Tiger Woods fit and focused as he plots latest Major bid
Masters champion back at Bethpage Black – where he won the 2002 US Open
Tiger Woods catches a ball as he practices on the driving range for the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black course in Bethpage, New York. Photograph: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
The main man was dressed like someone preparing for a military mission, head-to-toe in black.
A black wool beanie wrapped around his black baseball cap for added head warmth to defy the cool weather, there was rhythmic consistency as Tiger Woods caught ball after ball from his caddie Joe LaCava and effortlessly dispatched each to his chosen destination.
Except, this was no covert operation. It was all in plain view, the additional layers of clothing and headgear a contingency determined by the weather.
Close by, a state trooper, his back turned to face the crowds in the stand, stood guard. Occasionally he shifted his gaze to take in Woods’s routine. What did he see? What we all saw. A clarity of purpose for one, as Woods – who has skipped four tournaments on the PGA Tour since lifting the US Masters trophy last month – fired shot after shot towards the end of the range with military precision.
If last month’s win in the Masters heralded something akin to a second coming for Woods, his 15th career Major coming 11 years after his 14th was claimed at the 2008 US Open, the win was one perhaps appreciated more than any other by the man himself.
“I’m not going to say it was like old times, no,” said Woods of that success in Augusta. “It was very different. I hadn’t won in a long time there. I’ve been in contention numerous times to have gotten it done, but I haven’t . . . the whole tournament, how many guys had a chance to win on that back nine after Frankie [Francesco Molinari] made a mistake at 12. He just opened a Pandora’s box to who’s going to win the championship and I just happened to be one of those guys.”
As it happened, of course, Woods was the last man standing; the one who had the green jacket slipped onto his shoulders again. And, now, he’s here at Bethpage Black – a place where he won the 2002 US Open – and, in his own way, thankful that golf, his chosen sport, provides its players a longevity unlike many others.
“It’s great to be part of the narrative. My narrative spans 20 years now, just over 20 years. If you look at most of the players or the players that have had the most success on tour, you’re not measured by like an NFL football player when you get in the Hall of Fame after nine years.
“If you played out here nine years, you haven’t really done that well. You’re measured in decades. Arnold Palmer played in 50 straight Masters. It’s just done differently.
“Because the nature of the sport, we’re able to hang around a lot longer and still be relevant. A neat thing about this championship here is that when Jack [Nicklaus] played in his final PGA in 2000, I played with him, [and] he said he played with Gene Sarazen in his final PGA. So the fact that golf can span nearly, what, 60, 70 years and playing careers, that’s what makes it so special.”
What it has also done for Woods is to give him a second coming, having laboured with injuries – four back surgeries, including spinal fusion, and four surgical procedures to his left knee – for most of the past decade.
And, as he showed in contending at last year’s British Open and US PGA before winning the Masters last month, Woods – forced to limit practice and forced into a revised, shorter playing schedule – has managed to show up at the Majors as healthy as he can be.
“I think I’ve done a lot of the legwork and the hard work already, trying to find my game over the past year and a half. Now I think it’s just maintaining it. I know that I feel better when I’m fresh. The body doesn’t respond like it used to, doesn’t bounce back quite as well, so I’ve got to be aware of that.”