Smiles. Lots of them. With each one, his brilliant white teeth radiated from the podium down to us in the walled garden. A buggy awaited to take him to the first tee but, for now, Tiger Woods was relaxed and shooting the breeze about a variety of topics and giving off the vibes of a man at ease.
These few days are all about being here for JP McManus – “This is one of the ways we can pay tribute to JP and what he’s done. I know he hates the limelight and he hates getting in front of cameras and all that but we’ll go ahead and do that for him,” said Woods. And with the two-day pro-am tournament at Adare Manor an unqualified success, the 15-time Major champion plans on staying on for a few days to get ready for links golf and a return to St Andrews next week for the 150th Open.
Which links had he pencilled in for the prep work? You might as well have asked for the revelation of a state secret. “I don’t want to tell you because I don’t want everyone coming and watching us. So, yes, yes and yes!” he replied, those teeth flashing and the smile extending into a little laugh to himself.
Yep, this was Tiger at ease in his own body, one which has required so much rehabilitation since that car crash of February 2021.
Of the daily physical workouts which have helped towards recovery, Woods remarked; “It’s been worth it. It’s been hard. I’ve had some very difficult days and some days which moving off the couch is a hell of a task, and that’s just the way it is. I’m very thankful for all the support I’ve gotten, my treatment staff, all of my surgeons who are repairing this leg and keeping it.
“So, I have my own two legs, which I tell you I’m not going to take it for granted any more. Some people do. People who have come close or lost a limb understand what I’m saying. But you have difficult days and also you have great days and some are not what they used to be, that’s for sure. But they are great days in which I can spend with my kids and do things that they can do at a slightly slower pace, but I can still do it with them.”
Woods’s appearances on tour are few and far between these days, with the US Masters back in April the only four days he has played, while he withdrew after three rounds of the US PGA and skipped the US Open.
“The plan was to play the US Open but physically I was not able to do that. There’s no way physically I could have done that. I had some issues with my leg and it would have put [The 150th Open] in jeopardy and so there’s no reason to do that.
“This is a pretty historic Open that we are going to be playing. I’m lucky enough to be part of the past champions that have won there, and want to play there again, and I don’t know when they are ever going to go back while I’m still able to play at a high level, and I want to be able to give it at least one more run at a high level,” said Woods.
That visit to St Andrews will be preceded by a number of rounds of links golf at those secret locations, which is a throwback in many ways to how Woods used to prepare for playing in the Open. Days which started with trips with Mark O’Meara and the late Payne Stewart. “I’ve come here on several occasions to not only get over the time zone but get used to links golf … play different venues so we get used to playing links golf because it is a different kind of game.
“It’s played on the ground and it’s totally different. Yardages are generally thrown out the window. Juts because it’s 176 [yards] doesn’t mean it’s an automatic 8-iron and throw it up. Sometimes the 11th hole at St Andrews, I’ve hit as much as 3-wood in there and I’ve hit as short as a little 9-iron in there. It can play interesting and that’s the way, the nature of links golf. You have the option of playing on the ground and rolling it on the ground.”
And before that links challenge, Woods has been smiling his way around Adare Manor – liking the cart golf which has saved his legs – and playing the role of the perfect guest. “We know how much JP means to golf and what he’s done for our sport and any time we can help out any which way we possibly can,” said Woods.