By Diane Pucin, Los Angeles Times –
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Tiger Woods, wearing a windbreaker and answering questions humorously and seriously, spoke nearly 1,540 words of insight about his own game and that of his amateur playing partner this week at the AT&T National Pro-Am, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Woods, who finished first in his last tournament of 2011, the unofficial Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club, and third two weeks ago at a European Tour event in Abu Dhabi, makes his 2012 PGA Tour debut Thursday at Pebble Beach.
He comes back to the PGA Tour this season in a better physical state and in a better frame of mind, Woods said.
“I took a little time off and then when I went over to Abu Dhabi, I was working on the same things, on what I had been trying to do the last four events,” said Woods, who was tied for the lead after three rounds at Abu Dhabi. “It was very positive and everything is headed in the right direction.”
Woods paid tribute to Kyle Stanley, the 24-year-old who had given up a five-shot lead with a triple bogey eight on the final hole of Torrey Pines two weeks ago and lost in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker, then came from behind on the last day to beat Spencer Levin in Phoenix last week. He used Stanley’s story as an entree into speaking on how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour.
“It’s hard to win,” said Woods, who hasn’t played in the tour event at Pebble Beach since 2002. “Being a front-runner, then everyone’s chasing you and you’re in a position if you make a mistake you’re all right. If you’re off to a poor start early, you can still rectify it. It kind of all depends on how many are chasing you. A whole wolf pack? Or one or two guys. That’s a totally different deal.”
Woods said that since he played the Frys.com Open i at the end of last year and then his own tournament at Sherwood, one major thing has changed.
“I’ve been able to train,” Woods said. “It’s two different deals, rehabbing and training. It’s two different scenarios. I’ve been pretty much rehabbing the last entire couple of years. Now I’m training. Now I can do the things (swing coach) Sean (Foley) wants me to do with my golf swing. For a long time I was limited … counting the number of balls I could hit, icing, all those monotonous things just to tee it up the next day. That’s no longer the case.
“My body is feeling explosive and I’m hitting the ball farther.”
Woods also addressed an issue that has been discussed around the tour this season, putter length. Woods said Tuesday there could be an easy answer: No putter can be taller than the shortest club in the bag. Problem solved.
‘I’ve never been a fan of (long putters). I believe in the art of controlling the body and club and swinging the pendulum motion. I believe that’s how it should be played. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to that.”
Woods said that over the years he has had several conversations with Peter Dawson, chief executive officer of the Royal & Ancient, which governs the British Open, discussing ways to rewrite rules to ban some of the more outlandishly long putters.
While Keegan Bradley became the first major winner last year to use a belly putter (at the PGA Championship), Phil Mickelson, who also tried the belly putter, has gone back to a conventional blade this year.
Woods, 36, said he does feel his age. Although he understands, he said, how to manage a round more compactly and with the least amount of trouble, he also knows that his body will hurt, the joints will throb, the bones will ache. “It’s not like when I was 26,” he said.
Woods also said that he knows the young guys are ready to climb up and over his back.
“When I first came out,” Woods said, “I was the only guy in the gym. Me and Vijay (Singh), we’d be the only ones in the gym. Now everyone’s in the gym or has a personal trainer or a program to follow.
“Guys who grew up doing other sports have transitioned into our sport. One day we’ll get a guy who will be like Bo Jackson or Michael Jordan, who will be that explosive or that good an athlete and decide to play golf. What if we truly get superior athletes trying to play golf and has the mental aspects and the acuity to play? That’s when it will be really cool.
“And I’ll be shrimping it down the fairway, doing it a different way. That’s the cool thing about the game. You can do it so many different ways.”
Woods said even his amateur partner, Romo, expects to play well. “He understands how to play,” said Woods, who added that Romo sent him a swing tape to break down. “He can really move the ball.”
And Woods said Romo was going to enter with a plus-three handicap. If Woods has his way, that will be changed to scratch.