ORLANDO, Fla. – Next week Tiger Woods returns to Australia, site of his last victory.
It’s been almost two years since he won the Australian Masters (Nov. 15, 2009), but Woods will be looking to rekindle his best form in a bid to help the United States win the Presidents Cup in his trip Down Under. Woods will tee it up in next week’s Australian Open as a warm up with the Presidents Cup to follow the week after.
Six-time major championship winner and Golf Channel analyst Nick Faldo believes Woods will eventually win again, but he believes Woods’ run of dominance is over and doubts he will be able to break Jack Nicklaus’ record for major championship victories. He’s surprised Fred Couples made Woods a Presidents Cup captain’s pick and wouldn’t blame Keegan Bradley if he were angry about it. And Faldo believes swing coach Sean Foley has introduced some difficult changes for Woods to juggle amid all the other change in his life.
Faldo was at the Nick Faldo Institute shooting episodes of '7 Nights at the Academy' (airing Dec. 12-18 on Golf Channel) when GolfChannel.com caught up with him for a Tiger assessment before Woods tees it up in back-to-back weeks in Australia.
When Tiger Woods crashed into the fire hydrant and tree in his neighbor’s yard nearly two years ago, what, as a player, did he really lose that night?
I think the whole aura of Tiger has changed dramatically. He’s quite a sensitive guy, so to try to come out after global humiliation with the comments, let alone the criticism, it’s pretty difficult. Golf is a game where you stand there for an awful long time, and you can easily be wondering, `What are people thinking? I have the whole world looking at me, and now they’re looking at me differently.’ I think all those things would affect you.
I know from my experience, once I tried to get more involved in business, and I went through divorce as well, your quality of concentration goes. Your ability to totally engross yourself in practice for a day, that changes quite dramatically. From going out to the golf course, tipping out your balls, spending a great day practicing from 9 to 5, I doubt he’s had a day with anything like the freedom he had before. Maybe it’s starting to come back a little bit. And you’ve got a young family as well that you’re separated from, it’s very difficult, the emotion of that.
The bottom line is that since he won two years ago in Australia, I don’t know what is still the same in his life. Almost everything has changed, from the physical to the technical, the emotional side as well, everything seems different, so I think he’s still got a lot to contend with.
Do you think he will get it back?
Well, he won’t have the dominance back, I doubt, nothing like the dominance he had back from 2000, because he was a totally clear thinking man on a mission, a rampage. His own self-believe, his own self-confidence, would have been at 100 percent, and once that gets chipped away, he’s not the same on the golf course.
How’s that affect what we’re seeing from Tiger?
In the past, Tiger could make things happen. A great player has that ability. A great sportsman has the ability to make things happen, without it being detrimental, Somebody special, like a Michael Jordan, he can make things happen when you really need it. Now when Tiger tries to make things happen, it goes the other way. If he forces it now, he doesn’t hit the shot. That will chip his self-belief. As time goes on, that gets dented more when you see poor shots.
I believe he will find a way to come back and win again because he’s extremely determined, but it won’t be anything like the foregone conclusion it was before. When Tiger had a 54-hole lead in the past, he had a ridiculous record of finishing it off. Now, like the rest of us, you put yourself through the ringer on Sunday afternoon finding out how to win again. Before, it was just, get to the lead and steam roll your way through. What’s changed is that in the past, Tiger would have to fend off one or two players, the obvious names like Phil [Mickelson] or Ernie [Els], but now it’s different. The best example we have is this year’s Masters, when there were eight to 10 guys within a shot. In the past, if Tiger got to a certain number, he probably would have won.
Because of Tiger’s aura, it was totally natural for other players in the past to wonder `What is Tiger up to?’ Consciously, or subconsciously, you’re giving energy to: `Where’s Tiger? Oh, there he is on the range, or, there he is on the leaderboard.’ Now guys are basically thinking, `I don’t need to worry about that because I know he’s got enough on his own plate getting himself back together again. I’ll worry about myself.’ I think that’s had quite an effect on all of these guys.
It’s a new era with new golfers. You’ve got Luke Donald at No. 1, guys bubbling under like Adam Scott and Jason Day. You’ve got Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley winning majors. I’m thinking we on the verge of a new Big Five or Big Six.
Now we have this shotgun run of whatever it’s been, [seven] first-time major championship winners. So we haven’t gotten our Big Six right now. We’ve probably got 20 good golfers, but I think it will be interesting if we get back to six dominant players who start winning more than one major. It will be interesting if that transpires over the next couple seasons.
You’ve been quoted having doubts Tiger will break Jack’s record now. What do you think?
Well, everybody wants you to say something, so they can say you were wrong, but that’s going to be really difficult for Tiger because he needs to win five more majors at 35. If this were just a golfing slump for two years . . . but it isn’t. He’s had a mental and emotional slump, and a physical one, too, because his body’s broken down, and a lot of that has to do with the pressures and the mind. It’s got to come out somewhere, so it came out in his (neck) first. And now how really good is the knee? You have got to have 100 percent trust that that knee is going to survive all circumstances. So, I don’t know if he’s going to have that. There’s got to be a little voice in the back of your mind, where you have to compromise here and there, where you think maybe I can’t quite try the shot I tried when I was at Augusta that caused the knee to flare up again.
The word 'can’t’ is new to the Tiger Woods’ vocabulary, isn’t it?
Tiger’s dealt with success from 2 years old. Everything was success, success, success for 30-plus years, and all of a sudden, bang, now he has to deal with failures, fears, what people think, all sorts of things. The bottom line is he’s determined and will probably find a way to win again, but it will be a struggle. He may walk away from his next win thinking it might be the biggest win of his career because `I found out how to win again.’
A lot’s been debated about U.S. captain Fred Couples choosing Tiger Woods for the Presidents Cup team. What did you think of the pick?
Very surprised at that. You’re taking a risk keeping Keegan Bradley out. You win a major, that’s disappointing when you’re a young rookie, and you’re that good, and you can’t make the team. I would be a little miffed at that one. You picked a guy, sure he’s Tiger Woods, but he’s injured. At the time of the pick, he had only played six competitive rounds through the summer, and nothing like himself. He’s played a few more rounds, but he’s still just finding it.
The Presidents Cup is a team event. We definitely know it’s a little more pressure. You don’t want to let your partner down, you don’t want to let your team down, but this may be a time when Tiger really needs that to respond. [About his Ryder and President Cup records], when you’re a lead man, you’re a scalp, everybody wants you. You’re a feather for somebody’s cap, so they go at you, but he’s hit some bad shots in the Ryder Cup. If he stands up on the tee in Australia and hits a couple drives in the trees and bushes on that course, that will give a lot of confidence to the International team, so he’s under a lot of pressure. He might really want that to get his golfing juices going again.
A lot’s being debated about Tiger’s swing changes under Sean Foley. What do you make of their work together so far?
Again, it’s a lot of changes for Tiger. I was a little surprised with some of the moves. I’ve talked to Sean a couple times, and he’s said you’ve got to work through a couple positions to get to the next position, but it’s taking a fair amount of time. Some of the positions I personally don’t like.
I don’t think Tiger’s as good a bunker player as he used to be, but I don’t know whether that has anything to do with Sean. I know Sean’s changed a lot of his stuff, putting, chipping. Tiger was the best putter in the world, had the best short game in the world. To tinker and change those, I would have thought that was quite dangerous, but I don’t know exactly how much they’ve changed that, so it’s kind of assuming. And another thing is that Tiger’s beefed up. A couple of his swings look quite labored, they don’t have quite that flow and speed. It’s still a lot of conscious thought to the swing. It’s not quite flowing the way it used to be.