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Why Tiger Woods Is Bound to Bounce Back into Form This Year

Joe SteigmeyerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2015

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot head far to the right on the 11th hole of the north course at Torrey Pines during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour career is over. Finished. Kaput. Ter-min-a-ted. After back-to-back poor performances ending in a withdrawal from competition at Torrey Pines, the wheels have surely come off. Clearly it’s time for the former world No. 1 to put away his clubs and go for a relaxing ski…ertropical vacation to kick off an early retirement.

After all, that idea seems to be on more than one person’s mind these days, doesn’t it? Sure, some commentators and fans may still be holding out hope, but does anyone really believe Woods will ever lift another major when he can’t even lock down the fundamentals of his newest swing?

All alarmism aside, it’s true things may look bleak for Woods right now, but all is certainly not lost. In fact, there’s every indication Woods could make a surprising rebound from his recent struggles sooner than many would imagine.

Finding Peace in the Storm

What seems like the perfect storm of terrible things gathering over Tiger’s head these past 12 months—last year’s back surgery, a new coach, the aforementioned swing changes, his worst round ever and his most recent withdrawal after yet another injury—could actually be a blessing in disguise.

Woods’ drive to be the best ever (by an unquestionable margin, no less) is undoubtedly what made him the player who has captivated us these past two decades. After his exit from Torrey Pines, his typical Tiger Woods response of “I am committed to getting back to the pinnacle of my game” showed us that while his body may be reeling, his competitive spirit is as strong as ever.

Unfortunately for the 39-year-old, that same drive and stubborn refusal to compromise could be considered a double-edged sword if it means injuring himself further by not getting adequate rest.

If Tiger is going to regain top-dog (cat?) status, he must buckle down and iron out the fundamentals of his swing so they can once again become second nature rather than a vexing obsession that actually distracts him from his game.

But before he even attempts to do that, many argue he must first branch out from his one-track state of mind and afford himself time to recover physically.

One such person advising rest is teaching pro and former tour player Wayne DeFrancesco, who had a “more elaborate version” of the back surgery Woods underwent last year, per Golf Digest. His experienced advice to Tiger is simple:

The length of his career and the amount of physical work he's put in are unprecedented in golf history. At age 39, he's done the work of a 55 year old. Is it surprising that he's experiencing a muscle and joint breakdown? Tiger needs time to get his body back under him as close to 100 percent as he can, and that might take longer than he wanted to believe at first. … The word for Tiger is patience.

Though Tiger is not playing Pebble Beach or Riviera, all indications suggest he wants to get back on tour without a lengthy layoff.

“Nowhere did we say it was a leave of absence,” said Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg after Torrey Pines, via ESPN. “He's going to work on his game...his game was in bad shape when he made swing changes in the past. He needs to work on this away from a public setting. He needs to work on this on his own.”

While it sounds like Tiger plans to push through physical adversity rather than rest—as DeFrancesco would advise—there is actually a silver lining here (even though it may seem counterintuitive at first).

Woods’ plan to practice at home and at The Medalist in Florida will not be just another day at the office: It will be a calculated recalibration of his game and a reassessment of himself, held to his highest standards.

LA JOLLA, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  Tiger Woods (R) prepares to play his tee shot on the 17th hole of the north course during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on February 5, 2015 in La Jolla, California.  (Photo by Donald
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

“Right now, I need a lot of work on my game," said Tiger. "My play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf. Like I've said, I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level, and when I think I'm ready, I'll be back.”

Yes, Tiger will continue to try to push himself back into form rather than take time off—just like the Tiger we’ve always known—but the same determination that powers him through adversity will also keep him from leaving the privacy of the practice green before he believes he’s ready to retake the big stage once again.

That’s good news for Tiger and golf fans alike.

We’re talking about a seasoned player taking pride in his professionalism—pure and simple. We’re talking about a player who does not come out to the first tee at a tournament unless he intends to contend, because his dignity and personal reputation are always on the line.

Tiger is a brand not only to Nike, but to himself as well. Regardless of his personal life, he has a legendary legacy on the course that he intends to protect as well as extend.

