Golf is back where it was a decade ago when Tiger Woods was favored to win every tournament he played. It returned on April 14 when he won his fifth Masters and 15th major championship.
All of the sudden, alarm and concern about his injuries and misdeeds has dissipated. He knees seem fine, his back seems fine, his social life is on track with a steady girlfriend and a wide grin on his face.
Yes indeed, Tiger is back.
Of course, perception can change, the comeback the universe has celebrated could be reclassified as an aberration if something great doesn’t happen again this weekend at the PGA Championship.
“Going into the Masters, I felt that my swing had finally turned the corner because I was trying to make sure that I could hit a high draw and call upon it with a driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, any club in the bag. Be able to hit that high draw, and somehow I found it,” Woods said.
“The short game came around, I found something in my grip there, and it just started coming – pieces started coming together. Then the week unfolded, and what happened, happened.”
Can in happen again? Well, Woods has provided no clue since the Masters because he hasn’t played. There is no way to gauge what the shelf life might be on his momentum.
If you’ve lost count during the latent years, this will be only the seventh time Woods has come to a major without teeing up a few rounds of competitive golf. The last time he didn’t play between majors was in 2013. And that he hasn’t played has greatly disappointed those anxious to find out if he truly has turned the corner.
Woods, 43, said we all might have to get used to his new schedule. He’s not a young man anymore.
“I wanted to play at Quail Hollow (the Wells Fargo Championship) but to be honest with you, I wasn’t ready yet to start the grind of practicing and preparing and logging all those hours again,” Woods said of the event he passed up two weeks ago. “I was lifting – my numbers were good, I was feeling good in the gym, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to log in the hours.
“Coming here is a different story. I was able to log in the hours, put in the time and feel rested and ready. That’s going to be the interesting part going forward: How much do I play and how much do I rest? 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 have to be aware of that.”
Woods did play a practice round at Bethpage on May 8. He meandered for more than five hours with his right-hand man, his estimable caddie, Joe LaCava. He played nine more holes there on Monday and has been back it in the hours leading up to Thursday’s first round.
These is not unfamiliar landscape to Woods. He won the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage then tied for sixth there seven years later. It’s a long and challenging course in excess of 7,400 yards expected to play to par-70. There are two par-5s and three of the par-4s over 500 yards. Fortune will favor the brave.
“This is not only a big golf course, but this is going to be a long week the way the golf course is set up and potentially could play,” he said. “This could be a hell of a championship.”
Besides the golf it’s also been a complicated few days for Woods. He and his girlfriend, Erica Herman, were named in a wrongful death suit relating to the passing on an employee at his restaurant, The Woods, in Jupiter, Fla.
Nicholas Immesberger was killed in a car accident and a subsequent toxicology report showed he had an alcohol level three times higher than the legal limit after drinking at the restaurant.
“Well, we’re all very sad that Nick passed away,” Woods said. “It was a terrible night, a terrible ending. We feel bad for him and his entire family. It’s very sad.”
Since Woods is the owner of the restaurant he could be held liable even if he wasn’t on the premises.
Woods also got into a give-and-take with John Daly after being asked about Daly’s request to drive a cart around Bethpage this week. The PGA of America gave Daly its blessing.
“As far as JD taking a cart? Well, I walked with a broken leg, so…”
Woods was smiling when he said it. He was talking about the 2008 U.S. Open when he limped along on an injured knee and a stress fracture in his leg.
Daly told USA Today he wasn’t happy with what Woods said, implying he didn’t have all of the facts. He has osteoarthritis in his right knee.
“Osteoarthritis is a tough thing, brother. If my knee was broke, I would have had it fixed. But my situation is totally different,” Daly said. “It’s painful as hell is all I can say. As was Tiger’s, I’m sure.”