OWNING HIS OWN SWING
What I witnessed in that final round of The Masters, particularly in the closing holes, was a Tiger Woods who was just so composed and in control. He looked in total control of his emotions and his golf swing. He knew where he wanted to hit the golf ball and did it with precision. That didn’t mean that he attacked the hole locations – he played with conviction to exactly the spots he should have played.
Hitting the middle of the 12th green was critical when everyone else was firing at the flag and coming up short. The wind swirls around there and it very unpredictable – especially when a storm is gathering as it was during that final round. Tiger made the smart play – the Jack Nicklaus play – and hit to the middle of the green between the two bunkers. It’s a clever shot because it leaves room for error.
He was equally committed to the safe approach on the critical 13th and 15th holes – he played the perfect shot into 15, took no chances with the water, hitting to the middle of the green, taking two putts and making birdie.
And then the 16th. That was an incredible shot.
The last time he won The Masters in 2005 – in a playoff over Chris DiMarco – that hole delivered one of the worst shots I saw him hit, followed by one of the top four shots I’ve ever seen by anybody. On that day in 2005, Tiger took an 8-iron and hit it so far long and left I had no idea where it ended up.
The first thing Tiger said to me was, ‘Where’s that?’
‘It’s long left,’ I said.
‘What’s over there?’
‘I don’t know, I’ve never been there. I’ve never looked there.’
I thought he’d be lucky to make four from there but a good chip might get him a par. What followed is perhaps the most viewed, most talked-about golf shot Tiger ever hit – until this week anyway.
He chipped it into the slope and the ball rolled back to the cup, sitting on the very edge of the hole for what felt like an eternity. It was balanced on the threshold long enough for the crowd to fall momentarily silent – before pandemonium erupted as the ball gently fell into the hole. It was the most excited I’ve ever been on a golf course. The only negative is that Tiger and I were so pumped that we made an absolute hash of a high-five – we didn’t even connect.
This week, on that 16th hole, Tiger played his 8-iron to exactly the right place and almost holed it. You can’t hit a better shot than that – it was the perfect club, perfect line and he used the slope to come down and almost holed it.
Watching that final round, it’s literally the first time in five years that I’ve seen him swing a golf club and I was so impressed with his balance and his whole demeanour. Everything just looked spot-on.
In his latest comeback Tiger has been coaching himself for the first time. He always used to say that he wanted to “own” his swing and now he does – even though it’s a swing he’s developed to help him cope with his back. He’s a very good student of the game and he has great depth of knowledge about the technical side of the golf swing and, to me, his swing looked remarkable. He’s obviously had to build his swing around the way his body will react to the hard practice he has to put in to swing the club that hard. But he looks fantastic swinging the club – it’s just great to see.
TIGER CAN GET GOLF BOOMING AGAIN
The obvious question now is whether Tiger can break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
You can’t ever put anything past the guy who’s arguably the greatest to have played the game. Obviously age and health are a factor in golf – and while Tiger is getting up there in age, nothing in his game shows he’s getting long in the tooth. He looks great physically.
I put it this way. If Tiger looked into a crystal ball and asked, “Look, I’ve only got this many tournaments left to play – if you could give me a year in which I’ve got a great chance to catch up on what I’ve missed out on through injury, where would I get my chances?” The crystal ball would say: “OK I’ll give you the Masters, you always play well there. I’ll give you Bethpage Black – you like that course, it’s New York, it’s a long course, I’ll give you that. I’ll give you Pebble Beach – you’ve had great success there. And I’ll give you Royal Portrush – you’ve played there a lot en route to playing in the British Open, it’s a links course, you love links golf I’ll give you that and see how you go.”
So it would be of no surprise for Tiger to win multiple majors in 2019 and then that dream of his becomes absolutely doable.
That’s Tiger Woods – he does things no-one else could dream of doing.
And it’s going to create so much interest in the game – at a time when worldwide golf is not booming like it was. It’s on a downward trend but with Tiger back he will get golf back on that upward trend.
Looking at golf from a little place like New Zealand – and it’s the same in Australia – we know the number of golf rounds played every year is decreasing; more courses closing than opening. To get Tiger back into the picture – with the way he polarises the game – one of the wider aspects of his success is that more kids will come back into the game.
I distinctly remember when Tiger won the Masters in 1997 and the sheer buzz around golf clubs, and among juniors, and this win is on a par with ’97. If that can stimulate interest in golf again, that’s huge. A lot of kids are going to be inspired by this.