“I’ve been criticized for the last couple of years. ‘Why would I change my game?’ This is why,” Woods said that summer day at St. Andrews. “First, second and first in the last three majors. That’s why.”
There are differences this time around.
Woods is 35, and five of the top 10 players in the world are in their 20s. That includes U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, former PGA champion Martin Kaymer and Dustin Johnson, the most talented American still in his 20s.
He had surgery for the fourth time on his left knee after winning the 2008 U.S. Open, his 14th and last major to date. He injured the left knee again at the Masters this year, and while he described it as “minor,” he hobbled off the TPC Sawgrass a month later and did not return to competition for three months.
When he came back, he looked ordinary at Firestone and missed the cut at the PGA Championship.
The excuses he offered were reasonable, even if not many people wanted to hear them. He had only been processing changes to his swing under Sean Foley for a year, and he couldn’t spend the proper amount of time on the range to work on them. He said his left leg was stronger than it had been in years, giving him time to practice. All he needed was competition, yet he wasn’t eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs, and he couldn’t play other events because of family commitments, set out in his divorce, that were not flexible.
As always, only Woods knows where he is in this “process.”
“This is the way I’ve been hitting it at home, “Woods said. “I’m very pleased with the progress I’ve made with Sean, and it’s finally paying off under pressure. It held up nicely last week at the Open, and it held up nicely this week.”
Questions remain about his putting. Woods used to make everything, or so it seemed, at the height of his powers. There are times it looks as though he makes nothing now. Making putts wasn’t easy for anyone at Royal Melbourne, especially with the wind. Even so, Woods missed his fair share at the Frys.com Open and at the Australian Open.
Woods once said he believed the yips were hereditary. When asked about his father — the best putting coach he ever had — about nine months before Earl Woods died, he smiled and said: “He still makes everything.”
That’s why John Cook shakes his head when people write off Woods.
“I watch and listen on TV and I cringe,” said Cook, perhaps Woods‘ biggest supporter. “It doesn’t make any sense at all. A healthy Tiger Woods is trouble for a lot of people. He knows his place in history, and he wants his place in history. He just needed people to believe in him. I know Fred never stopped believing in him.”
Perhaps both of them shared a feeling on vindication.
“I felt like I was picking the greatest player I’ve ever seen,” Couples said. “I’ve never seen anyone play like Tiger.”