A Comfortable, Engaging Tiger Ready to Take On Bay Hill
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

What struck me the most during Tiger Woods’ press conference on Wednesday at Bay Hill was his calm and relaxed demeanor. Pleased with his performance in the morning pro-am, he had an extra bounce to his step. Sitting on the makeshift stage in the interview room as he fielded questions from the media for about 30 minutes, Tiger was even engaging. He looked comfortable — almost like he was enjoying the conversation. Going into a Tiger presser, we don’t expect very much, but today, he gave an A performance.

If his mood is an indication of the state of his game, then perhaps it’ll be this week at the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational — an event he’s won six times — he finally breaks through the inconsistent performances and puts together four solid rounds. Of course, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but for the first time in a while, Tiger genuinely seemed confident about his game, elaborating more than ever before on his swing changes (yes, really!).

“I’m going to be the Corey Pavin of the group,” joked Woods when asked about playing the first two rounds with two big-hitters, Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland.

“Seriously. I’ll just kind of put it out there in play and put it up on the green and try and make putts. Those guys will be bombing it way out there past me.”

Clearly, Tiger isn’t a bunter, averaging 297.9 yards off the tee, but compared to DJ and Woodland, he’s the short hitter. And he’s impressed with this new breed of golfers he’ll be joining on the links the next two days.

“It’s a new game now,” Woods said. “The next two days is a perfect example of where the game has changed, where you’ve got two guys who used to play basketball are now playing golf and that’s what I’ve been alluding to all these years.

“We are finally going to get athletes. Guys who can dunk. Guys could have played baseball or could have played football at the D-I level, but no, they are playing to play golf instead.

“Now with all of that speed and power and fast twitch are now playing golf. And this is a perfect example of it.”

As for Tiger’s swing changes, he’s pleased with the way he’s shaping shots and controlling the trajectory. He went into detail about the progress he’s made since Sherwood last December where he was hitting a lot of draws. Then in Dubai, he had trouble bringing the ball down and hitting different types of shots when the wind started to blow.

“I want to be able to shape shots, both ways in all different trajectories, and I think that the step that I thought wouldn’t take as long, but it has,” said Tiger. “And it’s finally starting to come around.”

Tiger’s greatest strength was always his putter. When there was a putt he needed to make, we knew it was in the cup. Nowadays, we see him stand over a three-footer and there’s a level of uncertainty with the result.

Tiger expanded on the work he’s been doing with instructor Sean Foley on the greens. He hopes to see improvement after returning to old drills and the stroke he used with his father, the late Earl Woods.

“I went back to all of my old stuff that my dad and I used to work on,” said Woods. “And that’s when I felt that my stroke started becoming more sound, more solid, my speed became better.

“It feels natural because I’ve done it for so long. I just got away from it and now I’m going back to it. I don’t know what that dude saw in my game, but he really knew putting and he knew my stroke. My dad really knew my stroke.

But Tiger is confident the putting will come. So will the chipping. He’s learning a new release, which will take time to perfect, but he knows he can do that.

“Once I get the release dialed in with the putting and the chipping and the irons, then eventually the driver, everything just falls into line,” he said.

Tiger revealed that the putting release his father taught him are similar to the changes Foley has aimed to incorporate into other parts of Tiger’s game.

“”It’s exactly the same. What Foley is trying to get me to do with my full swing and how he wants me to release it is how I used to release my putter,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’ve gone back to my old stuff that my dad and I used to work on, and it feels natural, because I’ve done it for so long.”

The key to success for him this week? It will come with reading the greens — which have been renovated since Tiger last played and won at Bay Hill.

“I do feel comfortable,” he said. “It’s going to be reading the greens properly. That’s going to be the trick. I’ve played here and won here when they made the last big change, so the greens were firm that year and I played well, so I understand the golf course and where to hit it and where to miss it. It’s just getting the reads, because the reads obviously change.

“It’s going to be one heck of a test this week.”

(AP Photo/John Raoux)