victory drought that stretches back 30 months.

And make no mistake, Woods wants us to know he is ready. Yes, he did withdraw from the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship two weeks ago after 11 holes in the final round. Don't worry, though, the offending Achilles tendon in Woods' left leg is back to his new normal.

"I feel great," Woods said firmly as he faced 40 media members in the scoring area across the street from the 18th green.

Wearing a green-on-green striped shirt and khaki pants, Woods appeared relaxed Wednesday after shooting a bogey-free 67 in the pro-am. When a reporter asked him if he was "resigned" to having to deal with aches and pains at "this stage of his life," Woods turned the tables on the scribe.

"I think as we all know as we age," the 36-year-old began, only to be interrupted as the writer protested, "Not me."

"Yeah, you look great -- the hair's all black," Woods countered with a smile as he cast a pointed glance toward the Aussie, whose hair is flecked with gray.

Even so, Woods does have to listen to his body more now so that he can avoid doing further damage to his surgically-repaired knees and keep that tender Achilles from tightening up. A few years ago -- can you say 2008 U.S. Open? -- he wasn't as careful, and Woods paid a heavy price.

"I did play through it and that's one of the reasons why things happened, why I missed tournaments and why I missed majors," Woods said. "... It's hard. It's really hard, because I want to compete, I want to be out there."

Sometimes, though, he just can't. That's what Woods realized that recent Sunday at Doral. His Achilles was tight when he warmed up on the range and got progressively worse -- "that's one of the downsides to it is that the more active I am, the more swelling," Woods explained. When he parred the 11th hole, he knew that he was done.

"I've had tightness before, but not that to extent," Woods said. "But treatment afterwards always gets (it) to right back to where it should be."

Thanks to the therapy, the swelling quickly subsided and Woods felt good enough to play a practice round at Augusta National on Sunday. He called it the "test" and once the once-aching Achilles passed, Woods knew he was ready for this week -- which could mean eight rounds in eight days counting the Tavistock Cup, Wednesday's pro-am and a potential 72 holes of competition at Bay Hill.

Woods acknowledged the Achilles could become problematic again without warning. "But hopefully, it won't," he said. Granted, there was an anxious moment or two during Wednesday's pro-am but that came when his back seized up on the sixth tee.

"I guess one of the so-called professional photographers took a picture right in the middle of my downswing," Woods said. "I stopped it, and then felt a pretty good twinge in my back. Walked it off and then tried to hit one down there, hit it in the fairway, but didn't feel very good. But after a couple of holes it loosened up and I'm good to go now."

So he'll continue to monitor his practice sessions closely and walk off the range if he feels it's necessary. Woods can make other allowances, too, running three miles instead of five or working on different body parts in the gym to "make sure they are strong and supple and explosive," he said.

If there's a warning sign, Woods knows what to do. He also knows how to win again, and he's anxious for another opportunity on Sunday.