PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The new Tiger Woods may not be an exact replica of the old Tiger Woods, but it's a facsimile that may well prove dangerous when winter turns to spring, if not sooner. Coming into the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Woods struggled on Sunday in Abu Dhabi and the naysayers were quick to bury him in the desert sand. Woods, however, saw it differently.
"I feel that my last four events have been very positive, three stroke play and one team event," he said. "Everything is kind of headed in the right direction, so I'm very excited about it."
Woods' first round in America this year, a 68 on becalmed Spyglass Hill GC, wasn't a thing of beauty but it was yet another sign the former World No. 1 is regaining his equilibrium. Woods hit 12 of 14 fairways on what is probably the most difficult driving course of the three AT&T venues -- Spyglass, Pebble Beach Golf Links and Monterey Peninsula GC. Where the old Tiger was prone to the occasional tee shot that exited the planet, stage right, the current miss seems to be more of a dead-straight pull to the left. It's not a thing of beauty, but it's eminently playable.
More importantly, the explosiveness has returned, something that was evident when he birdied three of Spyglass' four par fives. "I have the speed when I want it now," said Woods after Thursday's four-under-par round. "That's something I've been missing for a few years. I think what it is, I feel very comfortable because my practice sessions are so much better. I'm able to practice for a very long time and that's where I derive a lot of my confidence."
So often in the recent past Woods seemed like he was constantly thinking about his swing, and the changes he was making, on the golf course. At Spyglass, he looked more as if he was simply playing golf, hitting shots, even if not all of them are yet up to his standard.
"The lowest score here (Spyglass) is 66 so 68's not too bad," he said. "I drove it great today. My irons were not very good at all. I didn't give myself enough looks when I had wedges in my hand. I've got to do a better job of that. When you've got wedges in your hand, you've got to hit it inside ten feet. With the scores the way they are, I felt like I had to go lower than I did. The guys are tearing this place apart with no wind."
Of Woods' two bogeys, the first came when he pulled it left into the fairway bunker on the 13th and the second came on the one shot that really got away from him, a wedge that flew over the green on the short fourth hole and into the native area. "Native area is the synonym for you're screwed," joked Woods swing coach, Sean Foley.
The real test for Woods, however, isn't how well he finishes it off in Abu Dhabi or gets it going on the Monterey Peninsula. His barometer is different.
"Tiger has more chance of winning coming down the stretch in a major than he has in a regular tournament now," said Padraig Harrington. "It really does come down to the butterflies that aren't there when you get up in the morning. The regular tournament has lost some of its shine, but the major will bring it back for him. Every time he's in contention in a major you will see the old look in his face, if you know what I mean."
-- Jim Moriarty
*(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)