AUGUSTA — This year, like almost every other for the past 15 years, Tiger Woods comes to Augusta National Golf Club as the favorite to win the Masters Tournament. Woods has started the 2013 season in tremendous fashion, winning three PGA Tour events and reclaiming the No. 1 ranking in the world.
While there are a variety of factors in Woods’ resurgence, there was an ongoing theme in his address to the media Tuesday – balance.
Harmony in his life, along with improved health in his lower body, are the keys to Woods’ resurgence. He’s not playing at the high level he was at the start of the century, when he was far and away the most dominant golfer in the world, but he’s as close to that form as he’s been since injuries and personal problems threatened to derail his career. But if Woods ends his four-year drought in major championships at Augusta National, a place he’s won four times but not since 2005, a solid frame of mind could be the key.
“I think life is all about having a balance and trying to find equilibrium and not getting things one way or the other, and I feel very balanced,” said Woods.
Having his health is the biggest factor in Woods’ success, but it isn’t the only one. After being dragged through the mud and having his face splashed on the cover of tabloids – much of it because of his own doing – Woods’ personal life seems to be going well.
He’s always been guarded and protective of his image and privacy, but Woods made a major step forward when he recently announced he’s dating Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn. He’s also enjoying his role as a father to his young children.
“Life is better since I’ve had kids. It’s a beautiful juggling act,” he said with a smile when asked about being a parent in addition to the focused golfer the public has come to know. “I think as people who are all parents in here will certainly attest to that; that’s the joy in life and to be able to be a part of their life and watch them grow and help them grow. Getting out there and taking them on the golf course with me every now and again, they will have a great time. To me, that’s what it’s all about. That’s how I was introduced to the game, and that’s how I built such a great relationship with my father is to be able to spend that quality time out there on the course like that. I’ve been lucky enough to have a nice little setup in the backyard, so I can hit a few wedge shots, and the kids will come out and enjoy it, too, as well.”
Having comfort in his swing while hitting those shots is also critical to Woods’ success. On the fallout of his divorce and battles with knee and Achilles injuries, Woods also went through a significant swing change with new coach, Sean Foley. The results weren’t immediate, and both parties were the target of criticism. But it appears the change has also been a success.
Woods has emerged from the storm and, in spite of the struggles, never lost faith in his game.
“I wasn’t healthy enough. Couldn’t practice, couldn’t play, sat out major championships and just wasn’t able to do any of the sessions that I needed to do to improve. And I was making a swing change with Sean. So all that happened at the same time. … Once I started to be able to practice, things turned and they turned quickly.
“I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game. I feel that I’ve improved ,and I’ve got more consistent, and I think the wins show that. That’s something that I’m proud of so far this year, and hopefully I can continue it this week and the rest of the year.”
Is this a kinder, gentler Tiger Woods? Possibly. He even seems to be embracing a new role, that of an elder statesman. Hard as it is to believe, this week will be the 19th time Woods has competed in the Masters, including his time as an amateur.
“To see how it’s changed over the years and to have won it, and I got lucky, I won my first professional event here. It was nice to be able to do that and know that I can come back here basically for my entire lifetime,” Woods reflected, but was quick to cut off any discussion of joining the ranks of legendary players who serve as honorary starters. “Let me just try to get to 40 first.”
While the 37-year-old Woods isn’t ready for a senior living home just yet, he has been something of a mentor to some of the new wave of young players in the game. Much has been made of his relationship with world No. 2 Rory McIlroy, and Woods has joined the masses in being impressed with Tianlang Guan, the 14-year-old who’s in the field this week, becoming the youngest player in Masters’ history.
“This kid can’t play high school golf. He’s not in high school yet. So it’s hard to believe,” said Woods. “But he’s so consistent. He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing; he knew the spots he had to land the ball, and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution. From a 14‑year‑old to be able to come out here and handle himself the way he’s done is just unbelievable.”
Even being reminded of his lack of green jackets in the past seven years couldn’t faze Woods. He admitted it feels like a long time since he last won the Masters but takes solace in the fact that he’s finished in the top six every year since, save for last year. Even then, he was pleased with the way he was striking the ball, just disappointed in his putting. But his balance has him focused on what he can do, not missed chances.
“I have a lot of good years ahead of me, and I’m excited about this week,” said Woods, who feels he’s in the middle of his career, giving him ample time to continue his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major tournament victories. “I would like to be able to get to that point. It took Jack a while to get to 18, all the way until he was 46 years old. So there’s plenty of opportunities for me.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.