Tiger’s eye focused on possibility of another win at US Masters
Woods is keeping coy, but a sense of the old Masters-winning Tiger is plain to see
Tiger Woods on the second day of practice for the 2019 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia on Tuesday. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
A drip-drip feed of little tidbits has emerged in the last few days. Tiger Woods will wear retro mock turtleneck sweaters. Tiger Woods’s club manufacturers – TaylorMade, if you didn’t already know – will release for sale to the public for the first time clubs identical to the ones that the player uses. Drip. Drip.
But cometh the hour, Woods wasn’t too revealing about his statements of intent heading into this latest tilt at the Masters. The default mode kicked in; and, if we’re honest, that trait of keeping his real thoughts to himself was a bit like the old Tiger, the one who has won four of these green jackets at the US Masters.
Even Justin Thomas – who played a practice round with Woods on Monday – wasn’t revealing anything. “How do you think he’s feeling about this week?” JT was asked. The reply was short. “You can ask him. It’s not really my place to say,” responded Thomas.
What we know is this: Woods paid an advance visit to Augusta National last week for preparatory work that apparently went well (he started with a three-putt bogey on the first and finished up signing for a not-too-shabby 65); on Sunday, he walked nine holes with just a wedge and putter and spent time working on his short game; on Monday, he played the back nine with Thomas.
Woods is a master when it comes to only saying what he wants you to know but, to those of us looking in, there would appear to be a sense that the 14-times Major winner, whose last Masters win came in 2005, has different intent this time compared to a year ago when there remained question marks about his physical wellbeing after spinal fusion surgery.
Now, and increasingly, that surgery has been shown to be more of a success than anyone could have envisaged. Woods won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour last season (out-duelling Rory McIlroy, lest we forget) and has plotted a carefully laid-out path this season with just five competitive outings.
The man who has turned up this time, lightly raced in a lot of ways, is a man with a different mindset to that of a year ago.
“I feel like I can win. I’ve proven [at the Tour Championship] that I can do it and I put myself there with a chance to win the last two Major championships of the year last year [sixth at the British Open, runner-up in the US PGA]. I was right there and just needed to have a couple of things go my way and not throw away a couple of shots here and there, which I was able to do at East Lake,” said Woods.
“I just feel like I’ve improved a lot over the past 12, 14 months. But more than anything, I’ve just proven to myself that I can play at this level again. I’ve worked my way back into [being] one of the players that can win events.”
The one adjustment of late that he has made to his club set-up was to recently (before the Dell Matchplay) put a lighter shaft into his driver and 3-wood, as he was “struggling” with his neck. “A lighter shaft made it a little bit easier for my body to take it and, next thing you knew, I got a little more pop out of it and started driving it a little better, which was nice,” said Woods.
Softly, softly approach
With two top-10s in his five competitive outings this season, Woods’s softly, softly approach has provided enough of a feelgood factor to indicate that he is more up to this challenge than a year ago, when he tip-toed in, unsure if his body would hold up. This time, in keeping his cards close to his chest, there would seem to be a feeling that what has been left unsaid is probably as important as the words he uttered in his pre-tournament press conference.
And, as much as Woods’s past victories here – in 1997, in 2000 and then again in 2001 when he completed the Tiger Slam of holding all four Majors at the one time, and finally in 2005 – are important, there remains the belief that it is that win at the Tour Championship at the tail-end of last season that is most reaffirming of all.
“It proved to me that I could win again,” he said.