The New and Improved Tiger

By Randall MellApril 6, 2010, 12:51 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Who is this guy?

That’s what you kept asking yourself on the most unusual Monday in Masters history.

You wondered when you saw Tiger Woods keep making eye contact with patrons as he made his way around Augusta National in his first round of golf in front of the public since his fall from grace almost five months ago.

You wondered when Woods kept flashing those white teeth and shooting smiles and “thank you’s” at patrons who shouted encouragement.

This guy didn’t look like the warrior in golf cleats we’ve come to know. He looked unusually eager to connect with fans he never seemed to notice before. He looked out of sorts in the role, though. He even looked nervous in his practice round with Fred Couples.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods putts during Monday's practice round. (Getty Images)
“I thought Tiger was a little on edge,” said Jim Furyk, who joined Woods and Couples on the 13th hole.

Woods admitted he was more nervous stepping out in front of fans than he was sitting in front of media in his highly anticipated news conference after his practice round. He wasn’t sure how fans would greet him after nearly five months of reading the lurid details of his marital infidelities.

“As far as getting out there, I was definitely more nervous,” Woods said. “That first tee, I didn’t know what to expect.”

Woods was also a different man in the media room, contrite and humble answering 47 questions over 33 minutes. He seemed to be speaking more freely from the heart than he did in his 13-minute scripted apology last month and his five- to six-minute interviews on Golf Channel and ESPN.

“I need to be a better man going forward,” he said.

It was out on the course, though, that Woods most revealed the promise of an evolving new man. He’s either perpetrating another masterful deception in a bid to rehabilitate his shattered image, or he’s in the early stages of a metamorphosis as a man. Woods said in that public apology that his actions would mean more than his words in the coming months. While skeptics will wonder if this is all about rebuilding his brand, there was no denying the difference in his demeanor during his practice round.

Woods typically plays with blinders, even in his practice rounds. In the past, spectators weren’t much different than the trees he played around.

“Usually, I kind of focus on placements of shots and getting ready,” Woods said. “But today was a little bit different.”

Little bit? Woods wasn’t exactly the second coming of Arnold Palmer Monday, but we’ve never seen him lock eyes with fans like he did here. His practice round seemed to be as much about connecting with fans as getting ready for the tournament.

“Tiger was a little more chatty than usual,” Furyk said.

At the back of the seventh green, Woods made a woeful putting stroke, never coming close to the hole.

“Nice putt,” a patron yelled.

Woods turned and flashed yet another smile.

“If that’s a nice putt, I’d like to see a bad one,” Woods answered back.

The fans behind the green cackled with laughter. It was another icebreaker on this strange day. Woods was greeted politely with a smattering of applause on the first tee. Patrons were warm and respectful but not overly enthusiastic. There were shouts of “Welcome back!” and even a few “We love you’s,” but the atmosphere lacked the snap, crackle and pop you normally see in the gallery following Woods. Couples got heartier welcomes on the tee boxes.

Polite and warm was more than good enough for Woods in his bid to reconnect with fans.

“Just trying to be more respectful of the game,” Woods said. “Acknowledge the fans like I did today. That was just an incredible reception today for all 18 holes. Show my appreciation for them. I haven’t done that in the past few years and that was wrong of me.

“So many kids have looked up to me and so many fans have supported me over the years. Just wanted to say thank you to them, especially going over all of this the past few months. It really put things in perspective for me and how much I have appreciated, or, underappreciated the fans in the game.”

Couples said the conversation was all about golf.

“I’m not a life coach,” Couples said. “If we were out for dinner and he brought it up, I would give him my opinion but this is about golf.”

Couples noticed Woods’ attempt to connect with fans.

“He knows he made blunders,” Couples said. “He’s back to make up for it.”

Woods wasn’t as focused on his game, and you could tell in his waywardness. He blew his first tee shot left into the ninth fairway. He left a shot in the bunker at the fourth hole. He blew another shot in the trees at the eighth hole.

“I thought he hit his irons well, but he hit a few loose drives,” Furyk said.

Couples didn’t seem sure what to expect from Woods once the tournament begins.

“He’s the best player in the world, but he hasn’t played in awhile,” Couples said. “I’d be crazy to say he won’t play well, but I’d be crazy to say he is the guy to beat.”

Win or lose, Woods is evolving. We saw the first glimpses of his attempts to be a different man.


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After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

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Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”