Somehow it all seemed natural, Tiger Woods back at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, upbeat, expansive. Maybe it’s because he feels comfortable in Northern California, having gone to school at Stanford.
Maybe it’s because he believes he’s back to being Tiger Woods.
He has changed. The sport has changed.
Tiger’s grown older. He turned 36 a month and a half ago, and finally, after the pain, mental and physical, he appears healthy once more.
There are now numerous golfers in their 20s, as Woods once was, kids not intimidated by Tiger the way competitors were when he was younger.
Woods hasn’t won a full-size PGA Tour event in the United States since the BMW Championship in September 2009. Two months later, his tidy, protected world came apart.
He crashed that SUV outside his home, and his life crashed in another way, Woods feeling obligated to disclose his “infidelities” which led to a divorce. Then came the frequent injuries to his left knee.
But solid play in the Presidents Cup in November, a victory in his own 18-player Chevron World Challenge in December and then a temporary hold on first place — although ending up tied for third — at Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, were enough to give him an attitude adjustment.
“Everything’s kind of headed in the right direction,” Woods said, “so I’m very excited about it.”
Excited because even after taking a couple of weeks off before the Abu Dhabi event he stayed on pace in his development, unlike months earlier.
Excited because with a 5-year-old daughter, Sam Alexis, and 3-year-old son, Charlie Axel, asking him as he heads for a tournament, whether he’s going to be on television, he intends to be among the leaders on the weekend to get that TV time.
Excited because he’s training again, instead of rehabbing — “two totally different scenarios” — and said he has made huge progress toward swinging the way teacher Sean Foley intends.
Woods is paired with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who’s a scratch golfer. And Romo, along with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, former Jets and Chiefs coach Herman Edwards (who grew up on the Monterey Peninsula), Giants pitcher Matt Cain, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Alabama coach Nick Saban and ex-Niner Harris Barton, is part of a an all-star group of sporting amateurs.
Tiger hasn’t been in the AT&T since 2002. He played Pebble, one of three courses used the first three days, in the 2010 Open, and certainly in 2000 played it spectacularly, overcoming a seven-stroke deficit to win that year’s AT&T then four months later taking the U.S. Open by 15 shots.
Indeed, as all of us, he notices aging. When he bends down to play with his children, his muscles get sore. “I don’t remember ever being like that,” he said.
For those of us who watched Woods become the first person to win three consecutive amateurs, to win 71 PGA Tour events since turning pro in 1997, we don’t remember Tiger playing like this.
Now he plays a tournament in the U.S. for the first time in 2012, with everyone asking, prodding and wondering.
“I’m at peace where I’m at,” Woods said, when asked if he feels more pressure to win. “I’m starting to see results, which is great.”
Great for Tiger, great for golf.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.