Tiger Woods: New … but is he improved?

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Tiger Woods: New ... But Is He Improved?There are five reasons why post-op Tiger won't be his old steely self in 2009. And five reasons why he will.By Cameron Morfit 1. His Knee Not Himself: Even Tiger admits his surgically repaired left knee won't be in tiptop shape until 2010. Remember, Casey Martin played with a bad right leg, which takes less abuse, and Ernie Els has never looked the same since rupturing his left ACL in '05. Tiger's human, and it will take a while to trust all that swing torque to something man-made. His Old Self: Puh-leeze! If Woods can win the grueling U.S. Open on one good leg and one that might snap at any moment, then he certainly can, and will, win a major or two after the injured leg has been repaired. So he won't be 100 percent for a while — he'll still be a lot closer to 100 percent than he was last June.
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2. His New Baby Not Himself: Woods and wife Elin Nordegren are expecting their second child in late winter. Let's see: The day before Sam Alexis was born in June 2007, Woods found a way to lose the U.S. Open at Oakmont. A month later, at the British at Carnoustie, he duck-hooked his opening tee shot into Barry Burn on Friday and finished T12. His Old Self: Baby No. 2 will be no match for the world's No. 1. Behold Tiger's record starting August 5, '07, when Sam Alexis was not two months old: He won the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA, finished T2 at the Deutsche Bank, then won the BMW, the Tour Championship, the Target, the Buick, the WGC-Accenture and Bay Hill. Any questions?
3 of 5 Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP
3. His Desire Not Himself: Winning never gets old ... unless you're Tiger. He knows he can't top winning the Open on one leg, and among his sundry business pursuits, he is delving into his third course design. He's had more time than ever to think about what comes after golf. Such musings won't help him power through rehab. His Old Self: Questioning Tiger's hunger is silly. He has a lot going on, always has, but when it's time to rev up the engine and perform, he performs. Yeah, it seemed unlikely that he'd top the 1997 Masters, the 2000 U.S. Open and the 2000 PGA — but he did. Until he wins five more majors to pass Jack, don't even start talking about complacency.
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4. His Rival Not Himself: Nope, not Phil. It's Padraig Harrington, who has won three of the last six majors (to Tiger's two) by perfecting his Sunday impression of Woods. After turning in Tiger-like performances in July and August, and having twice beaten the great one eye-to-eye, PH won't stop making game-changing putts just because TW is back. His Old Self: It's one thing for Harrington to shoot 66-66 at the PGA to nip Sergio at the finish line of a major, but the next time anyone does that to Woods will be the first. Sure, Paddy's beaten Tiger twice — at the Dunlop Phoenix (2006, in Japan) and the unofficial Target World Challenge (2002). What's next, beating Woods at Golden Tee?
5 of 5 AP Photo
5. His Protoges Not Himself: A successful Ryder Cup showing can spur a hot young player on to win a major (see: Zach Johnson). Having thrived in the crucible of the Cup, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, J.B. Holmes and other American talents are far less likely to crumble in Tiger's presence with a major in the balance. His Old Self: Playing well in Louisville may have boosted the confidence of Kim and Co., but that won't mean much when they find themselves on the first tee at Augusta, shaking hands with the greatest player ever. Beating the Man means not turning into a spectator, and these guys have watched Woods on TV way more than they've played him in person.More from GOLF.com • 2009 PGA Tour Preview • 2008 Year in Review • Tiger Tracker: The latest news on Tiger Woods