The PGA Championship at Whistling Straits begins this week.
After a humbling loss at the Bridgestone Invitational last week many of us are left to ponder—what has happened to Tiger Woods?
Tiger recently returned to the game following a scandal which saw his family torn apart by his own admission of infidelity. That above all would be enough to affect anyone's game.
Here's why I believe Tiger's comeback begins at Whistling Straits.
When asked if he wanted to be a captain Tiger answered a resounding “Yes.”
Moreover he stated, “Hopefully, I won't be a pick. I would like to play myself into the field.”
This hardly sounds like someone who is shrinking.
We're talking about practice?
Tiger has admitted that he hasn't practiced much, if at all, leading up to any of the tourneys he's participated in thus far. While making every attempt to reconcile and be good to his family, he claimed his head wasn't into it. Unfortunately he believed playing each course itself would be enough. It hasn't.
Instead it's proven fair to middling in most instances and in the case of Bridgestone, outright disastrous.
While practicing on Tuesday, no less than Hunter Mahan, Sean O'Hair, and potential swing coach Sean Foley mentioned that Tiger hit the ball well and noticed a sense of regained calm and control.
Tiger is notorious for participating in media sessions only because he has to. Mostly tight lipped and succinct, he tolerates each session for as long as it lasts.
However, something happened on his way to Whistling Straits.
Tiger has been all smiles, laughing early and often when interacting with the media. His attitude and responses are playful.
When a reporter asked a long-winded question about him being the worst player in the world right now, Tiger smiled and said, "I may be the worst, but I bet I could still beat you."
The room broke out like a "Family Matters" laugh track.
Perhaps Tiger is finally ready to show the world his new side.
Golf ratings have been down since Tiger left the game to deal with his personal issues. Upon his return they improved slightly, but fared less well after his poor showing at Bridgestone.
Golf needs a winning Tiger Woods as much as Tiger needs golf.
When Tiger plays well everyone wants a piece of him and a part in the game.
Already this week people have followed him and cheered him during his practice runs signaling they are ready for a return to greatness.
The only place to go when you've reached the bottom is up. Just as any recovering addict.
It often takes an act of sheer humiliation for us to see clearly. Tiger has just experienced this in spades.
The Monday following Bridgestone, every media outlet piled on him often and early.
This week, he can only do better, but better probably won't be good enough. Nothing short of a win is going to silence the critics.
At Whistling Straits, he begins his accent.
Tiger is nothing if not a student of the game.
Almost immediately after Bridgestone, he sought out a number of swing coaches. He even requested Sean Foley to videotape his swing.
Acceptance is the first key to recovery. Tiger knows his faults. This last week he was made painfully aware of them.
Tiger knows he needs help to stay on top of his game and he's not afraid to admit it.
Tiger has never gone this long without a win in his career.
He's still the best player in the world and still very much physically gifted. His very DNA is the stuff of golf. You don't win 14 majors without being gifted.
He's won more than one of every four tourneys he's played since turning pro in 1996.
Tiger has worked too hard and too long for his game not to come full circle.
In 2000 Ernie Els said, “When he's on, we don't have a chance.”
Remember the first hole of sudden death in the epic battle between Tiger and Rocco Mediate? Rocco does. You do too.
Tiger is at his very best when the pressure reaches insane levels.
This is do or die. If history and cajones are any indication. Tiger will be more than up for this challenge.
While Tiger may not be feared as he once was, he's still considered the best in the game. Most if not all of his contemporaries are going to play their game, but more than a few of them will be looking over their shoulder.
Britain's Graeme McDowell and winner of his first major at Pebble Beach in July said, “The guy's a phenomenon. He will be back and he will win more majors.”
Britain's Paul Casey said, “I have no doubt in my mind that Tiger will be back to his levels – to his very, very high standards. He might come back better than he was before.”
Woods has shown an unparalleled focus and will when facing the field. From 1999 – 2007 Tiger Woods has won four PGA championships.
After last weeks horrendous outing, he's aware that his performance in this tournament will either silence the critics or only make them come on stronger.
His legacy is on the line and he is taking the necessary steps to do something about it.
As Tiger's former swing coach Hank Haney recently said, "He hasn't forgotten how to hit. He's arguably the greatest the game has ever seen. ... He's still Tiger Woods."