Has he done enough yet?
Does nine full years qualify, six of those when he was No. 1 on the money list, the other three when he was No. 4 or better? Does 10 majors do it, the most of anyone after nine years competing in the history of the PGA Tour? Does 46 tour wins do it, more than any other player in history who has competed just nine years? Maybe three full swing changes, brought about by, (1), a movement that he didnt think would hold up under the grind of the PGA Tour, or, (2), a combination of a knee injury and a back injury that wouldnt tolerate the constant stress that the first revamped swing brought?
If consistently excellent play the first nine years is your criteria, without question 2005 pushed Tiger Woods to the front. If youre going by a full career, then maybe your guy is Jack Nicklaus or Ben Hogan or Sam Snead. But by any measuring stick, 2005 proved that Tiger Woods is part of a very, very exclusive club.
This was Tiger in 2005: won six times on the PGA Tour in just 21 attempts; won two majors; won twice in playoffs while losing none (he now has won eight times in nine attempts); was on the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team, winning a pair of matches with Jim Furyk; won in excess of $10 million; and, in so doing, he reclaimed the No. 1 world ranking from Vijay Singh.
Along the way, he also learned that sometimes it doesnt turn out the way you had it figured ' he missed the cut at the EDS Byron Nelson, breaking a string of 142 times in which he had played on the weekend. And he later missed the cut at the Funai Classic in October. Still, that was only the second and third times he had missed in his nine-plus years on tour.
Tiger Woods 2005 actually began late in 2004. It was at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan where he finally won a stroke-play event after a drought of more than a year. That tournament was of huge importance for Woods as he fought to fashion his new swing under his swing instructor, Hank Haney.
I think the end of last year (2004) was a big step for me, to have put the pieces together and I won a tournament like I did in Japan - which was a big step for me, going through all the changes with Hank, said Tiger.
So I think for me the process has been arduous, a lot of work, a lot of countless hours on the range, in front of a mirror, trying to get it right and trying to teach my body to do something that it hadn't done before. And it's very similar to what I was trying to do back in the middle of '97 through '99 middle of '99. So that took me two years. This time it took me about a year to put the pieces together.
The changes he was making had by necessity taken a toll on his game as he struggled in 2004. During that season he won only once, and that wasnt a stroke-play event (the WCG-Accenture, which is match play.)
Any time you make changes in your game, it's not going to be an immediate success, and did I probably take a step back? Yeah, probably, I did in '98, too, end of '97, all of '98, and beginning of '99 - almost two years where I didn't really do anything in the game of golf, he said. But then again, once those changes kicked in, I had a pretty good run, '99 and 2000, won 17 times on our Tour.
But in only his second tournament of 2005 ' at the Buick Invitational near San Diego ' he nailed down a victory. And this one was in stroke play.
Now I know what to do, what to fix and how to fix it out there, he said then. To come down the stretch like that, and I finally hit some really good drives all of a sudden on the back nine when I really needed to.
It was at Doral, in a monumental struggle with Phil Mickelson, that Tiger finally reclaimed his first-place status that he had lost six months earlier ' to Vijay Singh. He then won two major championships ' the Masters in a playoff over a gritty Chris DiMarco and a dominating performance in the British Open at St. Andrews. He wrapped up the year with wins at two WGC events ' the NEC and a playoff victory in the American Express.
Everybody is always trying to say, you can try to get back to 2000, he says forcefully. I don't want to get back to 2000. I want to become better. I want to become better than that. That's the whole idea of making a change.
I won the Masters by 12 in '97. I changed my game. Do I want to go back to that? No, I don't. I want to become better than that and I was able to achieve that, and that's why I made this change. I've been scrutinized over the past year or so for doing that, and I'm starting to see the fruits of it now. I've got to continue down the path and continue working hard.
But he no longer is in his 20s. On Dec. 30 he turned 30 years old. He has a new bride. He has, once again, a new swing. And he has what he hopes will be an exciting new era in front of him.
The 20s have been certainly better than I thought they could ever be, he ventured. I have always thought that golfers' peak years are going to be in their 30s, and hopefully that will be the same for me. I've got a lot of great things I've been working on, and I see my best golf certainly being in the future, not in the past.
And for Tiger, the added maturity of turning 30 has had a multitude of advantages.
If I look back on my life at 21 versus my life here at 29, it's totally different. The things that used to worry me don't worry me. Things that I thought were important really aren't, that kind of stuff. You just understand, you've got a better grasp. Being out here enough times, enough years, you really start to get an understanding of what it takes to be out here.
Its been an adventure, working out here on the PGA Tour in his 20s with three different swing movements. And its a credit to Tiger Woods that he has been able to make changes while still playing at such a high level. And, the swing he has today isnt necessarily the swing he will have for the rest of his career.
You're always going to keep working, he said. You never get there - never. You never arrive. And you can only do better the following day.
And, golf is fun. Life, for that matter, is extremely enjoyable. There are negatives to being Tiger Woods, sure, but to Tiger,
I love playing. I love competing. I love the thrill of the hunt, getting out there and competing and trying to win a tournament. That's a rush, man, he said.
To me, that is as fun as fun gets. I enjoy going home and practicing and preparing just like I always have. I still, even to this day, emulate - whether it's Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or Lee Trevino. Late in the evening - OK, Trevino is on the green, Palmer hits his shot on the green, Tiger Woods has a chance to win another one. I still do it, even to this day. It's how I grew up, and you never let those childhood dreams ever go away.
And Tiger counts his blessings and enjoys his life, completely satisfied that his world is in order.
The best part without a doubt is being able to do something you love every day, without a doubt. To do something where you can't wait to wake up and go do it, not too many people in this world can say that. I'm blessed that way.