Woods confident his game is prime-time ready
April 07, 2015
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Tiger Woods has 12 top-5 finishes at Augusta National. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Since we last saw Tiger Woods easing his compressed and contracted glutes into a car in San Diego two months ago, there have been many all-day practice sessions on the range back home in south Florida.
When Sam and Charlie, his two young children aren't in school or doing homework, they might be there, too, playing tag or card games or picking flowers while their dad was beating balls.
"I worked my ass off," Woods said. "That's the easiest way to kind of describe it. ... It was sun-up to sundown, and whenever I had free time; if the kids were asleep, I'd still be doing it, and then when they were in school, I'd still be doing it.
"So it was a lot of work."
Sam, who's 7, and Charlie, who is a year younger, visited the range again on Tuesday with Woods' girlfriend, world champion skier Lindsay Vonn. Only this time the group was at Augusta National, which underscored the fact that Woods is finally confident his game is ready for prime time at the Masters.
Woods has only played 47 holes in competition this year, missing the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open after shooting 82 on Friday and withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open after 11 holes. Several days later, Woods issued a statement saying that his play was "not acceptable for tournament golf" and he planned to take a break until it was.
Of particular concern was the former world No. 1's short game, specifically some wildly inconsistent chipping that caused many to wonder whether he'd caught a case of the yips. But the steady progress he saw on the range back home in Jupiter along with two practice rounds at Augusta National last week convinced Woods to tee it up.
"It would come in flashes," Woods said, acknowledging enough frustration that clubs occasionally "flew" some pretty good distances. "I would get in these modes where it would come for ten minutes and I would just have it, just dialed in; and then I'd lose it for an hour; and then I'd get it back.
"And next thing you know, I'd flip to having it for an hour to ten minutes of losing it, and then it got to a point where it was just there."
Once those lapses were gone, Woods, who has slipped to No. 111 in the world, decided to venture out again. Phil Mickelson, like the rest of Woods' peers, is anxious to see how Woods performs on a course where he's won four Green Jackets, but none since 2005.
"He seems to be striking the ball very well," Mickelson said. "He played in front of me today and I saw him hit some shots and it looked impressive. His speed is up, the ball is flying long and straight and it looks like he's swinging free without any type of manipulation. It looks really good."
Mickelson, though, knows what it's like to have a crisis of confidence like Woods has endured after battling injuries for the better part of the last 18 months.
"I expect him to play well, but I'm sure he's going to have the same challenges I've had, that we haven't played well and been in contention in a while and that's going to be the mental challenge we've got to overcome," Mickelson, a five-time major champion, said.
Woods, for his part, says he doesn't concern himself with what pundits have written or talking heads pontificated on TV.
"I've come to the understanding that I live it," Woods said. "I know exactly what I'm doing out here and I've hit the shots, and I don't really need someone else's secondhand opinion of what I was thinking of. I know exactly what I was doing out there."
Woods, ever the center of attention, has appeared relaxed this week, playing practice rounds with his long-time friend Mark O'Meara. He also plans to play -- and have his children caddie -- in the Par 3 Contest on Wednesday for the first time in more than a decade.
Oh, and Woods, the epitome of fire and focus, was even been caught grooving to the hip-hop music piped into his earbuds on the range. He estimates he has 300 songs in his playlist.
"I just wanted to rock out," the 39-year-old Woods said with a smile.
Make no mistake, though, the single-minded determination is still there. Someone asked Woods what a win on Sunday might mean to him, given last year's back surgery, the glutes and this year's deterioration of his game.
"It would be my 15th major," he said.
Three closer to matching Jack Nicklaus' record, and that, after all, has always been Woods' goal.