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Is Tiger’s Comeback Real?

His personal foul-ups and physical ailments slowed the recovery of his golf game, but his Bay Hill win shows he is regaining his touch
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
The Brains Behind Homeland, May/June 2012

(continued from page 1)

“I’ve been able to train again. Rehabbing and training are two totally different scenarios,” Woods said at Pebble Beach. “I’ve been rehabbing pretty much the entire last couple of years, and I haven’t been able to train much. I haven’t been healthy enough.

“I’ve made huge progress there, hence the things that Sean wants me to do with my golf swing. I’m able to practice literally all day if I want to. For a long time there, there was always some kind of limited ball count. Or I’ve got to get back to treatment, I’ve got to do icing, and stemming and all of those monotonous things just to tee it up and do it again the next day. That’s no longer the case . . . My body’s feeling explosive again, and consequently I’m hitting the ball further and I’m doing the things that, as I said, Sean wants me to do.”

Foley, a Canadian of mixed heritage just like Woods, has said he is trying to get Woods back to his swing of old, but with better understanding of just how he does it. He wants Woods to swing with a more definite arc, not sway off the ball, and compress it more with a forward shaft lean. During the first round of the AT&T at Spyglass Hill this year, Woods’ first round of the season on the PGA Tour, Foley walked around nattily attired in lavender and gray. He liked what he saw. “He’s been able to work on the things we’ve talked about,” says Foley. “I think you were able to see that in Australia, then when he won his tournament. It doesn’t come instantly and there will be times when he reverts to what he’s been doing for so many years. But overall, it looks good.”

“As far as this model I’m swinging now, I understand it,” says Woods. “I understand what I need to do now. And sometimes I’m not always able to do it. My start lines are not what they used to be. I don’t curve the ball left to right or right to left as much. The start lines are much tighter. Consequently, when my days are bad or I’m off, it’s not that far off. You know, that’s the beauty of it. That’s why I enjoyed working with Sean and what we are doing. That’s the exciting part about it, is that the ball just doesn’t move as much as it used to.”

Woods continually refers to how he played in Australia last fall, at the Australian Open and then the following Presidents Cup, where captain Fred Couples had made him a rather controversial captain’s pick well in advance of the final team selection. He vindicated Couples’ choice. Woods finished third in the Australian Open and though he won only two of the five matches he played at the Presidents Cup, his point for winning his singles match on Sunday clinched the Cup for the Americans. At the Chevron and at the start of the 2012 season Woods consistently referred to his play in Australia as confidence building (and perhaps it’s no small coincidence that his last official victory came in the 2009 Australian Masters).

After his 62 at the Honda Classic, Woods harkened to Australia. “I think it’s the work I did the end of last year in tournament golf, how important the way I played in Australia was, the exhibitions leading up to that and the way I played those two weeks. That’s what allowed me to win at the World Challenge and one of the reasons I’ve hit the ball as well as I have this year, why I felt so comfortable when the wind was howling on Sunday because of what I did in Oz those two weeks when it was blowing a gale.”

Still, there are issues with his game. Woods’ dominance was not achieved with his driver, and only partially with his iron game. He was a terrific ball striker, but more importantly the greatest short game player of all time, Seve Ballesteros not withstanding. Woods could save par from oblivion, make birdies out of the spinach, make every crucial putt from 3 feet to 50.

That short game aspect has not fully returned. Even while he was winning the Chevron, he missed a green from 90 yards with a wedge, left a rather simple pitch and run shot 20 feet short of the hole. His putting has been spotty, and he says it’s because he’s not releasing the toe correctly, which is something he always did and something that friend Steve Stricker told him about while he was on the practice green at the Presidents Cup.

“Stricks gave me a little lesson on the putting green,” says Woods. “Whatever he says about putting I’m going to listen to. He was basically talking about ball position and releasing the toe.” That still appears to be a work in progress. It was there the day he shot 62 at the Honda. It wasn’t there when he shot 75 in the last round at Pebble Beach or when he opened with a 72 at Doral when he had several good looks at birdie or to save par.

And now Tiger 2.0 has Joe LaCava on his bag instead of Steve Williams. Williams was intense, focused and also provided bodyguard services as he marshaled the swarming media types.

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