Woods Life Has Changed


2010 PGA ChampionshipOn Wednesday at Firestone Country Club, Tiger Woods, a man whose career has been defined by a flare for the dramatic, summed up a turbulent year with a grossly understated yet economically astute, “Life has changed.”

Woods was answering a question about his limited practice schedule this year, but the three words neatly wrapped up a life that has made the journey from Teflon to tormented in a single competitive calendar.

It was 12 months ago when the golf world was spinning upon a familiar axis. Woods, unstoppable at a major when pacing the field through 54 holes, was two clear of Padraig Harrington and someone named Y.E. Yang when the sun inched under the horizon at Hazeltine National. Eighteen holes, 75 strokes and 12 inexplicably eventful months later everything has changed.
Tiger Woods
The 2010 Woods seems to have lost his dominating edge. (Getty Images)
Shortly before last year’s PGA Championship, Paul Goydos was asked about Woods’ 54-hole record at majors, a perfect 14-for-14 when ahead but flawed to the extreme when trailing. “He’s never come from behind to win (a major)? Big deal, neither have I,” Goydos deadpanned at the time.

Since then, one of those two players has shot 59 in a PGA Tour event, the other is Woods.

Changing times, indeed.

Woods is still No. 1, at least on paper, but by any other measure the cup is wanting. Last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was Woods’ eighth start of 2010, the first time he’s been this deep into the calendar without a victory in more than a decade; he’s 85th in earnings, 119th in FedEx Cup points and his margin atop the world ranking has slipped to the point that not one but three players (Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Steve Stricker) can overtake him atop the pack when the dust and decimal points settle on Sunday in Kohler, Wis., site of this week’s PGA Championship.

Despite his tie for 78th at Firestone, his worst Tour finish as a pro, Woods remains optimistic about his game, if not his PGA title chances. And, at least in a historical context, that optimism is rooted in former performances almost as much as it is current form.

“I think I can turn it around,” he said Sunday before making his way to Whistling Straits. “I’m just going to be ready for Thursday.”

Of the 17 events Woods has played after the Open Championship since 2006 he’s won a dozen times and had four runner-ups. By comparison, in the 31 events he’s played before the U.S. Open since ’06 he has 10 victories and three runner-ups.

He may have made history at the Masters (1997) and U.S. Open (2000 and 2008), but from a competitive point of view the dog days seem to bring out the best in Woods.

Some of the Southern Cal native’s post-Open Championship success can be attributed to the summer heat, and the notion that whatever swing flaws Woods was dealing with had been sorted out via the reps of spring and early summer.

For Woods, however, it is the familiarity and fondness for many late-season ballparks like Firestone, where he’s won seven times, that give him his late-in-the-year boost.

“I love playing (Firestone). I believe that some of those wins were actually at (the Buick Open) as well, which I like that golf course, as well,” said Woods, who failed to finish in the top 4 at Firestone for the first time in 11 starts. “It was a lot to do with the venue. I think in my career I've played pretty good on certain venues.”

Although Whistling Straits, where Woods finished tied for 24th at the 2004 PGA Championship, may not have the same caché as Firestone, his four Wanamaker Trophies account for nearly 30 percent of his Grand Slam haul to date, compared to three victories apiece at the U.S. and British Opens.

All things considered, “Glory’s Last Shot” is still Goliath’s last, and best, chance to get off the schnide and salvage what has been a forgettable 2010.

If others have reached a point of panic Woods remains resolute, if not realistic given the turmoil in his life. Or perhaps Woods’ optimism is born from experience. In 2004 he failed to win a stroke-play event for the first time in his career and in 1998 he managed just a single “W.” Both droughts were followed by career years of six (2005) and eight (1999) victories.

“Just be patient, keep working, keep going,” Woods said last week. “I've been through periods like this before. And I just have to keep being patient, keep working, keep building, and keep putting the pieces together, and when they do come, when they do fall into place, that's usually when I will win a few tournaments.”

Whether those pieces fall into place in time to salvage the meanest of seasons this week in Wisconsin likely depends less on Woods’ wayward driving or balky putter, the most common culprits in the stalled comeback, and more on his life outside the ropes, an existence turned upside down by the events of Nov. 27.

Woods has, however reluctantly, acknowledged the impact his personal life has had on his game.

“It’s not only concentration, but it's also preparation and then also my preparation out here,” Woods said. “But things are starting to normalize, and that's been a good sign.”

CBS Sports analyst David Feherty, a man who has battled his share of off-course demons, said it best in a recent interview. “There’s nothing wrong with his swing. There’s nothing wrong with anything except the head full of slamming doors that you have when you go through a divorce – especially when there’s children involved.”

By almost every measure, 2010 has been a year of change for Woods, a man who savors the status quo even more than the familiarity of the Tour’s late-summer fairways. How quickly life returns to something close to the norm will ultimately decide how the endless summer is remembered.

Last Wednesday in a final moment of understated clarity, Woods seemed to realize how much has changed since last year’s PGA Championship. “It has been a long year,” he said.