It seems slightly ridiculous that something so mundane could be so telling about a person’s mood or state of mind. In this case I’m referring to Tiger Woods throwing in a bit of self-deprecating humor during his press conference at the Chevron World Challenge, the 18-player field with a $5-million purse, following Wednesday’s pro-am. Which usually indicates he’s in good spirits and feeling confident about his golf game.
Tiger was asked if he remembered signing a hockey helmet that was once enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame but had made its way to the eBay selling block for $5,000 at the moment. (And we all know how he feels about profiting from memorabilia he’s autographed or owned — he’s not a fan.)
He said he couldn’t recall anything about it. However, Tiger managed to use it to crack a joke in the following question, asking him to discuss his swing.
“Well, I’m swinging the club well enough that you don’t need to walk out there with hockey helmets on,” he said.
Now that’s not only good news for unassuming fans but, well, everyone, because it also appears his jolly attitude from Australia made its way back with him to the States.
Tiger seems to still be riding high on the positive mojo he took away from his two bouts of competition in “Aus.” Why wouldn’t he be? He held the 36-hole lead for the first time in forever at the Australian Open and despite a poor round on Saturday, he placed third — his best finish of the year (or tying it if you count Notah Begay’s charity event). Then his play continued to improve with each day at the Presidents Cup, leaving the best for last in Sunday singles when it all came together and the putts finally dropped.
What’s more telling were Tiger’s expansive answers about his game, swing and just about everything except his expectations (which at this point, you must be a masochist to even go there because we all know what he’s going to say — a “W”).
It wasn’t just shaping shots and controlling his “trajs” that felt gratifying, it was doing all that in the difficult, windy conditions.
“Normally anybody who makes swing changes or any player, you get exposed in the wind, when the wind’s hauling, miss‑hit shots, or it’s going to show up,” said Tiger. “I felt very comfortable in that wind, which was great, because you know, full circle, last year at Dubai, I felt I should have won the golf tournament, you know, a right‑to‑left wind cost me eight shots on certain holes, and I didn’t have the ability to maneuver the ball left to right at the time. So the wind exposed me there, which was good.
“Playing in Aus for two weeks, it was fantastic. I hit all shapes, all trajectories, and if you look at the rounds, I hit most of my shots pin high, and you know, that’s an indication if the wind’s blowing that hard, that I’m really controlling my trajectory at all.”
In that case, he should fare well at Sherwood Country Club. The forecast calls for winds 2o to 30mph with gusts up to 40mph on Thursday and it’s supposed to blow even harder on Friday. (I’m two hours east in the desert where the wind rarely blows and a gust nearly swept me away Wednesday night.)
Looking back to a year ago, his swing changes with instructor Sean Foley hadn’t set in quite yet and he didn’t feel comfortable working the ball in the wind — to the point where he said he had to “rely on my putter” (which wouldn’t have been very reassuring) and some good fortune.
“Now I feel very comfortable maneuvering the ball both ways and changing my trajs as well, so I’m excited about this week,” said Tiger. “It’ll be interesting tomorrow.
“I’m excited about playing that wind tomorrow. Only difference here that it swirls a lot, which is different than what we play in Aus. It’s coming one direction, period. Here in these canyons it can do anything. If the wind is projected the way it’s supposed to be projected and it stays 30 to 40, it’ll be tough tomorrow.”
He also expanded from his usual choice adjectives, “fun” and “interesting,” and took it up a notch by adding “exciting.”
“That’s what was so exciting about Aus is that excluding one day where I hit, what, three bad tee shots and didn’t make any putts, I played really good, and that’s exciting.
“So now, what I’ve worked on with Sean is now integrated. I know when I hit a bad shot. I know exactly what it is, so I can rectify for the very next shot. Back then I was still learning what he’s trying to teach me. That was the frustrating thing because I could go a spell there where I’d play poorly for a couple holes and not know what the fix was. Now it’s immediately. One shot, he calls me up, and I hit a bad shot there, what was it, I explain it to him, boom, boom.”
The positives don’t stop there. Tiger said his pal Notah Begay asked him Tuesday what it felt like being in contention again.
“I told him I felt nothing,” he said. “And he said, ‘Good, because you’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to be normal. You’re supposed to be there.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’
“So I felt exactly the way I did on Saturday, the same way as I did on Friday and Thursday. And on Sunday I felt the same way I did the first three days, and that’s a good sign. I feel very comfortable being up there.”
Another favorable sign: Tiger is bullish on the future — not to mention of the “process,” just the “progress.”
“I feel very excited about next year,” he said. “I’m excited about the progress I’ve made, and really looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun to get out there and play a full schedule, which I haven’t done for quite some time.
“I’ll get my number of events in and prepare and practice and play my normal pace getting ready for the major championships, and then trying to peak four times a year, which I haven’t had the opportunity to do the last couple years consistently.”
Fingers crossed! Sorry — just don’t want to get my hopes up for the nth time. When was the last time Tiger played a full schedule? 2007. Crazy, huh?
Speaking of Tiger’s 2012 schedule, he confirmed the chatter he’s adding a “new” event to his calendar, but wouldn’t specify which one.
“I will play a new event next year,” said Tiger. “That’s something that I think is good for the Tour. So I’m going to do that for sure.”
Since he’s skipping his regular PGA Tour season-opener at Torrey Pines and playing in Abu Dhabi to “mix it up a little bit” or a $3 million appearance fee , the best guess is he’ll play somewhere on the west coast — perhaps Pebble or Riviera — before the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Or maybe he’ll throw us off and wait ’til the Florida swing for the Honda Classic. After all, it’d be a home game.
But first things first, let’s get through this week’s event and see how his progress holds up at the Chevron. Meanwhile, I’ll be holding the fort down at PGA West for Q-school finals, with the chance of squeezing in a drive to Thousand Oaks for a glimpse at the top 1%.
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)