Who else has a Bay Hill hangover? I do. Combine that with heavy turbulence in the last 30 minutes of a flight from MCO to EWR, along with the crazy cab ride (if you think NYC cabbies are bad, I suggest an experience with one in Newark. Glad I took an extra barf bag with me!/end rant), and you can imagine how I feel. Well, now that I’ve voiced my god-awful complaints because you all asked, I’ll move on to the actual point. Don’t think I can’t hear those massive violins you’re playing softly in the corner.
While Tiger Woods was presented with the trophy for winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational by a commanding five shots and being fitted for his seventh Blue Jacket on the 18th green at Bay Hill, we cornered his veteran and highly-respected caddie, Joe LaCava, in a media scrum next to the scoring trailer.
After about ten minutes, LaCava said, smiling, “You guys gotta go find (Tiger), don’t you?”
Naw, it’s more engaging to talk with you, Joe.
LaCava imparted some interesting insights and musings on his boss and getting that elusive first post-scandal victory, among other things. I’m a strong believer that sharing is caring, so I’m passing them along to you guys.
Here are the highlights…
*On describing the look on Tiger’s face on the 72nd hole: “It’s been a long time. He was a man on a mission today. I mean, you saw the ballstriking. Let’s be honest, 70 was probably the worst score he could have shot today. Not in a bad way, but he didn’t make that many putts. He made some when he had to, like that one on No. 15 was huge…He was pretty jacked up. He was out to prove himself.”
*On what Tiger said to him after safely reaching the green on No. 18: “He said, ‘F-in’ yeah…all the hard work has paid off.’”
*On where he’s seen Tiger improve on the most in his game: “I would say ballstriking and how far he’s hitting the ball. Now he’s realizing how far he’s hitting them and adjusting to his new yardages. He said back in the day he was 195 (yards) with his 5-iron and the other day he hit it 232 yards, up the hill on the fourth hole, it was downwind, but it was uphill…he hit it pin-high. So he’s come a long way in terms of distance and compressing the ball.”
*On Tiger’s reaction/emotions to the victory: “He’s very jacked. He probably wishes the Masters was tomorrow, but he needs to cool off. He’s very jacked to be playing again healthy. That’s the big thing, he’s healthy.
*On Tiger’s psyche after getting over the hurdle of breaking his win-less drought: “Even a guy like that still needs to win to have confidence, to gain more confidence, so I think this gives him a lot of confidence going into Augusta and the rest of the year. Proves to him all the hard work pays off. I don’t think he ever doubted himself, but it’s nice to win, so you have that confidence.”
*On whether he sensed frustration from Tiger this year: “I don’t think so. Sean (Foley) tells him, ‘Be patient, be patient, it’s a long process.’ Let’s be honest, the guy hasn’t played many tournaments. He played well in the fall, he won his tournament (the Chevron World Challenge in December), so it’s been coming. He played well at Doral, but got hurt. He played well at the Honda (Classic), so it’s been coming. It was all putting at Pebble Beach. I don’t know if he could have won because Phil (Mickelson) played great (and shot 64), but if (Tiger) had a decent putting day, he probably finishes third or fourth there.”
*On the most interesting thing Tiger said on Sunday (and Joe’s mistake): “That’s a really good question. The only screw up (I made) is he asked me if he could get 3-wood over the bunker on 10, and I said yes and it came up a yard short. He was pretty flawless other than that. But the most interesting thing? — the effin’ yeah at the end. He was a man on a mission and happy to be done with it and get it done.”
*On Tiger’s demeanor after the third round on Saturday at the range: “I saw a calmness on his face on the range last night. I’m sitting there a little frustrated because of what happened on No. 15 (hitting the drive OB). He didn’t let it bother him, he heard what happened (a kid fainted near the concession stands and a lady yelled), and understands the situation. But I’m just caddying and very frustrated.
“He had a great calmness on the range. He hit balls until dark. You could almost sense that he knew he was going to play well (on Sunday). He was calm and felt good about everything. Like I said, it’s very easy to say now, but I was telling my wife on the phone last night, ‘This guy is very calm and he basically knows he’s going to win tomorrow.’”
