Woods aims to prove doubters wrong
Tiger Woods returns to golf — albeit the minor leagues — this week with a different caddie, a different outlook and hopes of avoiding the same old story.
Since his world came apart in November 2009, very little's gone right for the slumping Woods, who remains winless and has plummeted to No. 51 in the world rankings.
Each of his comebacks has, for varied reasons, fallen flat and, to boot, a number of golf's elder statesmen, from Greg Norman to Nick Faldo, have declared that Woods won't win another major.
"I've heard that before. It's not the first time I've heard that," Woods said defiantly Wednesday at CordeValle Golf Club when I asked him about being written off at 35.
"I've kept on winning them, too."
The desire to prove the chattering classes wrong burns deep within Woods — a trait he shares with his mentor, Michael Jordan — but that alone is not enough to resuscitate a career that's lost its way.
Woods needs more and he knows it; he needs a game.
"You gotta look at what the ball is doing," said Rocco Mediate, the Frys.com defending champion who's both a fan of Woods and a vocal critic of his swing changes, firstly under Hank Haney and now under Sean Foley.
"It's simple. If it's going crooked, there's a problem.
"If the club is in the wrong place, the ball won't go where you're looking."
It didn't much go where Woods was looking during Wednesday's pro-am at CordeValle, an aesthetic course cut into the hills south of San Jose. He hit two drives into water hazards on the back nine.
And it really didn't go where he was looking the last time we saw him, at the PGA Championship in August, where he missed the cut. The week before, he finished in an uninspiring tie for 37th at Firestone Country Club, a course on which he'd won seven times.
But, Woods declared on Wednesday, this time is different.
He maintains that he's finally ready to play.
"I was shut down basically from the Masters until the Bridgestone," he said of the left-leg injuries that limited him to just nine holes from April to August.
"That's not a lot of golf, and I didn't really practice a lot prior to that.
"So, I just need to get out there and get the reps, get holes, hit shots."
If he's looking for harbingers, he set the course record — 62 — at his new home course, the Greg Norman-designed Medalist, in Jupiter, Fla., last week.
In 1997, the week before his record-setting romp at the Masters, Woods shot 59 at Isleworth, his home course in Orlando, Fla. And the week before his 15-shot coronation at Pebble Beach in the 2000 US Open, he set the course record at Rio Secco in Las Vegas.
"I hadn't posted a low round in a long time," Woods said Wednesday.
"To be honest with you, it was pretty easy and I left a few out there.
"It's just one of those days where, you know, I've been playing so much golf at home. I've been playing 36 and 45 holes a day, trying to get my playing instincts back and just my playing feels.
"You can do whatever you want on the range, but actually playing, thoughts are a little bit different. And that's one reason why I've been playing so much.
"And finally, I've started to turn the corner.
"I was starting to shoot some really good rounds, a bunch of 66s and 65s, but I hadn't taken it deep. And that was fun to actually post a 62."
But there's a world of difference between running around in a cart with buddies and playing a tournament.
Woods will need to show he can at least bridge that gap this week.
It won't hurt him that he'll have the veteran Joe LaCava on his bag for the first time this week.
LaCava, who's spent most of his career with Fred Couples, shockingly to many within golf, left Dustin Johnson to carry Woods' bag.
Woods said he had a "a very nice comfort level" with LaCava, who takes over for the fired Steve Williams.
"I like the way he worked, and you know, it's just one of those decisions where my gut said it was the right thing to do," he said of his decision to hire him.
"I liked his personality on how he was with his players, how he would step in when need be and he also knew how to encourage and he knew when to step out.
"Each player is different, you know. Freddie's very different from Davis (Love III), and, obviously, Dustin is a little bit different than both of them, and he's been successful with all of them."
Although I've been around him long enough to know the answer he'd give, I asked Woods whether he agreed with those who say the Tiger Era is over.
"I think I just answered that, didn't I?" he replied.
In words only.