Injuries Are Par for the New Course

Not unlike Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods won’t let a little illness force him to throw in the towel. He fought through a fever in the third round of December’s Hero World Challenge, ultimately carding a three-under 69 and reminding us all that he will not let himself be branded a quitter as long as it’s physically possible to stay on the course.

When it does come to the more serious stuff, Woods has been forced to withdraw on occasion, but he’s proven himself capable of recovering his impressive PGA Tour form nonetheless. According to ESPN:

Since winning the 2008 U.S. Open despite a left knee injury that eventually resulted in reconstructive surgery, Woods has had knee trouble (including withdrawing two years in a row from The Players Championship in 2010 and 2011), a left Achilles tendon injury that forced him to withdraw from a World Golf Championship event in March 2012, an elbow strain that forced him to miss several weeks in 2013, back spasms and surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back in 2014 that forced him to miss the U.S. Open.

That’s a daunting list of injuries, but it makes his victories over that period all the more impressive. In 2009, he won six events—something that would be a legendary accomplishment for any tour member.

Then came the complicated drought of 2010-11—but even that was eventually followed (in 2012) by another three wins. In 2013, the year before his most recent surgery, Tiger ended the season with yet another five wins, just like old times.

True, none of those wins were majors, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t come close to the big prizes with solid performances. In 2009, he tied for sixth at the Masters and U.S. Open, then he came in second at the PGA Championship.

In 2013, he finished tied for fourth at the Masters—thanks to a freak triple bogey in the second round that was more “surreal oddity” than player error—and then shared sixth place at the British Open.

For the 14-time major winner, it feels weird to paint those near misses as anything but failures, but they should be kept in perspective with his overall career. Tiger’s injuries only began piling up in 2008 (the year of his last major victory), so they are a relatively new challenge for the man chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record.

No athlete comes back from surgery as the exact same person—momentum is lost, and the body feels a little different each time. For the finely tuned machine that is Tiger Woods, there will always be an adjustment period (just like with any new swing, even when he is 100 percent healthy).

However, if the past is any indication, then Woods will become acclimated with his new tools sooner rather than later.

Tiger seems to see his most recent physical struggles as an obstacle to work around rather than an impassable glacier that must recede of its own accord before he can move beyond it. His agent confirmed that his withdrawal from Torrey Pines was not “surgery-related,” and that the treatment Woods received after the unfinished round “alleviated the discomfort quite a bit.”

There’s every indication that Tiger is coming to terms with his age in the most informed manner possible, and that he’s made an educated decision to find a way to work through the persistent physical hiccups that will likely dog him for the rest of his career (regardless of how much rest he might take).

What we’re seeing now is a man who accepts he’ll always be skirting with physical duress on the course.

He knows there’s no fountain of youth he can visit to become the Tiger of 2007 and no amount of rest that will turn a 39-year-old into a 25-year-old. So as long as he’s told the pain isn’t related to surgery, Tiger will continue to try to win championships with the body he has now—hiccups and all.

Life Goes On

For Tiger Woods, golf has always been a way of life. Through decades of practice and strategy, he’s found countless approaches to every course he’s played and been able to find fairways and greens like a champion.

Regardless of how gnarly his lie may be after the occasional wayward shot—and sometimes seemingly in spite of it—he’s managed to figure out and execute the perfect escape to get to the cup against the odds.

Though analysts and past pros will endlessly offer their two cents about how they think Tiger should play himself out of the devastating rough patch that is his 2015 season so far, the truth is that only he knows the best bet for getting up and down from his lie.

If Tiger listened to how lesser players would play his shots, we’d never have seen jaw-droppers like the video below. To him, this Torrey Pines setback is just another pot bunker he must find a way to play out of and get on with his round—even if that means chipping out backwards.

Given his age, Tiger Woods knows the stakes at this stage of the game. He also knows his body better than anyone else. That’s why, right now, he’s playing the drop he’s been given in the best way he knows how.

He will find a way to adjust, just as he has before (this is his fourth major swing change, remember). While a Grand Slam of majors may no longer be in his future, Tiger’s past gives every indication that he is capable of navigating both physical and psychological setbacks to once again become the Player of the Year he knows he can be.

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