Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Worst over for Tiger Woods?

Like a tsunami that begins on the other side of the equator, the great comeback has begun. Tiger Woods' final nine of the competitive golf season – at least coming into this week's Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood CC – was a 6-under-par 30.

His final round was a 7-under-par 65. His finish was fourth in the Australian Masters, which does not reward the winner with a green koala-fur coat but did feature winner Stuart Appleby, plus Camilo Villegas and Robert Allenby, among others.

"Over the last few tournaments I've played, I've gotten into hot streaks where I do it right," Woods said Tuesday. "Before, I'd get it going for three, four holes and now I've done it for nine holes, and now I've got to get it for 18 holes and eventually all 72.

"It's a process. I've been here before. I did it twice with Butch (Harmon) and once with Hank (Haney) and now once with Sean (Foley). I'm excited about it."

This comes near the end of the most famous year of Tiger Woods' life, a fantastical statement when you consider how universal his life has always been.

What if you had predicted, 53 weeks ago, that Woods would not only win no tournaments in 2010 but would not even compete in a final group or finish higher than fourth?

Or that he was at least 10 shots behind, going into the final round, in nine of the 13 PGA Tour events that he played?

Never mind the subtext, The Other Stuff, that preceded and then contributed to it. Take the golf alone, and it's like Kobe Bryant averaging eight points a game. And Bryant, when he went through his year from self-created hell, did not have to wait several minutes between shots.

Finally, mercifully, Woods is no longer the top-ranked player in the world. Lee Westwood is, and Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson are third and fourth.

They and the rest of golf will learn that 2010 was the interregnum. Just like 1994 and 1995 in basketball, when Michael Jordan played baseball in Birmingham.

Woods, 35, is healthy. He is relatively paparazzi-free. He has dodged WikiLeaks. He is suffering from nothing except a twitchy foot, which is eager to start booting the backside of the rest of professional golf, yet again.

Foley is a Canadian who has built the golf games of Sean O'Hair and Hunter Mahan. His father is from Scotland and his mother from Guyana, and he played at Tennessee State, a predominantly black school. His avant-garde approach, and his eclectic background and off-golf interests, were perfect for a curious mind like Tiger's, who had lost confidence in Haney, although Haney was the one who dropped him.

"It just wasn't working anymore," Woods said. "I kept trying to do the same things I'd been working on with Hank. I just couldn't do it, for some reason."

Foley and Woods got down to business every night at the PGA Championship in August. Woods took a week off and distilled the information, and shot 65 in the first round of the Barclays.

"At that point there was no looking back," he said. "Sean tried to explain his methodology and it was eye-opening because there were a lot of terms I didn't know. It was about coming to grips with the terminology and implementing it and whether I even can.

"I'm getting to the impact areas I used to, but in a different way. I'm staying over the golf ball now, something I've never done. We're always taught to move off and drive ourselves into it. But some of the motor patterns, when I feel the impact, I've been here before."

Only twice in 2010 did Woods post consecutive sub-70 rounds on the PGA Tour. The one day that he frothed up his gallery was Saturday at the U.S. Open, when he charged home with a 66.
He was in third place behind Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell. Most years, that would have meant he was leading.

"I was very confident, but I didn't putt well on the first two holes and hit that bad drive on 3," he recalled. Woods trudged home with 75 and was fourth. There were no more echoes to awaken.

Woods was not as forthcoming about anything else. About blocking out the divorce and the furor, he called it "harder than anyone can ever imagine." He said he was "creating boundaries, because there certainly had been boundary failure," and that excited him.

He also was asked what changes he would like to see in televised golf, since new contract negotiations are looming.

"I'd like to see me win more tournaments," he said.

That is the urge that reunites Tiger with the world. The comeback has begun. When it comes into view, you will hear it.

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