You saw the movie made for television. Tiger Woods fights through personal demons and a vertebral fusion operation to make a triumphant return to the golf tournament. Not only does he swing the club almost as fast as before, but he is a softer, quieter and easier-to-understand character. He even won the last race of the season after a few failures on the biggest stage.
If it were not real, you would probably swear it was invented. But it happened. A collection of players and coaches, including for the first time in the same place, the four teachers who worked with Woods during his professional career, are about to describe what they saw and what they really think. I will do it in 2019 and beyond.
As for why Woods was able to reappear after four years of professional and personal wrestling, and what that unlikely second act of his career will mean in terms of winning tournaments, former coach Hank Haney might as well speak for the group.
"Even though it's unlikely to sound like that, I never rule anything out with him," says Haney, who taught Woods from 2004 to 2010. "Because he's Tiger Woods."
In October 2017, Woods' progress on the lower back lumbar interbody fusion in his lower back was the result of a group of professional tour buddies he had joined for matches at Hobe's Medalist Golf Club. Sound, Florida.
Mike Adams teaches at Medalist in the winter and watches Woods work to the point of shooting 65 or 66 times on one of Florida 's toughest terrains, while generating a robust 180 – mile ball speed at the same time. time his driver.
"He was like a boxer, sparring with Rickie [Fowler]Rory [McIlroy] and Justin [Thomas]… players that he thought were the best in the world, "says Adams. "He knew that if he could beat them on a difficult 7,600-yard course, he was ready to return to the field."
Fowler said Woods routinely lost him in those matches, and Fowler added that he was only preparing his preparations for the November 2017 Hero World Challenge because he was convinced that Reinvigorated Woods would be a strength .
"It made me think that I needed to work more on my game," says Fowler. "He looked awesome and what I noticed from different years ago was that he was going out and playing nine more for fun. He enjoyed the game. "
Fowler shot 61 times in the final round at Hero to win by four, but most people did not turn to see him win. Woods had returned to the game after seven months of absence in this tournament, and the world was keen to know which version of Tiger would appear when the throws counted.
It did not take a long time to realize that he was not going to play as a surviving junk-ball pitcher with clever, off-speed stuff.
<p class = "canvas-atom canvas-text Mb (1.0em) Mb (0) – sm Mt (0.8em) – sm" type = "text" content = "Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Sean Foley worked with Woods in the four years immediately preceding his first back surgery in 2014. They split into friends and Foley was back at the Hero in the Bahamas last November, alongside Justin Rose, from his place on the patio behind the club. House of Albany Golf Course. "Foley pointed to the ninth fairway, 400 yards on the other side of a pond." When did I know it was real? It was right there, "says Foley." He had 3 woods of what, 280? He hit that thing, and he landed on the putting green like a shot put, I thought, here. Do not feel pain, that's all. "" Data-React = "55"> Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Sean Foley worked with Woods in the four years leading up to his first back operation in 2014. They split up as Friends and Foley was back Last November, in the United States, Hero was working with Justin Rose in the United States. Foley pointed to the ninth fairway, 400 meters from the pond, behind the clubhouse at Albany Golf Course: "When did I know it was real? was right there, "says Foley. He had 3 woods of what, 280? He hit that thing, and he landed on the green like a shot put. I said to myself, here. Do not feel pain is everything. "
Pilot technology and the miracle of modern trees can turn a small player into a machine to bombard the tee-ball. But lifting a 3-wood from a narrow lie to a hairpin cut right in front of the water requires more than an excellent equipment. It takes a lot of confidence and speed.
Henrik Stenson was playing with Woods when he hit the shot that Foley described, and Stenson agrees that the most striking of the day was not what Woods shot: he made four birdies, an eagle and two bogeys for a 68, but he looked completely comfortable swinging aggressively.
"I thought he was attacking the ball very hard and he hit it very far," says Stenson, whose score was three strokes behind Tiger's. "I did not really imagine him being able to act like that. He was ready to play.
Woods returned to competition two months later at the Farmers Insurance Open. He turned around normal every four days to level 23rd, but more importantly, his back was no problem. After a missed cut at the Genesis Open and a 12th place finish at the Honda Classic, Woods decided to add another event to his game schedule to get more reps at the start of the season.
