Not even Tiger Woods can make time stand still
Tiger Woods remains golf’s biggest rock star. His body may be battered, but his aura remains powerful.
“In my generation we were all looking up to him, especially around 2000, 2001, 2002,” British Open champion Francesco Molinari said Tuesday at the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club. “He was doing unbelievable things. So, yeah, he’s been a model and an idol for me growing up and it’s nice to see him back playing good golf.”
Yet this is not the same Tiger. In fact, we have seen several different Tigers since he ruled the sport in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
He changed swings. He switched coaches, caddies and equipment. He suffered upheaval in his personal life. He required various surgical repairs.
And like all of us, he got older.
Today’s Tiger is still one of the world’s best golfers, but we can’t expect him to dominate as he did for more than decade.
“I’m 42 now and I’ve had four back surgeries,” Woods reminded reporters Tuesday. “So things are going to be different from day to day and it’s just about managing it.”
The physical challenge of his latest comeback has been far more difficult than the mental side.
“I know how to play the game of golf,” Woods said. “It’s just, ‘What are my limitations going to be?’
“Certainly I can’t do what I used to do 10, 15 years ago, but I’m still able to hit the majority of my shots. I’ve had to learn a swing that is restricted. I’ve never had a spinal restriction before and I played all those years without it. Now, I’ve had a bum knee most of those years, but I could wheel around that.”
All things considered, it’s amazing he is still playing competitive golf.
“First of all, he had to learn how to move again,” observed Rory McIlroy. “He had to learn how to swing. Geez, I mean, 18 months ago the guy couldn’t walk. He was in bed. So to get to this point is a phenomenal achievement already.”
Blues president Chris Zimmerman worked closely with a younger Woods during his time at Nike Golf. He marveled at Tiger’s competitive drive and perfectionist nature.
“He really was -- maybe I should say still is -- a freak of nature with the way he’s in tune with the game,” Zimmerman said.
For example: He remembers Woods working with Nike designers while trying to find just the right driver. During one session Tiger tested four of the clubs and said that he didn’t like the heavy one.
The Nike crew compared the rejected driver to the others. “The difference in weight was about the same as a dollar bill,” Zimmerman said.
Such fanatical attention to detail is even more critical now that Woods must adjust to his physical condition.
“To think that he’s already won his 14 majors with basically three of four different golf swings. This is sort of his fifth,” McIlroy said. “So if he could go ahead and win another major with his fifth golf swing, I mean, that’s unbelievable.”
Today’s Tiger Woods ranked 1,199th in the world back in December after his two-year hiatus. He finished 32nd at The Masters and missed the cut at the U.S. Open.
But he also finished in a tie for fourth at Quicken Loans National earlier this year and made an exciting run at the British Open at Carnoustie.
“The buzz that was around The Open Championship ... with him being there and playing well, that just brings something extra to the game of golf,” European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn said.
Woods led with eight holes to play before faltering on the 11th and 12th holes. That performance, a tie for sixth place, raised expectations for the remainder of this season. It was Tiger’s sixth top 12 finish.
Then his game crumbled last week at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at the Firestone Country Club, one of his favorite courses.
He missed fairways. His irons and wedges failed him. His swing lost velocity as the tournament unfolded and he staggered to a tie for 31st.
“There’s just going to be certain days that I’m not going to have the speed and the flexibility and the movement that I once did,” Woods said.
He opted not to practice Monday. Instead he stretched, did leg lifts and took some ice baths to ease his inflammation, which he described as “everywhere.”
Woods practiced for five holes Tuesday between thunderstorms and hopes to squeeze in a round Wednesday. He was upbeat about his chances despite last weekend’s struggle.
“Just for me to have this opportunity again, it’s a dream come true,” Woods said. “I didn’t know I could do this again and, lo and behold, here I am ... I’ve had my share of chances to win this year as well and hopefully I’ll get it done this week.”
Just imagine if Woods could relive some of his past glory. Imagine what that would do for golf.
“In my opinion, the best player that’s ever played the game,” Bjorn said. “I’m glad this generation of players get to experience Tiger Woods because that’s what they need. They need to experience what he brings to the game and they need to experience all that comes with the world of Tiger Woods.”