*On whether or not he was ‘scared’ after what happened at Doral: “Not really, I think he called me the next day and (told me) the trainer said it was just a strain. You could hear the relief (in his voice). I think it hurt him at the time, but when he heard it was just a strain, he knew he was going to be OK. Was he frustrated? Yeah. Was he crushed? No.”
*On the over-hyped topic whether Tiger is “back”: “One win doesn’t mean you’re back back, but obviously he beat the field by five and played great golf, so I mean, you know that’s a good question — is he back? I’d say, yes, he’s back. Who knows what he’s going to do down the road or (if he’ll) win ten tournaments. I think these days it’s pretty hard with all the depth of the Tour, but he’s definitely back.”
*On whether it’s fair to expect him to win five or six times a year: “No, I don’t think it’s unfair or that much of a reach. I mean, he thinks he’s going to win every tournament, so I don’t think it’s unfair to think because he thinks he’s going to. There’s a lot of great players, not a slight to him, but I think the depth is great and you’ve got more guys from Europe playing over here, with (Rory) McIlroy and (Lee) Westwood, which makes it that much harder to win. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for him to win 6-8 times a year. I mean, he only plays about 15 times a year, so that’s about half the tournaments, but he thinks that way, so why not.”
*On why he kept saying ‘right leg’ to Tiger during his pre-shot routine: “Foley gave him a little tip last night (on the range). I guess he was getting a little too weenie with the left leg, because of all the wind shots we’re hitting here and he’s been playing in the wind every week. So he felt like he was getting too far forward in his stance, so I kept saying ‘right leg’ to remind him that so he had more balance when he set up to the ball.”
[Ed. note: Here's what Tiger said -- "The right leg part was it was just a trigger for me as I go back. So just making sure that everything's loaded so I can push and drive and explode, and explode however speed I want and control that rotation. So that was just a trigger we came up with last night on the range."]
*On the trust component in their player-caddie relationship: “I think he trusts me. I’m not going to be right all the time — he knows that, like the shot on No. 10 (on Sunday). He hit it in the bunker and I apologized for that. We had 263 (yards) downwind, I thought no problem. I apologized and he said, ‘I’m not mad at all. I hit the shot exactly like I wanted to.’ He hit a great sandwedge past the hole and made the putt…he made a great par and kind of bailed me out.”
*On the progress in his swing changes: “I’m not a swing guy…I’d say, according to Foley, I’d say he’s 75% of the way, but you’re better off asking Sean. In terms of what I see, I see a lot of progress, but I mean, I don’t know how good this guy can be because I’d never caddied for him until now. So I don’t know how much better he can be. He’s got the stinger back and compressing the ball (the way he wants).”
*On the car ride leaving Doral (while being followed by a blimp O.J. Simpson style): “He was quiet in the car. It wasn’t my time to speak, so I shut my mouth and waited until he said something. There wasn’t much said. He had ice on (his left Achilles) and I was just trying to stay out of the way. I said, how are you feeling? Is it better? Should we go back and finish the tournament? (Laughter.) No, no, I’m not being a wise guy. I didn’t need to say anything at that point. I just had to wait until he got it evaluated at that point…We went back to the house.”
*On why Tiger, Phil and Fred Couples (Joe’s old boss of 20-plus years) seem to consistently finish in the top seven at the Masters: “I think they’ve got a great feel out there and they know the golf course because they’ve been around it enough times. They know where to miss it, not to miss it. They just know how to putt it properly. They know when to be aggressive, when not to be.”
*On whether Joe’s experience at Augusta will be an advantage for Tiger: “I’ve been around there 20-something times. I like to think I kind of know where I’m going. But this guy is the best putter in the world, he doesn’t need my help.”
Don’t quote me on this, but Tiger and Fred may or may not be playing a practice round together next Tuesday at Augusta National. Throw Rory in the group and that’s a fantasy threesome.
Wow, let the countdown for the Masters commence!
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)