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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 2)

LaCava is no less focused or competitive as Williams, but his visible intensity level is considerably less. “He’s just as competitive as I am,” says Woods. “He’s feisty, and I like his demeanor on the golf course. He may be competitive, but he’s pretty mellow and pretty relaxed out there. I guess when you’re working with Fred, it’s kind of hard not to be relaxed.”

Is hiring the well-liked, approachable LaCava somehow an indication of the mellowing of Woods? For all of his career, Woods has been a distant, Teflon-coated warrior. Nick Faldo described himself has adopting an Iron Chest mentality, an impenetrable persona that shed competitors and adorers alike. Woods’ Iron Chest was as thick as it comes, a heavy-metal protection from the outside world that let him stay focused on beating the living daylights out of everyone.

Davis Love thinks he sees some change in that personality. “I think Tiger has become more engaging,” says Love. “He’s talking to people more. He’s not in and out of the locker room as quick, doesn’t walk around with his head down as much. On the driving range he isn’t the guy with his head down hitting ball after ball anymore. You know, he’s a smart, funny guy, and more of that has been coming out. I think he’s figured out how lucky he is to be doing this, to achieve what he has. His career was like Jack, like Greg, guys who when they were at the top were a little difficult to know. Not everyone can be a Nick Price, a player at the top who is very personable.”

And Love thinks that having LaCava by his side is just what Woods needed. “I think it’s really great that he has Joe LaCava as a caddie,” says Love. “The way Joe is, a great guy, great family guy, is really good for Tiger. In a sense, having Joe makes him one of us. It would be great if he has five Joes around him.”

“Good question,” says Couples when asked what LaCava brings to the table for Woods. “Joe’s a pro, but everybody knows that. He’ll get things right for Tiger. Obviously, Joe and I got along real well or he wouldn’t have been with me for so long. He’s easy to get along with and maybe that helps Tiger some. He’s always under control. But I know he wants to win just as bad as Tiger does, I’ll tell you that.”

Couples had to defend himself by picking Woods so far in advance of the Presidents Cup, and Woods vindicated that selection. But Couples also defends Woods the person. He’s at least gotten a peak inside the Iron Chest, and liked what he saw.

“I know that he can seem like a hardass, but you have to walk in his shoes,” says Couples. “If Tiger does do this, if he doesn’t do that, if he doesn’t sign autographs or play in this tournament or whatever, there is somebody all over him. Well, he just can’t be what everybody wants him to be all the time. He doesn’t blow through people every single day, but if he does and someone writes about it, he’s a bad guy. That’s just not so.

“The whole world knows he made the biggest blunder in the world. With Tiger, everything is just pushed bigger and bigger and it’s just part of the deal, and he doesn’t have a problem with it . . . He was the kind of guy that during rain delays he was always there in the locker room, telling jokes, having a good time with the guys. He didn’t isolate himself. As soon as he walked on the range, though, he was a different guy. It’s business, it’s his work.”

But there was Woods at PGA National, after his 62 which he turned in nearly an hour before McIlroy’s winning finish, signing autographs instead of going to the range, beating a few balls and staying to himself, staying in the moment.

“Tiger 2.0 is a totally different person in public,” says Couples. “We walked through a casino in Australia and he acknowledged people. Now, when you are as successful a player as he is, when you’ve got hundreds, thousands of people talking at you, yelling at you all the time, do you necessarily have to acknowledge everybody? No, I don’t think so. At the Presidents Cup he was great with the crowds, signed autographs, talked to people. Now that he’s back and he’s healthy and in contention, he’s got to rally his troops. I mean there has to be 100 million people on his side.”

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