Tiger Woods looking for explosive return

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tiger Woods looking for explosive return

Tiger Woods of the U.S. reacts as he waits to play from the sand on the eighth fairway during the first round of the 93rd PGA Championship golf tournament at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia

MONTREAL — When last we saw Tiger Woods, he looked like a beaten man, with his golf game effectively in the dumpster and his confidence shattered like broken glass.

It was almost seven weeks ago at the PGA Championship — the last major of the season and a tournament he has won four times — that Woods not only missed the cut for the first time at the event, but did so by six shots.

Woods left the Atlanta Athletic Club ineligible for the FedExCup playoffs for the first time and told reporters he had “nothing to do but work on my game.”

Fast forward to this week, and here’s what Woods was saying: “Things are going great. I’m practising very hard. I’m playing as much as I possibly can. My training sessions are great. My strength has come back. My explosiveness has come back. I’m starting to get my feels back.”

His choice of the word “explosiveness” is intriguing, to say the least.

Is it possible his game has returned to the form it was when, as the world’s No. 1 player, he routinely blew away tournament fields with his deft shotmaking and mental grit? Has it suddenly come back via divine intervention? We ask, because the reality is Woods hasn’t played a single round of competitive golf since the PGA Championship.

But Woods and his game will be back in the spotlight — and under pressure — at next week’s Frys.com Open, where he will compete against a cast made up mostly of no-names in the second of the PGA Tour’s four regular-season ending tournaments in the fall series. Woods sits at No. 50 in the world rankings, a slide almost into oblivion that has been going on for nearly two years because of personal issues and what we call the Curse of Elin.

There has been a rash of injuries and a swing that has been unreliable, even at the best of times. All of this has contributed to the type of “explosiveness” we’ve seen through facial expressions, body language, cursing and occasional club tossing during the eight times Woods teed it up this season.

He has been a simmering powder keg set to blow up after each errant drive, wayward approach shot or missed three-foot putt. Those of us who can appreciate what Woods did so well for so long on the golf course can only hope the “explosiveness” he now boldly speaks of is a positive indication that he might be on the way back. But based on what we’ve seen lately, who would bet on it?

And imagine the fireworks if he misses the cut again.

Haas gets nod

As disturbing as Fred Couples’s decision to make Woods one of his two captain’s picks for the Presidents Cup was to us, we’re happy with his choice of Bill Haas to complete the 12-man U.S. squad. Haas deserved the spot even before winning the FedExCup playoff final, the Tour Championship, and it had nothing to do with the fact his father, Jay, is one of Couples’ assistant captains.

The 29-year-old Haas was one of the steadiest players on the PGA Tour all season, twice losing in playoffs before beating Hunter Mahan in extra holes at the FedEx Cup final, when it really mattered.

The $11.4 million US Haas took home for that victory, including a $10-million bonus for winning the FedExCup, was more than his father won in his entire PGA Tour career.

In addition to Haas, Woods and Mahan, the U.S. team that will take on the International squad Nov. 17-20 at Royal Melbourne in Australia includes Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, David Toms and Jim Furyk. There’s a chance Stricker, who is awaiting results of an MRI he underwent Tuesday on his ailing left arm, will have to give up his spot.

If so, PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley is most likely to be his replacement. The international team, under captain Greg Norman, will have Australians Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Jason Day and captain’s picks Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby; South Africans Charl Schwartzel, Retief Goosen and Els; South Koreans K.J. Choi, Kim Kyung-tae and Yang Yong-Eun; and Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa.

He said it:

“The thing that bothered me the most was TW not calling Dustin and asking if he could talk to Joe. That’s the way it’s done. I’m a little disappointed with the way Tiger handled it. But I’m not surprised.” — Butch Harmon, former swing coach to Tiger Woods, on how Woods landed veteran caddy Joey LaCava after he had been with Dustin Johnson for less than a year.

Montreal Gazette

rphillips@montrealgazette.com

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