I’ll be honest – there was a point sometime around the WGC Bridgestone Invitational back in August of 2010 when the thought finally crept into my mind that maybe his career was over, at least the dominating career I’d known it to be over the years anyway. Tiger didn’t come remotely close to breaking par in any of the four rounds that week, and in fact he played so badly that he could’ve been spotted a whopping 29 strokes by the eventual winner (Hunter Mahan) and still would’ve come up a stroke shy of beating him. Unfortunately for Tiger there wasn’t a cut in that event, and his horrible golf game was on display all four days that week. Only one player in the field would play worse, Henrik Stenson, who finished the week at +20. Tiger got him by 2 strokes, finishing at +18. When asked later that evening what aspect of his game he felt he needed to work on the most, he was very matter-of-fact in his response. “I need to hit the ball better, I need to chip better, I need to putt better, and I need to score better,” he said. In other words, everything. Everything needed some serious work.
Over the next several months we found ourselves becoming desensitized to the typical Tiger-speak every other week during his interviews. Phrases like “it’s a process,” and “getting closer,” or “getting more consistent” or “excited about how my game is progressing” caused us to ponder amongst ourselves if maybe the collision with the fire hydrant back in the fall of 2009 had injured the part of his brain that processed his cognitive thinking skills. Or maybe he was in complete denial of how bad his game really was, despite what we saw on our televisions back home each tournament he played. It was some really awful golf, kinda like a freak of nature seeing a player who for his entire career made the game look so incredibly easy, suddenly tormented with the enormous difficulty of it all.
Then again, maybe he continued to say these things over and over because he knew a few things about himself that we didn’t know, like the fact that he’s overcome these situations before in his career and his level of determination and self-belief would see them through once again.
Precisely two years, seven months and three days later, the nagging left knee that’s required no fewer than four surgeries throughout his career doesn’t appear to be bothering him. He’s swinging and putting well enough to have won 5 Tour events since this time last year, more than any other Tour player in the world. As of Monday morning, only a single point separates him from once again becoming the top-ranked player in the world, and he’s coming off of arguably the best overall tournament performance in his entire career. The “process” that he spent so many frustrating weeks and months talking about and working through seems to be paying off, in spades.
After his win Sunday evening in Miami, he spent a few minutes in the media tent fielding dozens of familiar questions from familiar sports writers who’ve followed him since he won his first major championship 16 years ago, probably knowing his answers to the questions long before they ever asked them. But one question in particular stood out, the gist being whether or not he felt like he could dominate the game once again.
“Well, I’m just trying to get better. It’s very simple,” Woods said. “I feel like my game’s becoming more efficient, and it’s more consistent day in and day out, and I’m very pleased with the progress I’ve made with Sean.”
Typical Tiger-speak, to be sure… stuff we’ve heard countless times before, but with a different twist this time around.
Most of us now believe it.
(all player’s quotes courtesy of PGATOUR.COM)