Tiger Woods admitted something we’re not used to hearing
ALBANY, Bahamas — It wasn’t his body that let Tiger Woods down.
That felt like the most important takeaway from Thursday’s opening round at the Hero World Challenge, Woods’ first tournament since the Masters and since his subtalar fusion surgery: Woods looks like he can do this. In recent comebacks, his swing has looked good and his game has looked sharp but, over the course of one or two or three or four rounds, his body hasn’t kept up.
But if Thursday’s biggest question was whether Woods looks healthy enough to have a future playing a limited professional golfing schedule, the answer was exciting: so far, so good.
“I was dealing with bone on bone for a number of months,” Woods said, referring to pain in his now-fused ankle. “I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
That still doesn’t mean Woods is all-the-way, 100-percent healthy. He still walks with a slight limp. He aches. And his ankle may not hurt like it did, but he describes the pain as having redirected elsewhere. Asked where he feels sore, he tried for a one-word answer — “everywhere” — but gave more specifics, too.
“My leg, my back, my neck. Just from playing, hitting shots and trying to hold off shots,” he said. “It’s just different at game speed, too. Game speed’s a lot different than at home speed.”
That speed was encouraging from the jump. Woods smoked his opening tee shot 326 yards down the middle of the first fairway. Later in the round, he was measured at 177 mph ball speed with his driver, well above Tour average. Things started good and stayed that way for a while; through 14 holes, Woods was 1-under par on relatively windy day at Albany, not far off the lead.
But things didn’t finish as well as they’d started. At No. 15, a short, downwind par-5, Woods drove his ball into a bush and wound up making double bogey. Two more bogeys followed and he settled for a three-over-par 75, bettering just two golfers in the 20-player field.
It wasn’t until Woods’ post-round remarks that we entered unfamiliar territory. Woods has faced questions after nearly every round of his professional life, good or bad. But while we’re used to him explaining poor results with references to his swing, his body or his execution, one area has generally remained untouchable: his mind. But not on Thursday.
“I had, really, a lack of commitment through of of the middle part of my round and finishing,” he said. “I just didn’t quite commit to what I was doing and feeling.”
A couple shots in particular drew Woods’ ire. His tee shot at the par-5 11th squirted out to the right and forced a layup. His iron shot on the par-3 12th started way right and stayed there, leading to bogey. And a quick-hook driver at No. 15 led to double.
“You take it for granted, I guess, when you’re playing all the time,” he said post-round. “OK, the wind, it’s coming up, move the ball back [in your stance], you just kind of lean on it just a little bit, just flight it down a little bit, add a couple yards. Instead of reacting to it, I was thinking about doing it. Then as I was thinking about it, should I do this or not, by then I’m pulling the trigger when I shouldn’t really pull the trigger. Hit a bad shot. I kept doing it time and time again. It was a lack of commitment to what I was doing and feeling. I’ve got to do a better job of it.”
What he said was hardly controversial. It was incredibly relatable, in fact. Golfers at every level of the game struggle with committing to a shot, and waffling between swing thoughts is often the worst possible sin. But for Woods, whose mind has always been a fortress, it was notably different to hear him admit it.
“I wanted to play. I felt like I was ready to compete and play. I hit it solid most of the day,” he said. “As I said, I just didn’t mentally do the things I normally would do and I need to do.”
On Friday Woods will hope to play a more complete, committed round when he tees it up alongside Rickie Fowler at 11:02 a.m. But he acknowledged that, despite an encouraging first day, there will be plenty to do to get ready for another one.
“I’m sore, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “And now I know mentally what I need to do better. I think that’s something that physically I knew I was going to be OK. Mentally, I was really rusty and I made a lot of errors in the mind that normally I don’t make.”
Physically, I knew I was going to be OK.
That assurance is music to the ears of golf fans everywhere.
I made a lot of errors in the mind.
That’s far more surprising. But it’s refreshing, too. And it’s not overly worrisome. This is still the mind of Tiger Woods, after all. If his feet and his ankle and his knees and his back and his neck can cooperate, his mind will keep up.