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Vintage Tiger leads at Torrey Pines
Does happiness off the golf course translate into success on it?
A soggy Tiger Woods, stepping in from the cold and rain after an excellent second-round 65 at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, knew where I was going with the question.
With his eyes, it seemed he might’ve agreed; with his words, well, he wasn’t going there.
He’s gone 37 years without baring his soul, why start now?
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no,” Woods said. “I’ve had it both ways.”
What about now?
“Well, I feel good right now,” he said, “I’m leading the tournament.”
And that he was, by two shots ahead of Billy Horschel. But there would be no mention of champion skier Lindsey Vonn — with whom Woods has been romantically linked — or anything, as is his wont, much beyond birdies and bogeys.
But there is something different about Tiger Woods this week.
His demeanor is different; I last saw him this sure of himself at the Memorial, which was not only his best win but his best performance of 2012.
Just maybe he’s found some peace, which has rarely been true since his life imploded in late 2009.
While others have focused on his rebuilt swing, or injuries to his leg, there are those who’ve always felt that the greatest injury Woods received from crashing that Escalade into a fire hydrant was the one to his psyche.
David Feherty, the television analyst who’s close to Woods, has long maintained that the biggest problem for Woods has been that “his head’s full of slamming doors.”
In 2010, Tom Watson noted that great golf is played in silence.
“(Woods) doesn’t hear that absolute silence when he’s playing,” he said.
Woods, of course, doesn’t go down those roads; certainly not when the cameras and tape recorders are rolling.
When asked where his confidence this week came from, he immediately moved to safer ground, talking of “reps.”
“I think the practice sessions more than anything,” he said. “I’ve had beautiful practice sessions at home. If I can do it there, I can do it here.
“Even though last week I only played two days (missing the cut in Abu Dhabi), I felt like I hit the ball well enough to shoot a better score than I did. I had a couple days at home to work on it, and I came out here and feel pretty good about it.”
Last year, Woods’ constant refrain was that he couldn’t always translate good ball-striking on the range, or in practice rounds, to tournaments.
What’s different now?
“I’ve had another year in the system of working with Sean (Foley),” Woods said. “It’s not like something that you can do overnight and make changes and all of a sudden it’s great.
“From where I came, to where I’m at now, it’s a big change.”
For two days in on his beloved Torrey Pines — the course he and late father, Earl, played together many times and on which he’s won seven tournaments — Woods has, in a sense, gone back from whence he came.
He’s been vintage Woods; rolling in putts, holing bunker shots, chipping well and rediscovering the player who was either first or second in par-5 birdie average from 2000 to '09, which was the cornerstone of his dominance.
After three lean years in which Woods slipped to an average of 25th in par-5 scoring, he’s ruled them this week. He’s played eight par 5s in 9-under par and is 11 under for the tournament.
“I played well today, drove the ball great and took advantage of the par 5s,” Woods said. “That’s basically where the round could be had. On the (shorter) North course, drive the ball well and you’re going to probably have 4-irons into the par 5s.
“Sprinkle in with probably four or five wedge shots (into par 4ss) in there, a round of 6- or 7-under par is definitely conceivable.”
Woods wasn’t just straight off the tee — he hit 12 of 14 fairways — but long. He averaged 320.5 yards off the tee in the wet, soft conditions, leading the field.
But now comes time for the heavy lifting.
Even though he won three times last year, he also folded on weekends, especially at the last three majors. It’s worth noting that after converting 30 of 32 second-round leads from 1999 until he got Yang’ed at the ’09 PGA, Woods is only 2 of 6 since.
It will help that among his nearest pursuers, there’s no proven winner; indeed, the eight closest to Woods’s lead have a combined zero wins on the PGA Tour.
But, in the end, whether he wins or not will probably have less to do with them, and everything to do with him.
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