Tiger Hitting Stride But Has He Hit His Peak
More evidence came from his caddie as he waited for Woods to arrive for the final round of the Tour Championship.
'He hasn't hit a practice ball since the British Open,' Steve Williams said. 'I've been with him nearly 10 years now, and this is the best I've ever seen him hit the ball.'
No practice? Not quite.
What he meant was that Woods has such command over his game that he stopped going to the practice range after his rounds since returning home from Carnoustie.
Woods confirmed as much when he left East Lake with his two trophies -- one for the Tour Championship, one for the FedEx Cup.
'Hey, there was no need to go,' he said with a shrug and a smile.
Whether this is the best he has ever played is up for debate, but don't expect Woods to participate. He is always looking forward, always trying to figure out a way to get better. That's what makes it so daunting for the guys trying to reach his level. They know they have to get better, and that's assuming Woods doesn't continue to improve himself.
So far, that hasn't happened.
Since his latest round of swing changes took root at the end of 2004, Woods has won 21 times on the PGA Tour. That's more than Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk combined over the last three years.
And the truly scary part is that Woods, at age 31, might still be years away from his prime.
'I don't know when it's going to be,' Woods said. 'The whole idea is to try and keep improving. When all is said and done, when you rack the cue and go home and retire, you can honestly say, 'These were my best years, when I was at my peak.' But when you're in it, you're always trying to improve that a little bit to get to the next level.'
As the trophies keep piling up, the numbers are simply staggering.
Woods now has won 61 times in just more than 11 full years on the PGA Tour. Jack Nicklaus was 36 when he captured his 61st tour victory. He has won 28 percent of the time since turning pro, and that if that number is hard to fathom alone, consider than Mickelson has won 9 percent of his tournaments, Singh is at 8 percent and Ernie Els at 6 percent.
Woods' final putt for par at East Lake put him at 23-under 257 for the lowest 72-hole score of his career, and six shots better than the previous record at the Tour Championship. A week earlier at Cog Hill, he broke the tournament record by five shots at 22-under 262, winning by two over Aaron Baddeley.
With his 2007 season in the books -- all he has left is the Presidents Cup and his Target World Challenge in December -- Woods finished with a 67.79 adjusted scoring average, equaling his record from the 2000 season.
And while the $10,867,052 was short by $38,114 of the record Singh set in 2004, the big Fijian played 29 times that year. Woods played in only 16 tournaments. That's an average of $172,493 per round.
Woods said the latest adjustment since the British Open, where he tied for 12th, was simply shifting the weight more toward the balls of his feet for better balance. That made it appear he was standing closer to the ball.
Swing coach Hank Haney hasn't seen much change the last two years, with one exception. What he watched with regularity on the range at Woods' home course in Isleworth, he now sees more often inside the ropes on the PGA Tour.
'I've seen him play like this and hit the ball like this the last couple of years -- for sure the last year -- but most of times I've seen that, it's been at Isleworth,' Haney said Sunday from his home in Dallas. 'It's only been bits and pieces in tournaments.'
It's still not perfect.
Woods lunged at one tee shot on the 16th hole at East Lake in the opening round, scolding himself when it sailed to the right.
'Tiger Woods!' he said through clenched teeth. 'Trust you swing.'
Haney believes that trust was evident at Oakmont in the third round of the U.S. Open, when Woods hammered a driver down the middle of the fairway on his way to perhaps his best ball-striking round of the year. He hit 17 greens in regulation that day.
'I know what that hole feels like to him. It's really tight,' Haney said. 'On the practice tee, he said, 'I'm driving the ball in the fairway.' And he piped it right down the middle, then did the same thing on Sunday. I felt that was big turning point in his confidence.'
Woods didn't see it that way.
In his eyes, the turning point came at the Western Open last July. He had just missed the cut in a major for the first time, opened with a 72 at Cog Hill, then spent hours that Thursday afternoon on the practice range. It was hard work, but enjoyable.
For the first time since his father died, it was fun.
'I got over all the things that happened earlier, and I finally got back to just playing golf again,' he said. 'That mourning period ... I felt I was done with it. Once I got back to playing golf, I felt I was back in my rhythm again. And from then, if you look at my results since then, it's been pretty good.'
No one ever thought that 2000 season could ever be topped, and it probably remains the benchmark. Woods won nine times in 20 starts, including three straight majors, and three victories of at least eight shots. But his highest winning percentage was last year (8-of-15), and his adjusted scoring average is the same as it was in 2000.
Instead of looking back, consider the future.
What if he still hasn't hit his prime?
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...
Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).
Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.
It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard
On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...
There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.
He sure looks like the real deal, though.
His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.
Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner
Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2
With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.
He picked up one more No. 2, too.
The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.
In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.
Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.
“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”
Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.
Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.
He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.
Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title
Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.
Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.
His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.
“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."
Tom Brady, postgame, on wearing the wrap on his hand: “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that. It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament.”— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) January 22, 2018
Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.
Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.
Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:
Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)
What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.
Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.
Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.
Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.
Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.
Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:
Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry