At 37, Woods remains a fascinating mystery

By Joe PosnanskiJuly 19, 2013, 5:22 pm

Everything about Tiger Woods has grown familiar over the years. Here he is, once again, up on the leaderboard at the British Open heading into the weekend, and is there any move of his that we haven’t seen before? Think about it: How many times have we seen him let go of his club on the backswing after he hit a poor shot? How many times have seen him erupt with joy just an instant before the ball dropped into the cup? How many times have we seen him make that hand motion – that ball was supposed to ROLL RIGHT! – after a putt slides by the hole?

How many times have we seen that placid look on his face as he watches a shot he knows is good, one he knows will bounce and dance around the flagstick and induce those massive and slightly astonished cheers that are reserved for home run hitters and goal scorers and golfers who it close?

He’s utterly familiar. And, at the same time, he’s thoroughly unknown. It’s probable that no athlete in American sports history has answered so many questions while saying quite as little as Woods. He’s something of a genius that way. He might be the most famous athlete in the world*, and yet, what do we know about him?

*Based on my unscientific survey, the five most famous athletes in the world are: Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, LeBron James, Usain Bolt and David Beckham with Cristiano Ronaldo, Roger Federer, and Kobe Bryant close behind.

I can think of seven things we know for sure:

1. He’s 37 years old.

2. He’s generally pleased with his game but would like to make more putts.

3. He still intends to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships.

4. He’s generally pleased with his putting but has to give himself more chances.

5. He’s dating Lindsey Vonn and they are happy.

6. Yes, he feels in position to win.

7. He’s feeling fine. At least as far as you need to know.

In a sense, almost every answer he gives in the many, many news conferences through the years touches one of those seven themes. Woods has always fascinated everyone: He was fascinating as a golfing prodigy hitting shots on “That’s Incredible”; fascinating as a teenager winning three consecutive U.S. Amateurs; fascinating when he ran away with the Masters at age 21; fascinating when he won those four major championships in a row for the greatest run of golf in the history of the game; fascinating when he won the U.S. Open on one leg; and yes, sadly, fascinating when his private life spilled into the tabloids as he was exposed for all to see.

142nd Open Championship: Articles, videos and photos

But, this might be the most fascinating he has ever been. He is 37 years old, closing in on 38. He’s still the best player in the world – back in golden position at another British Open – but he has not won a major championship in five years. He is a father, his body is susceptible to injury, his swing finally seems locked in, his putting fluctuates from brilliant to shaky and back again. He is playing for history, as always, but for the first time in his amazing career the odds seem against him. He seems to be trying to be more accommodating and less emotional, and his efforts are very much a work in progress.

And he answers question after question after question without really revealing how he feels about any of it.

Only maybe now and again, in his words, he does reveal a little something. You just have to look a bit closer at his answers.

TIGER WOODS is growing a bit more nostalgic as he gets older.

It used to be that Woods never looked back, at least publicly. Efforts to get him to relive a great shot or a great victory were often met with curt responses or, just as often, no responses at all. The point was obvious: Woods looked forward not backward. He was not interested in remembering his first Masters win or the way he lapped the field at the U.S. Open – he was focused on winning the NEXT Masters and the NEXT U.S. Open.

But Woods is now an older golfer. He may not be close to the end, but golfers at 37 are on the downhill portion of their careers. And so, it is OK for Woods to admit that, yes, he will think about the past – like he did in January when he was asked about his last major championship, that amazing U.S. Open victory when his knee was torn up so much that that he grimaced on almost every shot.

Photos: Woods' major-championship finishes

“I do look at that week often,” he said. “I remember several things. No. 1 that comes to my mind every time I look at it or see highlights of it is just pure pain that I was in. I don’t ever want to experience that again. … There are amazing things but, man, here I am just talking about it and my hands are sweating just thinking about the feeling I had to get through each and every day.”

This seems something new for Woods. He never seemed willing to journey back to those moments. He never seemed to publicly enjoy or relish the extraordinary things he did. He was so good, so ridiculously good, and he always played it cool, like it was all expected, like nothing he did could surprise or impress him. His U.S. Open victory on one leg is one of the greatest performances in golf history, not far behind Ben Hogan’s unparalleled U.S. Open victory barely more than a year after a near-fatal car accident. It seems Woods, now, can look back and, while grimacing, admire it.

TIGER WOODS is as determined as ever not to show weakness.

Woods’ quote: “You never want to let any of the guys know you’re hurt in any sport, doesn’t matter, ever.”

Golf is different from most other sports in that you are not really battling a competitor. You are battling a golf course. In other sports, it makes sense not to show weakness because opponents can take advantage. In football, a limping cornerback will inspire a quarterback to throw deep. In basketball, an injured player will usually be isolated on the defensive end. In tennis, a player with a pulled hamstring will probably face a bunch of drop shots and be moved side to side.

But why worry about such things in golf? If Woods is injured, so what? It’s not like any of the golfers can adjust their games to do anything about it.

Photos: Woods through the years

And Woods admits now he has been injured – the last few years, he has dealt with many injuries, some more serious than others, all of them preventing him from being the player he had been. He says he finally feels good now. But, of course, he said he felt good then too … this is the point. It’s a mystery. He wants it to be a mystery. It’s a big part of who he is as an athlete.

See, part of Woods’ invincible aura has been, yes, his invincible aura. Sure, sometimes, he was just much better than anyone in the field – he won half his 14 majors by three strokes or more. On those weekends, it didn’t matter what anyone else did. He was going to win.

But just as often he won close tournaments, and he won in large part because he placed this extraordinary pressure on other golfers by simply being himself. They knew he wasn’t going to beat himself. They knew he wasn’t going to miss a series of putts or double bogey his chances away. So they had to go get him. Woods made other golfers go out of character, made them try to hit shots a little too perfectly, made them aim a little too close to the flagstick.

He worked very hard to seem invulnerable. And he is still working hard at it. Invulnerability goes beyond just health. Think about how many times Woods, no matter where he stood on the leaderboard, has said: “Yes, I have a good chance to win.” Think about how positively he spins his game even on a day when he misses a lot of putts or snap-hooks every other drive.

“Do you feel like you’re out of it?” he was asked after shooting poorly the second day at the Memorial.

“No,” he said, and he talked about the possible storm coming in, the winds possibly picking up and so on.

“Are you disappointed?” he was asked after he lost the first round at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

“I played well, I really did, I hit a lot of good shots out there,” he said.

“How do you feel about your ball-striking?” he was asked after a rough day.

“I’m not too disappointed with that … I’m not far off,” he said.

“What do you make of not winning a major for five years,” he was asked leading into this British Open.

“I’ve been there in a bunch of them where I’ve had chances,” he said. “I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I’ll get some.”

Always positive … always certain … always on the brink of a breakthrough. There’s a great story about Woods playing in an American Express corporate event years ago at Oakmont, this before the U.S. Open there. Some of the guests asked him if he would hit a golf ball out of the famous Church Pews bunker. He refused. They asked him again. He refused again. Then, they asked him if he would have a photo taken in the bunker, and he finally agreed, but he refused to bring his golf club with him.

“Why bring negativity into your thoughts,” he said.

TIGER WOODS is trying to use the doubts of others to fuel him.

Woods did not have to deal much with doubters as a young man. From the time he was a child, his father, Earl, had made it clear to him that he was destined to do remarkable things. That faith seemed to be the thing that drove him more than anything else. The long putts, the remarkable chips, the absurdly long drives … all of it just seemed part of an elaborate plan that had been in place for a long time. He wore red on Sundays because his mother, Kultida, believed it was his power color. And, wearing red, he won all the time.

After the knee injury, though, and after the scandal, the tenor changed. The plan had veered off course. In 2008, it seemed a virtual guarantee that he would break Nicklaus’ major championship record of 18 – would, in fact, soar by it, maybe win 25 of them or even 30. Only two or three years later, there were all sorts of questions about Woods’ health, his many swing changes, his erratic putting, his mindset, his coaches, his equipment. Perhaps the most interesting question was this: How would Woods deal with this kind of adversity for the first time in his life?

Now, every now and again, he lets loose a small sense of how he is dealing with it:

“Was there ever a time you questioned yourself?” he was asked before the Masters.

“No,” he said. “There wasn’t.”

“Are you surprised how well you are playing?” he was asked at The Players Championship.

“Am I surprised?” he asked back. “No. I know a lot of people in this room thought I was done. But I’m not.”

“Do you think you will be as good as you once were?” he was asked at the Arnold Palmer Invitational?

“I don’t want to become as good as I once was,” he said. “No I don’t. I want to become better.”

TIGER WOODS is feeling his age.

He is not feeling it the way some people might expect … he clearly does not believe age has diminished his game or puts any limits on how well he can play for the next five to 10 years. But every so often, he will say something that makes it clear: He understands the times are changing.

For instance, he was asked if he can understand what Rory McIlroy is going through with all the pressure on him to perform and be a superstar and with every word of his being analyzed to absurdity (sort of like Woods’ words in this article).

He said that in some ways he can relate. But in other ways … no, it’s different.

“This is a slightly different era as well,” he said. “It’s even faster than it was when I came out. Things are instantaneous around the world. We were still in fax machines, things were a little bit slower. … You’ve got to be more, just got to think about it a little bit more before you say something or do something. It can get out of hand.”

And when asked about how much golf has changed since he arrived on the scene, he said “It gets harder and harder with each generation. The talent pool gets better. The kids are getting more athletic. They’re going earlier. They’ll be turning pro earlier than even I did. When I first came out here at 20 that was like, whoa, you’re coming out here pretty early. Now we gets kids turning pro at 15, 16. It’s different.”

This is an experienced Woods. He has lived quite a bit of life. He has achieved the greatest heights in his sports history. He has also endured some spectacular lows. The fan bases have congealed – there are those people who love him and those who cannot stand him, and few of them are going to change sides now. Woods understands he’s not a kid anymore. He doesn’t run 30 miles a week now; his body can’t take that kind of stress. He allows himself an occasional break to think about what he’s done. He will sometimes even talk a little bit about fatherhood.

“It’s a beautiful juggling act,” he said when talking about fatherhood and being the world’s most famous golfer. “I think people who are all parents in here will certainly attest to that. That’s the joy in life and to be able to be part of their life and watch them grow and help them grow.”

And, like most of us older people, he believes that what he’s lost in youthful exuberance and energy, he’s more than made up with life experience.

He was asked at The Players Championship: “If you could play your 18-year-old self in match play …”

“I would win now,” he said.

“Would you win 9 and 8?” he was asked.

“I don’t care. As long as I won.”

THE OTHER DAY, on Nelson Mandela’s birthday, Woods was asked about the great man. A younger Woods might have answered with a series of platitudes about how much he admired Mandela, how much he enjoyed meeting him … but instead, Woods told a deeply personal and touching story.

“The first time I ever met President Mandela was in ’98,” he said. “I went down there to play Sun City, and he invited me to his home. And my father and I went to lunch with him. It still gives me chills to this day, thinking about it. A gentleman asked us to go into this side room over here and said, ‘President Mandela will join you in a little bit.’

“We walked in them room and my dad and I were just kind of looking around. And I said, ‘Dad, do you feel that?’ And he says, ‘Yeah, it feels different in this room.’ And it was just like a different energy in the room. We just looked at each other and just shrugged our shoulders and whatever.

“I’m guessing probably 30 seconds later, I heard some movement behind me. And it was President Mandela folding up the paper. And it was pretty amazing. The energy that he has, that he exudes, is unlike any person I’ve ever met. … That’s an experience I will never, ever forget.”

Of course, we can’t know Tiger Woods. Not really. He’s too famous, too driven, too insular to ever really be known. We don’t know how many major championship victories he has left in him. But I love this little story of a young Woods, with his father and best friend, feeling the presence of Nelson Mandela. It says something about him. No, of course, it doesn’t tell us anything about how he will play on Saturday or Sunday. If it did, he wouldn’t have told the story in the first place.

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(Not that) Jutanugarn shares lead with (not that) Ko

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 1:58 am

LOS ANGELES - A player eager for her first win and a rookie top the leaderboard at the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. Lurking two shots back is a Hall of Famer.

Winless Moriya Jutanugarn overcame a poor start and birdied the 18th for a hard-earned 1-under 70 to tie rookie Jin Young Ko at 9 under on Saturday at Wilshire Country Club.

Ko shot a 66 in her bid to become the year's first two-time LPGA winner. She won the Women's Australian Open in February, her first victory as an official tour member after a successful run on the Korean LPGA circuit.

''I'm ready for win or top 10, so maybe tomorrow I will really focus on shot by shot,'' said Ko, who added an exclamation point to her golf bag for each of her wins on the KLPGA. ''I won 11 times, so if I win tomorrow, maybe I change to 12. I need more, I need every time motivation.''

Jutanugarn is trying to match younger sister Ariya as a tour champion. Seven-time winner Ariya was tied for 27th after a 72 in the third round.

Usually when one of the Thai sisters is in the lead, the other will watch when her round is finished.

''If she's not too lazy, she is probably going to come out,'' Moriya said about Ariya.

Playing in an all-Korean threesome, Hall of Famer Inbee Park was two shots back in third after a 69. Her birdie putt for a share of the lead on 18 slid just by the hole. The group drew a large contingent of Korean fans.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

''I kind of started off a little bad. I was able to come back strong, so I'm really happy with that,'' Park said. ''I left a few putts out there. The greens around this golf course are just really tough. You just don't know what's going to happen.''

Moriya Jutanugarn's round included a double bogey on the par-4 first hole and a bogey on the par-4 sixth. She eagled the par-4 14th after holing out from the fairway 93 feet away. The ball took once bounce and went in, eliciting a stunned look from Jutanugarn before she high-fived her caddie.

''Today was kind of a pretty rough day for me with not a very good start and like trying to come back,'' Jutanugarn said. ''I just try to play my game and be patient out there I think is the key.''

Jutanugarn, the second-round leader, read the break perfectly on a long putt to make birdie on 18 and share the lead with Ko.

Playing two groups ahead of Jutanugarn, Caroline Inglis also eagled the 14th from 180 yards. She briefly jumped up and down and smiled after three bogeys and a double bogey. She shot a 69 and was four shots back in a tie for sixth with Minjee Lee.

''It was like one bounce and then it like trickled in,'' Inglis said.

Aditi Ashok eagled 14 early in the round.

Ko did some scrambling of her own. Her ball found a sandy hazard on the 17th with a scoreboard and a winding creek in between her and the green 190 yards away. Her approach landed just off the green and she made par. Her round included six birdies and a bogey on 16.

Eun-Hee Ji (70) and American Marina Alex (72) were tied for fourth at 6 under.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng shot a 70 and was in a six-way tie for 12th at 2 under.

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Defending champs Singh, Franco take senior lead

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 12:15 am

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco took the third-round lead Saturday in the windy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Singh and Franco shot a 7-under 47 in wind gusting to 20 mph on the Top of the Rock par-3 course to get to 19-under 145, a stroke ahead of the teams of David Toms-Steve Flesch and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett.

''It was a tough day,'' Singh said. ''The wind was swirling, have to get the club right and we made some putts. Carlos played really well on the back nine and I played really well on the front nine, so we ham-and-egged it a little.''

Toms and Flesch also shot 47, and Broadhurst and Triplett had a 33 on the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course.

''We just paired well together,'' Toms said. ''I don't think either one of us played great. We picked each other up out there.''

Wind and rain is expected Sunday when the teams finish at Top of the Rock, again playing the front nine in alternate shot and the back nine in better ball.

''Make as many birdies as possible and see what happens,'' Singh said. ''That's all we can do.''

Singh and Franco are trying to become the first to successfully defend a title since Jim Colbert and Andy North in 2001. Singh won the Toshiba Classic in March for his first individual senior title.

Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf

Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic last week in Georgia for his first senior victory.

Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer had a 34 at Mountain Top to join Spanish stars Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal at 17 under. Jimenez and Olazabal had a 33 at Mountain Top.

''It's great for me to be able to play with him as a team member,'' Olazabal said. ''We do have great memories from the Ryder Cup and other events, and it's always a great pleasure to play with a great player and a friend.''

Langer took the final-round forecast in stride.

''We've done it hundreds of times before and we'll probably do it again,'' Langer said. ''We'll make the best of it. We both have a good attitude. We're known to play in all sorts of weather and I just look forward to playing one more day with my partner here.''

Wisconsin neighbors Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were 16 under after a 48 at Top of the Rock.

John Daly and Michael Allen, the second-round leaders after a 46 at Top of the Rock, had a 37 at Mountain Top to drop into a tie for seventh at 15 under.

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Landry shares Valero lead, eyes first career win

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 11:15 pm

After coming up just short of a breakthrough win earlier this season, Andrew Landry has another chance to earn his maiden victory at the Valero Texas Open.

Landry came within inches of winning the CareerBuilder Challenge in January, ultimately losing to Jon Rahm in a four-hole playoff. He struggled to find form in the wake of his close call, missing the cut in each of his four starts following his runner-up finish in Palm Springs.

But Landry took some time off to welcome his first child, Brooks, last month and he made it to the weekend in his first start back last week at the RBC Heritage, where he finished T-42. He made a move up the standings Saturday at TPC San Antonio with a bogey-free 67, and at 13 under shares the lead with Zach Johnson heading into the final round.

"I just did everything really good," Landry told reporters. "I was staying patient and just trying to make a bunch of pars. This golf course can come up and bite you in a heartbeat, and I had a couple bad putts that I didn't really make. I'm happy with it, it's a good 5-under round. Gets me in the final group tomorrow and we'll see what happens."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Landry started the day one shot off the pace and in the final group with Johnson and Ryan Moore, and at one point he took sole possession of the lead after birdies on three of his first six holes. Now he'll have another chance in the day's final tee time where he's grouped with Johnson and Trey Mullinax, who sits one shot back after firing a course-record 62 in the third round.

For Landry, it's another opportunity to break into the winner's circle, and it's one for which he feels prepared after coming so close three months ago.

"I mean, I don't want to go too deep into it because I don't want to sound cocky or anything, but I just believe in myself. There's no other explanation for it," Landry said. "You can totally get out here and play with Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, two top players in the world, and you can go out there and fold under pressure or you can learn a lot.

"Zach's always been a role model to me the way he plays golf, I feel like we have very similar games, and it's just going to be fun tomorrow getting to play with him again."

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Z. Johnson, Landry share 54-hole Texas Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 10:56 pm

SAN ANTONIO - Zach Johnson birdied the par-5 18th Saturday at the Valero Texas Open for a share of the third-round lead with Andrew Landry, a stroke ahead of record-setting Trey Mullinax.

Johnson shot a 4-under 68, holing a 10-footer on 18 to match Landry at 13-under 203 at TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks. Landry birdied the 16th and 17th in a 67.

Johnson won the event in 2008 and 2009, the last two times it was played at LaCantera. The 42-year-old Iowan is trying to win for the first time since the 2015 British Open.

''I've got 18 holes to get to that point,'' Johnson said. ''I've got to do exactly what I did on the back side and that was give myself opportunities on every hole. I'm putting great, I'm seeing the lines well, my caddie's reading the greens well, so it's just a matter of committing and executing down the stretch.''

The 30-year-old Landry is winless on the tour.

''I'm a good putter and I just need to give myself a lot of opportunities tomorrow like I did today,'' Landry said. ''I'll be looking forward to tomorrow.''

Mullinax had a course-record 62. He played the back nine in 7-under 29, going 6 under on the last five with eagles on the par-5 14th and 18th and birdies on 16 and 17. He also birdied Nos. 10 and 12 and bogeyed 11.

''It's probably one of the best rounds I've ever had,'' Mullinax said. ''To go out there and shoot 62 on a hard golf course is really good.''

Johnson played the front nine in even par with two birdies and two bogeys. He birdied Nos. 11, 14, 15 and 18 on the back nine.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

''Different wind today early on, misjudged some numbers, misjudged some wind, made some bad swings, all of the above,'' Johnson said. ''But truthfully, my short game was actually pretty good, my putting was great. I missed some putts, but I hit some really good ones, hit some lines and I gave myself opportunities especially on the back side.''

Landry had a bogey-free round.

''I just did everything really good,'' Landry said. ''I was staying patient and just trying to make a bunch of pars. This golf course can come up and bite you in a heartbeat.''

Ryan Moore was two strokes back at 11 under after a 70. Sean O'Hair had a 65 to join 2015 champion Jimmy Walker (67), Chris Kirk (68) and 2013 winner Martin Laird (69) at 9 under.

''I just feel like I'm getting closer and closer to playing better and better golf, more solid golf, putting rounds together,'' Walker said. ''I'm excited for the opportunity tomorrow.''

Mullinax has made 42 of 44 putts from inside 10 feet this week.

''They just kind of remind me of greens from home,'' Mullinax said. ''My caddie, David (Flynn), has been reading them really well. We trusted each other on our reads and I've been hitting good putts. Been working hard on putting on the weeks off that I've had so it's good to see some results.''

The 25-year-old former Alabama player chipped in for the eagle on 14 and the birdie on the par-3 16th.

''It was just a little bit down the hill,'' he said about the 16th. ''All you had to do was just land it just past that little light grass spot. My caddie told me just read it like a putt, so I tried to just read it like a putt and it went in.''

On 18, he hit a 3-iron from 255 yards to 15 feet to set up his eagle putt. He broke the course record of 63 set by Matt Every in 201 and matched by Laird in 2013. The tournament record is 60 at LaCantera, by Bart Bryant in 2004 and Johnson in 2009.