DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – “It’s never easy when you’re injured, but I guess it depends on the injury. Some can be completely mental,” the player said without looking up from his practice session.
It wasn’t Tiger Woods who figured that when dealing with ailments large and small it’s often a question of mind over matter, it was Paul Casey but given both players’ history with the MRI machine it seemed an apropos observation.
Casey, like Woods, has endured his share of injuries, everything from a severe case of turf toe to a dislocated shoulder, and realized early in his career that not all injuries are created equal. Some, regardless of the best efforts of modern medicine, linger long past the rehabilitation process.
Woods, for example, embarked on his quest to overhaul his swing with Sean Foley in part to protect a left knee that had become brittle as a result of endless practice and the physical realities of torque.
It stands to reason that his rebuilt left knee was an ever present speed bump in the years following surgery in 2008 and could explain a competitive swoon that led to winless seasons in 2010 and ’11.
Conversely, the world No. 1 began 2014 with a clean bill of health. Sure, there were the back spasms during The Barclays and a strained left elbow that kept him from playing his own AT&T National last summer, but relatively speaking last year was one of his healthiest in recent memory.
“Did you see Barlcays?” Woods responded when asked if he was encouraged by his ability to largely avoid the DL in 2014. “Relatively, yes. I was pleased to get through the season. Relatively.”
Fair enough, it wasn’t exactly a clean card. But he did make it through 2014 without a dramatic WD, like the injury-induced early exits at Doral in 2012 and The Players in ’10 and ’11. And that, by any measure, is encouraging.
This is important viewed in contrast to those winless 2010 and ’11 campaigns, because during those two calendars he managed just 21 starts. That dry spell was the byproduct of serious injuries that are sometimes more difficult emotionally than they are physically to move past.
In early 2012, Casey figured he’d completely recovered from the shoulder injury that he sustained during a snowboarding accident when his trainer tossed him a baseball and told him to start throwing.
“I threw the first one pretty weak and he said, ‘No, really throw it,’” Casey recalled. “I couldn’t do it. I had a real fear of letting (his shoulder) go.”
Considering Woods’ well-documented knee woes it’s not difficult to imagine how hard it was for him to throttle back up to 100 percent even with a doctor’s note declaring him right as rain.
Woods’ ailing elbow and balky back in 2013 were, without question, concerning, but considering his record – five PGA Tour victories and his PGA Tour 12th Player of the Year award – whatever mental aftermath wrought by those injuries was manageable.
“I definitely feel fit. There’s no doubt about that,” said Woods on Wednesday at the Dubai Desert Classic.
For all the micro-analysis following his Saturday struggles at Torrey Pines and his first 54-hole missed cut on the PGA Tour it seems the more compelling measure of Woods’ success, and his potential, rests in his ability to avoid the doctor’s office.
If Woods’ third-round 79 at the Farmers Insurance Open was weighing on him when he arrived in Dubai he wasn’t showing it.
“I was just a fraction off and a fraction off on a golf course set up that hard, it bit a lot of us and, unfortunately, it bit me pretty hard,” he said. “I needed to make a few changes – just a few slight adjustments and I did that.”
Changes he can make. No player throughout the course of his career has proven more adept at adjusting on the fly than Woods and with a renewed confidence in his swing a few missed fairways on a Torrey Pines course masquerading as a U.S. Open stop is no reason to lose sleep.
Making it through an entire year without a single injury-induced WD, however, is a reason to be confident that his body can withstand the rigors of countless swings and his mind can execute without fear.