Apr
12
2015
Despite injury scare, Tiger Woods clearly making progress
By Stephanie Wei under The Masters

Before Tiger Woods teed off on Sunday, a colleague asked me to predict the 14-time major champion’s final-round score. I said, with much optimism, “66.” Unfortunately for Woods, I correctly called what Rory McIlroy shot — the other guy wearing Nike that played alongside Tiger on Sunday at the Masters.

Woods, who has won four green jackets, posted a lackluster one-over 73 to finish at five-under for the championship, dropping him down the leaderboard 12 spots from T5 to T17.

Good news is that considering where Woods was with his game two months ago, he’s made massive strides in the right direction, and his performance was quite impressive given the circumstances. In his first start of 2015 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Woods posted scores of 73-82 to miss the cut. The following week at Torrey Pines, where he’s won eight times, he only lasted 11 holes before withdrawing due to back stiffness (or his glutes not activating). Shortly thereafter, on February 11, Woods revealed that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence to work on his game because it was not acceptable for tournament golf, and he would return when he felt ready.

Many — myself included — were skeptical of how he would perform and whether he would even make the cut when he announced that he would play in the Masters after his two-month break. However, he proved the naysayers wrong and showed the tremendous progress he had made by shooting rounds of 73-69-68-73. Following two scores in the 60s — Friday’s 69 was the first time he had broken 70 at Augusta National since 2011 — Tiger appeared to be trending in the correct direction: upwards.

“Well, considering where I was at Torrey and Phoenix, to make that complete swing change and the release pattern, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done,” said Woods. “To make my short game my strength again was pretty sweet.That’s something that I have worked my butt off to get to that point.

“And no one knows how hard we had to work to get to this point, but I’m very pleased. This is my first tournament back, being a major championship, and to give myself a chance, it felt good.”

This was only the third 72-hole tournament Woods has completed in over a year — and I’m counting the 18-man World Challenge event that he hosted in December. He finished 69th at the Open Championship last July, but his last official 72-hole tournament in the U.S. was in March 2014 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship (which doesn’t have a cut), where he finished T25.

In Sunday’s final round, he looked like he ran out of gas, and he couldn’t find a fairway to save his life. In fact, the first time he hit the short grass off the tee was on no. 13, which he eagled. He only hit one other fairway in 18 holes.

The most unsettling moment of the day occurred on no. 9. After Woods pushed his drive into the pine straw, it appeared like he hit a tree root upon impact on his approach shot. He immediately cried out in pain, bent over and grabbed his wrist. As he walked up to the ninth green, he continued to grimace while shaking his right hand. On the next tee shot on the par-4 10th, he hit a crummy tee shot to the right and looked like his wrist was still bothering him.

“It hurt,” said Woods. “It definitely hurt. I didn’t know there was a tree root there. I drove my hand or drove the club straight into it. It didn’t move. But my body kept moving.”

Woods was asked about the injury in his interview on CBS and provided a strange explanation.

“A bone kind of popped out and the joint kind of went out of place, but I put it back in,” he said.

Really? Wow, okay, Tiger.

He added: “(It) didn’t feel very good, but at least it got back in and I could move my hand again.”

I’m not a doctor, nor have I ever had something like that happen to my hand, but if it’s like cracking your neck or back, then that’s fair. However, this isn’t the first time where Woods has “popped” something back in during a round — at the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he did the same thing, but it was “just a joint.”

Tiger’s explanation for his hurt wrist perhaps wasn’t the most surprising thing he told reporters afterward. Despite his strong performance at the Masters this week, he’s actually going to take some time off and wouldn’t reveal when he would make his next competitive start.

“I’m not going to play for a while,” said Woods. “I’m going to take some time off.”

Asked if he would play at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, he replied, “I’m going to practice…Practice some more.”

OK.

Meanwhile, Woods, who can relate to winning the Masters at the ripe age of 21, had kind words for this year’s champion Jordan Spieth.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Tiger, referring to Spieth. “He’s doing all the things he needs to do. He’s won ‑‑ I think (the) Australian (Open) probably spurred him a lot last year to win down there by a big margin, but (to) do it on the last round shooting a 63 or 64 or whatever he did.

“Then he came to the World Challenge and really played well there again. So when he gets it going, he’s one of those guys that like Rory, he can go off and make bunches of birdies in a row. Makes a collection of birdies. The nine hole stretch, he may make six or seven.”

Woods, however, wasn’t too surprised with Spieth’s total score of 18-under, which ties the record set by Woods when he won his first green jacket in 1997 at the same age.

“I thought that it was ‑‑ well, put it this way: With the length of the golf course, I didn’t think that people would be getting that low, but they kept it soft all week,” said Tiger. “And that’s something that the older guys and the clubhouse and the Champions Locker Room were all talking about it, that we have never seen it that soft.

“It wasn’t springy until today. That was the first time it was actually ball marks were kind of hard to find. And that was more of indicative of the Masters that we’re used to playing.”