"When I saw that his game was back and his swing was 100%, I knew it was only a matter of time before he won." – Justin Rose
In his Valspar Championship debut, Woods had his first taste of true rival since winning the T-10 at the 2015 Wyndham Championship. At Valspar, Paul Casey shot 65 on Sunday to beat Tiger at once and crush that which would have been the good hit of the beginning of the season, but it was now perfectly clear that Woods was able to win again.
Rose was paired with Woods at the Arnold Palmer Invitation the following week and said he knew right away that Tiger's arrival at Tals by 2 at Valspar was not a success. "The way he hit the ball was as good as anyone," Rose said. "It looked like the real deal again."
Haney did not take a long time to take stock: "When he released his first slow swing on Instagram in October I thought it was a swing with which he could win. It looked a lot more like the way he rocked when he had incredible success. "
And it was not just what Haney had seen, it was what he did not see. "When he has his left arm down on his chest and the club on the top line, he struggles," Haney said. "But it was over." Chris Como was Woods' last official coach, from 2014 to 2017, and the two spent hundreds of hours trying to find an effective swing – a "neutral swing", says Como, that Tiger could repeat despite the double-digit list of injuries sustained during his career (knee, back, Achilles, etc.). Como said he was pleased with the progress made toward fusion surgery in 2017 and that Woods had continued to move in the same direction when he had started his most recent rehab.
"Last year you were able to find that he had a lot in mind the early swing of his best golf in the early 2000s," said Como. "You can say that he was reconnected with his hands and the club's release, and that he was moving his body safely."
Watch Woods stand out and it still looks like Tiger Woods. He always does what is one of the most recognizable movements of the tour. However, many swing coaches agree that his swing looks less "violent" and noticeably different from what he was at his peak.
"I've been studying it pretty hard since his first visit to the Doral Complex in 1997 and I went to see him in person in early 2018," said Jim McLean, Golf Digest 50's best teacher. was shocking to see until he drove. He used to have too much delay and his shoulders were too vertical in the downswing. Now he releases the club. He must do it because he can no longer lean on his back. "
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McLean describes the swing that Earl Woods taught Tiger in his childhood: it's "Sam Snead style", with more body fluidity and throws. Woods spent two decades trying to tighten up and be better controlled, but the last surgery prompted him to return to the future, McLean said.
"He's letting the club go further," said McLean. "It's like he's gently throwing the ball on the fairway with his pilot. There is no move. He moves away from his right side and opens gently, and he has room to slow him down. The guys who drive well sweep the ball, and he starts doing it more. "
Foley explains that the most remarkable improvement he has seen is the considerable increase in space created by Woods in his rearward motion, particularly with the pilot.
"I like the length of his backswing a lot," he says. "I like the fact that there is less bend forward. The extra length gives it much more time to produce speed in slowing down. "
"I'm not training anywhere like before. physically, I can not do it anymore. It's a different feeling as an older athlete. "
Most of Woods' comments on his return have a recurrent theme: take what his body gives him and get in a position to win again. "I do not train more like before," he said in November. "I can not physically do it physically anymore. It's a different feeling as an older athlete. There are days when you do not feel very well. These are the days when I just closed it. In the past years, if I did not feel well, I would do an eight kilometer race and I would feel better. Well, that's not the case anymore. "
If possible, Woods' body was a topic of conversation even more important than his momentum. At the height of his intensive training, Woods was pushing 200 pounds and filling his shirt like a NFL-free security. But even this type of muscle mass could not stabilize his body against the constant chastisement of thousands of swings. But at the end of the 2018 season, he looked very different.
"It looks like he's been more responsible," says Foley. "It looks really good at 175 or 180. When you see a guy weighing 200 pounds, with wrists and a size like this [Foley holds up his thumb and forefinger in a circle]from the point of view of proprioception, your brain does not know how to move all this mass anymore. And he does not need to do it to lie down. How far did he hit at 138 pounds when he was at Stanford?
At the end of last season, Woods said he had adopted a pilot's head with a 1.5-degree loft (he used a 9.5-degree head in the Tour Championship) and a slightly lighter shaft to produce more height, more spin and more. consistent fade – at the cost of losing what he calls "the hottest". He started to swing at a comfortable speed of 118 to 120 miles per hour and did not hesitate to opt for fairway woods and tee irons, playing his historical strength a formidable medium and long iron player. Woods led the tour in number of wins / strokes in 2018 and ranked seventh in number of strokes won / green. His average speed at the top of the club was 120.24 mph, faster than Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Jason Day. And keep in mind that guys like Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson and Francesco Molinari have won major victories with a score below 115.
