Tiger Woods confident, comedic as he preps for Waste Management Phoenix Open
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Despite a flu-caused weight loss, a freak accident that caused two broken teeth and a change in swing coaches, it’s hard to imagine Tiger Woods being more upbeat heading into the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Woods was cracking jokes after going through a partial practice round at the TPC Scottsdale Course on Tuesday, but he was also sounding confident as he makes a return following a wild few months. It will be his first appearance in this tournament since 2001.
"It’s great to be back," Woods said after a practice round at the TPC Scottsdale course. "The golf course right now is in fantastic shape. It’s springy. The greens have definitely got a little spring to them but they’re not overly quick, which is nice."
Woods last played at the Hero World Challenge in December, where he finished 17th out of 18 golfers. He was struggling through a flu and the transition in his new swing under new swing coach Chris Como, who Woods began working with in November.
Woods says expects good things on a course that favors long hitters.
"My driving has come around a lot faster," Woods said. "I’m a lot longer than I thought I ever could be again. My speed is way back up, and that’s fun. I’m touching numbers that I did 15 years ago, so that’s cool."
As for his in-between game, Woods added that he’s worked out the kinks. Back in December, he said he was "caught between swings."
"We had to basically get thousands upon thousands upon thousands of chips, just to get out of there," he added.
Oh, and a return to TPC Scottsdale is bringing back some good memories, even if he admits security concerns did play a part in his hiatus from the Phoenix Open.
Woods hadn’t played the 16th hole yet, and though it’s been nearly 20 years since one of his most famous shots, he didn’t have any trouble recalling his hole-in-one at the infamously rowdy hole back in 1997.
He remembers nearly breaking the hand of caddie Mike "Fluff" Cowan during a hand shake after he saw his shot bounce in. Along with his usual fist pumps, he remembers doing the "raising the roof" celebration.
"You know, that was the thing in the day," Woods said. "Then on top of that, just smelling and hearing the beer hit behind me on the tee box. It was a different, obviously a different setup then. Turn around and see all this beer flying was crazy."
The most recent debacle Woods found himself in was a bizarre tooth injury that occurred in January, when he was attending a World Cup ski race to watch girlfriend Lindsey Vonn.
Vonn had finished up a race, and Woods walked to the media area as photographers and videographers tried to grab their shots.
"I had my mask on so no one knew who I was, trying to blend in, ’cause there’s not a lot of brown dudes at ski races, OK?" Woods joked. "All the camera guys were below me, on their knees or standing or getting on the ground, moving all around, trying to get a picture."
One maneuvering camera caught Woods in the mouth, chipping one tooth and cracking another. Woods couldn’t eat or drink — even breathing hurt until he flew home and had the repairs done.
A picture of Woods with a skull-faced skill mask pulled below his chipped tooth didn’t come without doubters about how the injury occured — and it didn’t help when race organizers said the event didn’t happen.
Pressed about the ski mask with a skull on it, Woods revealed more of his relaxed nature.
"You play Ghost Recon?" he said of the popular video game as the reporter shook her head. "Kay, then you don’t know."
A second memorable moment from Woods’ TPC Scottsdale exploits came in 1999, when he recruited enough members of the gallery to move a boulder that inconveniently blocked his shot on the par-5, 13th hole.
Moveable objects are fair game to be cleared out, but this was a questionable case. It was a hefty rock.
"I thought I could move it," Woods said. "Evidently it took about like five other dudes to do it. And then here’s the thing about that that’s kind of funny, is that they moved it the wrong way. They moved it in the direction which I didn’t want to have it moved.
"So that means I had to start the ball off to the right, because I hit the ball in the right bunker, so hitting up the left. But I wasn’t going to have them go back in there in the cactus and move it back the other way."
With his driving game coming along well, Woods says he’ll need to learn the springy-but-not-fast greens a little better.
"I need to do some work to try to overcome the mental hurdle to make sure I can hit the putts hard, even though I know coming into the greens I have to throw the ball straight up in the air, play for a big hop, chips, play for two big hops before the ball starts thinking about stopping," he said.
Woods will work on that tomorrow, when he’ll also make his return to the 16th hole.