WINDERMERE, Fla.—The ongoing saga of Tiger Woods never ceases to amaze. The fascination with all things Tiger continues unabated. The Thanksgiving time frame marks the fifth anniversary of when all of the carefully crafted pre-Tiger presumptions were laid to waste with the post-Tiger bombshells.
Fast forward to where matters stand now.
Tiger had his worst year as a professional golfer in 2014, and the question marks are piling up—big time. Stuck on 14 majors since winning the ’08 U.S. Open in a dramatic playoff and on a broken leg to boot, Tiger’s last PGA Tour win—number 79—came in August of 2013 at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
Woods attempted a haphazard return to the PGA Tour after missing the first two majors of the 2014 season. The results were far from anything remotely close to being the kind of golf many simply presumed would return to the form he showed in the 2013 season in winning five times. After missing the cut at the PGA Championship, Woods simply decided to forego the rest of the season—negating consideration as a wild card selection on the American Ryder Cup team.
Now Tiger is set to resume his competitive fires with the 16th playing of the Hero World Challenge. The 72-hole event starts this Thursday, showcasing 18 top-echelon golfers. Woods has won his own event five times, which provides charitable dollars to his Foundation. The event switches from the West to East coasts this time around, being staged at Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Windermere, Fla.—formerly the home base for Woods.
It was at the gated private community where the famous Thanksgiving weekend incident happened five years ago, causing a massive media crush that pushed aside all other matters happening at that time. The world would hear of a broken car window alleged to be courtesy of a club swung through it by his former wife Elin Nordegren and where Woods abruptly backed out his Escalade vehicle only to hit a fire hydrant and eventually pass out. The rest of the sordid story went through a viral blitz, and the happy family-man image Woods created for public consumption was quickly up in smoke and, for some, forever in tatters.
Now at 38, Woods, who turns 39 before the year concludes, is taking clear steps that he believes will once again have him at the top of the golfing world. Introduced to Tiger by his long-time friend and former college teammate Notah Begay, the hiring of Chris Como becomes the latest member of Team Tiger. The 37-year-old Como, based in Plano, Texas, isn’t a household name for many who follow the golf scene. He’s finishing a master’s degree in biomechanics at Texas Woman’s University, and this year, Golf Digest placed him on their Best Young Teachers list—noting he charges $1,500 for a half-day lesson at Gleneagles Country Club near Dallas.
Interestingly, in the press release Team Woods released, the word “consultant” was used to define the nature of what Como would be doing. What that exactly means is unknown, and when Woods does get quizzed by media, the nature of the relationship will likely be a main topic of questions asked by assembled media. How forthcoming Tiger is will also be an issue, as press events with him have generally been a drip-by-drip exercise in releasing information.
One of the key issues mentioned by leading instructors in the game is how much swing mechanics are emphasized and whether Tiger needs to have that much detail provided.
“Tiger needs to play more—get the competitive juices going,” said one unnamed leading instructor who did not wish to be identified. “But in order to play more, he has to be physically able to do so. Instruction—of whatever type—can only work if the person receiving the information can demonstrate the capacity to play. See if the medicine actually works under the laser hot lights of final-round pressure.”
One repeating word, for those in the high pecking order of instruction, centers around passion. Does Tiger have the desire to do the work needed to sort out his game? His former teacher Hank Haney opined the Tiger of today is not doing all that needs to be done to prepare himself for the onslaught of younger and stronger players who have no memories of when Woods was by far the most talented and most feared of competitors.
The event this week at Isleworth provides a trailer to the main show that follows in 2015. Like any preview, the full impact will not be really known till full field events take place.
Clearly, getting Tiger back to even a modicum of what he did earlier in his career will drive plenty of eyeballs to watch firsthand. Como has earned his 15 minutes of fame—whether he’s able to make a difference and, more importantly, whether Tiger is thoroughly invested into making a major return to the top of the golf world is something we shall soon see.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.