"When he came back for the first time, his quickness was to show himself, to test his body," says Haney. "I know the radar said it was 124 or 125 mph, but it finished 34th in driving distance. It's one thing to have speed, but you have to be able to use it. What speed is doing is letting the driver play with the gaps. If he was losing a lot after these surgeries, he just would not be able to hit all those 3-woods and tee irons. He has the speed, but he uses it just differently from Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy. "
In September, Woods won his first win since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational tournament with one of his classic game plans: to refuse to fight by playing ahead.
"He looked like the old Tiger," says Butch Harmon, who was his coach from 1993 to 2003, when Woods won eight major tournaments and 34 events on the PGA Tour. "In the lead, he played a little fade and hit in the middle of the green, the classic Tiger. He really had total control of all his game. He seemed to refrain from trying to hit the driver until now and got it to the fairway. On second thought, he could have won two major tournaments earlier this summer, at the Open Championship and the PGA, so what he did at East Lake was imminent.
Koepka prevented Woods from winning the PGA Championship in Bellerive. Subsequently, Koepka said that being among the best in his history had been one of the biggest thrills of his career – and that it was by chance. Koepka coach Claude Harmon III closely watched his father, Butch, work with Tiger in the early years of their partnership. Claude says he used what he had learned from this experience to make Koepka one of the best players in the game. Claude also underwent the same merger as Woods, giving him a multi-faceted perspective on Tiger's return. and his place in today's game.
"Tiger was once Darth Vader, and I say it in the best possible way," says Claude. "He had the music of the theme. He had the troops storming, and everyone knew he was coming. But in recent years, he has been more like Obi-Wan Kenobi, a mentor. There are still players who idolize Tiger. Brooks does. But I do not think some players are choking him now. He left a long time ago. But when he came to the Tour Championship, the speed was back, the swagger was back, the family stuff and friends were gone. And I like that. "
Almost lost in all the euphoria elicited by Woods Driver's readings on the speed pistol was the dramatic improvement in his short game since his previous disastrous return in early 2015. habit of taking basic positions on the green, he came back to us-his corners like weapons.
"There was one [at the Memorial] where he was running out of the ninth green on a sloping slope that was wet and super tight in front of a frontal pin, a water hazard everywhere, "says Rose. "He cut a nice shot. It was perhaps something he would have had trouble with 12 or 18 months ago. When I saw that his game was back and that his swing was 100%, I knew it was only a matter of time before he won. "
Woods hit thousands of balls in early 2015 trying to solve his gambling problems – which, according to Woods, comes mainly from the reduced depth of his course, much more with Como than at Foley – but burning nerves have installed in his back. the ball is a comfortable challenge.
"He worked so hard before the Masters in 2015," says Como. "People remember the incredible 2005 shot that went to 16, but he managed a 12-point shot in 2015 on the water, which showed him that his short game was going to be on a upward trajectory. He knew that if he managed to relieve himself, he would regain the strength that he had always been – and last year he had an incredible year of play. "
For one man, all the coaches in this story say that what Tiger showed last year establishes, with the will of health, that he can still win more major tournaments.
"In other sports, it is said that players lose a step. Tiger does not have, "said Como," His window to win major tournaments is still big enough, Tiger has so many tools in his box that even if his speed decreases, he will still be in competition. "
Butch Harmon says Woods seems to have rediscovered his passion for the game and "the sky is the limit".
Haney says Woods can return to world rank, a place he has not occupied since 2013.
Foley says that Woods' swing knowledge will allow him to choose what he learned from all his teachers and succeed on his own, no longer needing a formal relationship with an instructor.
"And let's be honest," says Haney, "he's not the easiest to teach, as these guys have discovered, he's doing things his way, that's exactly what he's doing. where he should be, he does it all by himself, he will keep things simple, because that is where he will get the best success in the shortest time because he does not have unlimited time. "
Woods did not lose the sense of urgency, but he said he was entering this season with more optimism, and even better, his better health for at least a decade.
"There's a precedent for guys who are very successful in their forties," says Woods, who turned 43 on December 30. "To give me a legitimate chance to win the last two major championships, to get back into position, I know. that if I can put myself there, I can win it.
"Now, I just have to do it."