Tiger Woods sounded like your average suburban soccer dad as he sat before the media Tuesday to talk about this week’s 16-player Hero World Challenge at Isleworth.
Now if he can just stop playing golf like one.
“I don’t know,” Woods said, when asked for his timetable and what he expects from himself as he embarks on the Chris Como era — the fourth era of his professional career as defined by his swing coaches. “I’m curious to find that out myself.”
Woods hasn’t played a competitive round since August, when he shot 74-74 at the PGA Championship. He has a surgically repaired back, and admitted he came back from his March microdiscectomy too soon at the Quicken Loans National in July, just a week after he’d begun hitting driver again. His scores, he said, were “awful.” The final tally in 2014: Seven starts, two missed cuts, two WDs, and one long sabbatical.
“Nothing was very good,” Woods said.
But now he’s back, and at an unofficial tournament he has won five times, on his old home course. It was Woods’s pal Notah Begay III who suggested Woods meet with the Dallas-based Como. Woods said he’d think about it and eventually agreed to meet. Como had the same idea Woods did, namely that it was time for him to go back to the more natural, longer, flowing swing he used in dominating amateur golf.
“I knew that things were going to go well when within the first five or 10 minutes, they were already talking about certain philosophies or ideas that each one of them had,” Begay told Golf Channel. “And in that particular instance, Chris was doing more listening than talking, and I felt like that was a step in the right direction because Tiger had a preconceived notion on what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it.”
“Having an old motor pattern that I know has made the transition so much easier,” Woods said. So has his mom Kultida’s VHS player as he and Como watch old videos. That’s a funny image, isn’t it? There is something charming in the idea that Woods aims to go back to a simpler time and re-inhabit a simpler swing, the one he wielded when he was young and the future was limitless. Don’t we all want to go back to that place? Woods talked Tuesday about staying in shape by playing soccer with his kids. (Been there.) He will turn 39 this month and said, “Father Time is undefeated.” (Yep.)
The guy who met the media Tuesday was a very likable Tiger Woods.
In his very long prime, circa 1991-2008, Woods bypassed the usual rules of golf and sports in general, but he was less likable than he was mesmerizing. He more or less bypassed slumps, played through injuries — most famously when he won on a thrashed left knee at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines — and when he led through 54 holes at a major, he simply didn’t have an off-day. Ever. Tiger’s appeal was his mystique.
But to listen to Woods’s press conference at Isleworth on Tuesday was to realize that Woods, like every golfer, has been reduced to steadfast optimism amid potentially crippling uncertainty. That’s appealing, too. Maybe today will be the day. (Been there.) Maybe this will be the tip, drill, stretch, breathing exercise, yoga position, coach, round, tournament, driver, putter or swing thought that brings it all together. (Yep.)
“Where are the misses are going to be?” Woods said Tuesday. “Am I able to rectify them right away, or is it going to take a shot or two, or a hole or two? Or maybe I might not be able to do it at all, and that might not be a good thing.”
I might not be able to do it at all. Did you think you’d ever hear Tiger say that?
Woods said he and coach Sean Foley are still friends after splitting in August, and, sitting next to Hero MotoCorp. CEO Pawan Munjal, addressed his new four-year endorsement deal with Hero, the India-based maker of motorcycles and scooters. Then came the news that Woods and Como were trying to unearth Woods’s old swing, and Twitter blew up with old videos of Tiger playing golf in 1991, 1995, and so on.
In short, Woods under Como seems to have stopped crowding the ball and lunging at it. The latest Woods swing seems longer, flatter and less violent.
“Physically, I was getting damaged doing it,” Woods said of his Foley-taught action, which produced eight victories but no majors in 2012 and 2013.
Going back to the swing archives may or may not be the magic elixir Woods is seeking, but as Don Draper might say nostalgia always plays well. Woods’s image was in tatters after his crackup on Thanksgiving night 2009. Then a few years went by and he struggled, and even some of the haters had to admit golf was more interesting with him in it. His polarizing reign, having apparently ended without warning, was like that old vaudeville joke: The food is terrible — and such small portions.
Now a few more years have gone by and Woods, on the brink of 40, is trying to remember who he was before he started falling to pieces both literally and figuratively. Like so many others he is the picture of human frailty even as he chases his youth.
Woods spoke Tuesday of Sam Snead winning a Tour event at 52, a reminder that Father Time, while undefeated, at least has a soft spot for golfers. Optimism. Uncertainty. Chris Como’s new student tees off with Jason Day at 12:15 p.m. Eastern Thursday. The clock will be ticking.