FOX Sports Exclusive
Is Tiger truly beyond repair?
Tiger Woods was, historically, never one for excuses.
If he stunk, he’d look into the cameras and say he stunk.
Maybe he could afford to be frank because he so rarely played poorly. Nevertheless, when he did, he took his lumps.
Lately, though, Woods has taken to hiding behind a convenient revisionism.
Every time he’s asked to explain his slide from No. 1 to 58 in the world rankings, he rolls out the same reasons: he’s been injured, hasn’t been able to prepare, hasn’t had the time to properly absorb the swing taught to him by Sean Foley.
These are all, to different degrees, true. But are the reasons for his two-year slump really limited to the physical?
Those who see Woods' play away from tournament golf say he’s as good as he ever was. A few weeks ago he shot 62, breaking the course record at The Medalist in Jupiter, Fla.
“I've seen the best stuff I've ever seen in my life,” Woods’ friend, John Cook, said of his play. “I always tell him: Why don't you just go out and do that?”
Someone who knows Woods says the reason he doesn’t answer the bell at tournaments is because he can’t. Because he has “broken mental apparatus.”
It’s an argument with merit. How much psychological scar tissue remains from the tabloid scandal?
What really happened to Woods at last year’s Chevron Challenge when he blew a 4-shot lead in the last round to lose a playoff to Graeme McDowell?
Why did he roar to a front-side 31 in the final round of this year’s Masters, looking for all the world like a 15th major trophy was his for the taking, only to limp home in a tie for fourth with a tentative, mistake-filled inward nine?
Why couldn’t the greatest closer the game has ever known close?
This week marks the second anniversary of Woods’ last victory, at the Australian Masters. He’s back Down Under playing the Australian Open, at The Lakes in Sydney’s southern suburbs.
Maybe, given his résumé, the Australian Open’s not a big deal. But this tournament may turn out to be the most important of his post-scandal career.
If the 35-year-old finds a way to win, many believe more wins will flow.
“Momentum, that’s the thing he hasn’t had over the past two years,” Aussie star Adam Scott said on Wednesday.
“He’s had such long layoffs. He says he has not been able to train the way he likes to train. He has not been able to hit the amount of balls he wants to hit. Now he says he can do all that.
“Hopefully with all that and playing his schedule, he’ll be thinking he gains momentum, and as he gains momentum, it all comes back.”
But isn’t there another possibility? That Woods will never recover?
“I don’t think so,” Scott said. “I think once he gets the physical game to where he wants it, and he is in those positions he was in, I think he can get back, no problem.
“It is all there. You don’t lose that talent. You can lose the form but you never lose that talent. He was gifted with that.
“Once he gets back into those positions with his game, he’ll find it not too hard to have that edge again. You can’t write the guy off. Every time we have, he has proved us wrong in the past.”
The journey back to the top for Woods begins with small steps.
The first is to find a way to recover the talent that, as much as superior ball striking, got him to the top: keeping bogeys off the card.
At his last tournament, the Frys.com Open, Woods had 17 birdies in the last three rounds, but bogeys kept him from getting into the mix on Sunday.
“My bad rounds need to be under par, not over par,” Woods conceded Tuesday.
“You need to turn a 73, 74 into a 68 or a 69. That’s something I haven’t done through this stretch and I’m looking forward to being able to do that again.”
If he finds a way to do it, then maybe that broken mental apparatus can be fixed.
More Stories From Robert Lusetich