Tiger: “I think it’s doing things probably slightly differently”
Tiger Woods entered the NBC broadcast booth on Saturday for a post-round interview with Dan Hicks and David Feherty after a third round 70. Much like the rest of the week, it was a round that featured many highs and lows, but there was definitely more positive than negative to discuss considering the sixteen months that have gone by since he last teed it up. At one point during that round, he sat just two shots back of the leaders but by the end of the day, he was eleven shots behind thanks to a few loose swings and some great play by Hideki Matsuyama. Ultimately, Matsuyama would go on to win the event by two shots over Henrik Stenson, with Tiger finishing fourteen shots back in 15th place.
I said earlier that I thought a good week for Tiger would be for him to finish four rounds without any sign of injury, and to not shoot any truly disastrous numbers. He definitely did that this week, and it’s very easy to feel confident about not only his progress, but his future as well assuming that he can stay healthy.
That interview with Hicks and Feherty though is something that I want to touch on because, along with them making fun of his rusty #TourSauce game and talking about his experience as a vice captain at the Ryder Cup, Hicks also asked him about the quote he gave Charlie Rose a few weeks ago about whether or not he thought he would still break Jack Nicklaus’ major record. No one could really decide if he meant that he didn’t think he could catch Jack or if he thought that not only was he going to catch him, but that he was going to surpass his total of eighteen. Based on his response, it’s clear that Tiger believes he’ll pass Jack.
- Hicks: “You’re serious about this still, right?”
- Tiger: “Absolutely.”
- Hicks: “There’s nothing in the back of your mind that says you can’t get this done, right?”
- Tiger: “I wouldn’t be here doing this if I didn’t feel like I can play at the highest level. I have too much pride, and if I can’t prepare to play at this level anymore then I won’t do it. But I know that I can.”
Now, so far, there’s absolutely nothing of note here. This is the same Tiger Woods that we’ve been watching and listening to for years, right? Well, that’s when his answers started to take a bit of a turn.
- Hicks: “What’s the most important part of this 41 and on to maintain the kind of health that you need and to get to that level of play in a major championship? What’s the most important part that you’re going to have to keep in mind?”
- Tiger: “Well, I think it’s doing things probably slightly differently. My first probably, five or six years on the tour, I ran thirty miles a week. That was the norm. There’s no way I’m doing that now. I watch these guys play, you know, when I first came out on tour, I was the second longest at 296. John Daly was the first one ever to average over 300 yards, and now you look at half way through this year and there were over fifty guys averaging over 300 yards. It’s just a different game, but you can still get guys who are like Jim Furyk who can shoot 58’s. You just gotta be able to maneuver the golf ball and think your way around. The game of golf is about limiting your mistakes. How bad is your bad? Everyone’s good out here is really good. It’s how bad is your bad. Missing the bad shots in the correct spots, giving yourself the right angles, thinking your way around the golf course. It is a physical chess match, and over the course of my career, I’ve been able to do that well. I’m just going to have to do that slightly differently now. The physical chess match of a bunker that’s 300 yards that I could carry, well, that’s not the way it is. I’m going to have to go around it. It’s just a different type of mentality while playing.”
The need to start doing things differently was actually something that Tiger touched on in his pre-tournament press conference as well, and this goes all the way back to where we were at this time last year. Tiger looked awful and miserable as the host of this event, and as he mentioned this week, a lot of that had to do with the fact that he was having trouble getting out of bed and that he really did believe the “everything beyond this will be gravy” quote. He really didn’t know if he would be able to play again, and he knew that he needed to start doing things differently if he wanted to get back to being something that resembled who he used to be.
This is why he actually listened to his doctors for seemingly the first time ever and sat out for sixteen months. He’s definitely in good shape, but he’s not as muscular and barrel chested as he was the last time we saw him. His swing, which you can definitely argue played a role in putting him on the sidelines in the first place, looks more relaxed and simple than it has in a really long time. During Sunday’s final round, Feherty remarked that the swing and tempo reminded him more of the one he had when he was a two-year old on the Mike Douglas Show, and that it was nice to see. Based on his comments on Saturday, it also sounds like Tiger’s going to carry this different mindset over to his course management as well.
Now, I don’t expect to see Tiger go out there and lay up on every par-5 and hit irons off of each tee just for position. While he did do that a few times this week, one thing that seems clear after watching him for four days is that while he might be dialling it down a bit in his mind, he still has more than enough power to keep up with a lot of the best players on tour. Is he going to be up there with Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson? Probably not, but if he’s going to be in the middle and hitting irons like he did for a lot of this past week, he doesn’t need to try and keep up with those guys. Despite mentioning Jim Furyk in that interview, he’s not going to start hitting the ball like Jim Furyk because he’s still way longer than that. Early in the third round on Saturday, he hammered a drive well over 300 yards and past the ball of Rickie Fowler, and on Sunday, we saw Tiger take this swing after a double bogey.
But we’ve also never heard him talk about playing around bunkers instead of just clearing them with brute force. Phrases like “how bad is your bad” and “physical chess match” are sayings straight out of the typical Tiger Woods lexicon, but when you listen to what he’s saying beyond that, this sounds like a different guy. We all know that the approach he’s taken since his last truly healthy run in 2013 hasn’t worked out, so doing something different is what has always made sense and shockingly, it sounds like he’s actually doing just that.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s all going to work and that he’s going to be back winning tournaments and majors like he did years ago. It’s always possible that he could go out and get hurt again, or maybe the game doesn’t quite come back the way he would want, but going about this in a different way was probably the only way that he was going to be able to give himself a chance at competing with the best in the world again.
It wasn’t the perfect week for Tiger Woods at Albany, but it was a full and successful one. He made way too many mistakes to win the tournament, but he also led the field in birdies despite being miles behind the winning score, which at the very least shows that there’s still quite a bit of game left in his body. Even better than that, he seems healthy. There were plenty of opportunities for Tiger to show signs of pain this week, but there were no winces or reaches for his back and if he can make swings like the one above, he must feel confident that the back won’t give out on him too easily. There’s enough positives to build on going forward which is what he wanted all along.
That kind of mindset may be different, but it could also be a very good thing for Tiger Woods.