Learning how to win, or learning how to win again, many times takes rigorous work and numerous battles. So when a person or a team rebounds, it seems like an event occurred, when in fact it was quite a process.
In the case of Tiger Woods, who won the Chevron World Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., the weekend’s event may have capped a two-year long process.
My questions about Tiger bouncing back have been about his mental state more than physical. Sure, he dealt with knee and Achilles tendon problems, and probably will continue to deal with the knee issues for the rest of his career. But as soon as he came out of rehab for sexual addiction, one of the first things he talked about was calming down on the course and not being so edgy.
Tiger needs to be edgy to win. That laser focus that he has is a product of his anger. He can’t be Mr. Nice Guy and win. To compete at the highest level, he needs to be a nasty competitor. That’s who he is. And this weekend, he was a cutthroat competitor. He was a shot down with two holes to play, but he birdied the par-3 17th and the par-4 18th, and leader Zach Johnson shot par on both, giving Woods the win.
Woods blamed his struggles over the last two years on his health, and on the changes in his swing. He never blamed the mental aspect of his game. Remember, whenever his game would leave him in the past, he would turn to his father. And after his dad died, Tiger was at the height of his powers. However, when forced to update his swing after his severe knee injury in 2008, he didn’t have Earl Woods, and then conflicted with swing coach Hank Haney.
After the Thanksgiving events of 2009, Woods not only didn’t have a swing, but he lost time to practice it. As he noted, after his divorce he wanted to spend more time with his kids, and that prevented him from practicing. So with no swing and no practice to fix said swing, Tiger became like anyone else who doesn’t play a lot. He struggled.
When asked to explain winning at Chevron, he said getting past last year’s maladies played a role.
Woods said, “I felt that in order for me to play the way I know I can play, I had to get fully fit. I had to get healthy and to where I was strong and explosive again so I could practice.
“It basically starts with that. I was finally able to practice,” he said. “Then my practice sessions started building and building and building. Then I would play a couple tournaments here and there, and each tournament I started getting better, starting at the Frys to my exhibitions that I did.”
When Woods is at his best, he says he feels nothing down the stretch. That’s how where part of his mental edge comes from. And down a shot to Johnson, that part of his game was like riding a bike … he didn’t forget.
“Yeah, I felt normal. Felt very comfortable,” he said. “I’ve been here so many times that, you know, I just feel very comfortable being here in this position. Was I nervous? Absolutely. Always nervous in that position. But it’s a comfortable feeling, and I enjoy being in that position. For some reason, it is kind of a comfort to be in there with a chance to win.”
And after more than two years and 26 straight tournaments without a win, Woods thinks he knows how his dad would react.
He said, “He would be proud of the way I hung in and was grinding today, the way I was staying focused on what I was doing. Didn’t let anything get in the way of my shot selection and commitment to each shot and the shot shape I was going to play.
“That’s something he’s always — when he was alive, he was always kind of harping on me. No matter whether you play the right shot or not, at least be committed to it. So especially when the wind was blowing out here, you can back off and get indecisive. Today I was very committed to each and every shot, whether it was going to end great or not — because yesterday I hit good shots and they ended up in bad spots.
“So what? At least I was committed to hitting the correct shot and I pulled it off. Today I was trying to do that all day, and I was able to do it.”
That must be a daunting feeling for the rest of the PGA’s golfers. Woods won’t play again until January, in Abu Dhabi. He’ll have a month and a half to practice. He’s feeling good, he’s committed to his game, to practice, and to every shot. If Tiger is able to maintain that focus and his health, it’s bad news for the rest of the players on the PGA Tour.
And great news for the suits at the PGA Tour, and casual golf fans everywhere. After the process, the event could make the two years without winning worth it.