Date: April 04, 2018
Author: Martin Blake

Stay calm, says Tiger

Tiger Woods did his best to hose down expectations today as he prepares for the most anticipated Masters in recent memory, and possibly ever.

Observers have speculated that if he wins at Augusta National this week it could represent the greatest comeback in the history of sports, comparable with Ben Hogan’s win in the 1950 US Open at Merion 16 months after he was seriously injured in a car accident.

But Woods, who noted Hogan’s comeback as the greatest in the sport, said he was focused on the present.

“I have four rounds to play, so let’s kind of slow down,’’ the former world No. 1 told the media at Augusta today. “I’ve had anticipation like this prior, if you remember the build-up it was from the PGA of 2000 to the Masters in 2001 (when he was headed for a fourth consecutive major, the so-called ‘Tiger Slam’). Nine months of building up and what that tournament would mean. It’s the same thing. I’ve got to go play and let the chips fall and hopefully I end up on top. I’ve got a lot of work to do.’’

Woods, a four-time winner of the Masters, has not played the tournament since 2015 when he was tied-17th and still battling his back problems that led him to fusion surgery last year.

The dark times, apparently are over and recently he described himself as a “walking miracle’’, a term that he was asked to expand upon. “The reason I’ve said I’m a walking miracle is because I don’t of anyone who’s had a lower back fusion who can swing the club as fast as I can swing it. That’s incredible. Some of the guys have said ‘I need to fuse my back so I can hit it harder!’ (I have said) ‘No you don’t want to go through that’!’’

Woods’ swing speed has been recorded as high as 129 miles per hour this season, a number that truly shocks him. What it tells him is that he can stay out on tour for quite a while. “It’s crazy. I’ll be honest with you, it’s crazy. I thought prior to the fusion surgery that ‘that’s pretty much it, I’ll have a nice comfortable and nice life, but I’ll never be able to swing a club like I used to, speed-wise, no way’. I mean, lower back fusion.

“For some reason I don’t have any pain. Yes, I’m much tighter but I don’t have pain and I’ve had to work on strength in different ways. For some reason it’s come back. I wish I could tell you, I wish I knew. All of a sudden I have this pop. My body and my speed’s back and my timing.’’

Woods acknowledged that his competitive streak had cost him with his injuries, because he had often returned from surgeries too soon. Of his most recent returns from back injuries, including his last appearance here in 2015, he said: “In hindsight it was a big pipedream. My back was fried. To be able to … I was trying whether it was cortisone shots, epidurals, anything to take away the pain and maybe I’d be able to take the pain for the week.  Nothing worked.  My disc was gone. How I feel now versus then, it’s just night and day.’’

Woods practised with his old sparring partner Phil Mickelson on Tuesday, a partnership that created interest in the press room since it has happened so rarely. Woods said the pairing was sought by Mickelson today, adding that their friendship had grown in recent years. “We’re at the tail end of our careers and we both know that,’’ he said. “He’s 47 I believe and I’m 42. We’ve had a great 20-year battle; hopefully we’ll have a few more. We understand where we are in the game now versus where we were in our early-20s, battling for No. 1.’’

Woods is teeing off on Thursday with Australia’s Marc Leishman and England’s Tommy Fleetwood at 10.42am local time (12.42am Friday AEST).