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Tiger Woods’ secret to battling Father Time: staying in the present

US golfer Tiger Woods | File

US golfer Tiger Woods | File   | Photo Credit: AFP

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The 43-year-old golfer has fought back from injuries and personal troubles to resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major titles. But he’s taking it one swing at a time

There was a buzz in the air at the start of the final round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course. A big crowd had gathered at the first tee box, to watch and cheer for tournament host and star attraction Tiger Woods.

Woods was only two shots behind the leader, Gary Woodland, and was expected to make one of his famous come-from-behind runs. The American, who walked the course with purpose and focus, evoked a thunderous ovation when he made a birdie on the seventh to take the sole lead.

A bogey on the 14th, however, put paid to Woods’ hopes of claiming the trophy. He finished fourth, three shots behind eventual champion Henrik Stenson, but those present at the course got a glimpse of the renowned self-belief so synonymous with Woods.

By his own admission, this self-belief was absent not too long ago. At the time, Woods was riddled with injuries and personal troubles, which came to a head when he was charged with driving under the influence in Florida in May 2017. Woods was found to have a combination of painkillers and sleep drugs in his system, and the unpleasant police mug-shot only confirmed a shocking fall from grace. Woods looked to be down for the count, with speculation rife that he was set to walk away from the sport.

Tiger Woods’ secret to battling Father Time: staying in the present
 

And then, in what must surely rank among the greatest comeback stories in sport, Woods turned back the clock with a vintage performance at the 2019 Masters. Two shots behind leader Francesco Molinari, he fired a two-under final round to wear the coveted Green Jacket for the fifth time. The epic win in April gave him a new lease on life. Woods, after all the ups and downs in his long career, established himself, once again, as a world-class golfer.

A few months after his Augusta triumph, Woods won the Zozo Championship to match Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour record of 82 titles. The awe-inspiring Woods of old was well and truly back in action.

“2019 has been incredible — I won a Major again, and I tied with Sam. To come back from what I’ve endured — it’s been pretty good. To have won a Major championship again, with my family and friends present there for that moment… There were times when we thought that moment would never happen again,” Woods said on the eve of the Hero World Challenge.

The 43-year-old got the chance to relive those great memories, when he watched the Masters highlights with caddie Joe LaCava. The duo have been together since 2011, after Woods ended his 13-year relationship with bagman Steve Williams.

Tiger Woods’ secret to battling Father Time: staying in the present
 

“Joe and I had a few beers and watched it on television,” Woods said. “We spoke about the conversations we had over each shot; some of our friends and family who were there were like, ‘Oh my god, you guys really talked about that?’ We were running through all the scenarios, with Joe and I looking at the boards. We were trying to figure out what was going on; who birdied what, who was making a move. You heard roars and tried to figure how many holes ahead it is, and who would be on that hole. It was a lot of fun watching the run and sharing it with Joe, because he has been through all the tough times with me.”

Woods has had to deal with the demands an ageing, injury-scarred body makes of a top-level professional golfer. “The days of eight-hour practice sessions are long gone,” he said. “I work more on chipping and wedging now. Putting has been difficult because bending is tough on my back. I have to maximise the short 30-minute practice sessions by really, really getting into that deep focus mode. My body may not be in peak shape, but my mind is. When I enter a tournament, I find a way to manage the stiffness and get the job done on the fly.”

During the course of his 23-year professional career, Woods has found a way to get the job done more often than most others in the sport’s history, inspiring countless kids along the way. He is happy with where golf is, at this point in time.

“It’s been neat for me to be a part of the history and the growth of the game. I’ve played around the world, and I’ve seen the sport grow. I remember going to China for the very first time, and there were maybe 50 kids at this clinic. Come back a few years later, and there’s like 5,000 kids at a junior golf clinic, all swinging clubs,” Woods said, “As a kid, I looked up to Arnold Palmer. Guys like Arnold and Gary Player played all over the world. They set the precedent that golf can grow around the world, and it has. For me to be a part of that growth, and to see so many new young faces with a golf club — whether it was me who inspired it or not — is great for the game.”

There is one elusive record that will truly cement Woods’ spot in the list of all-time great sportspersons. Woods is three shy of Jack Nicklaus’ tally of 18 Major wins — the highest statistical peak on the golf range. It is a tough ask, but Woods still has some time to pull it off.

“It had taken Jack a lifetime to get there, until he was 46. I’m just proud of what I’ve done… Unfortunately, tomorrow is never promised. So I live in the present and enjoy the moment,” he said.

(The writer was in Nassau recently on invitation from Hero MotoCorp)

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 10:39:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/woods-secret-to-battling-father-time-staying-in-the-present/article30300769.ece

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