x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Can Tiger Woods step out of the shadows at Augusta?

This year, Tiger Woods has been invisible. Will Augusta prove to be the turning point in his comeback?

Tiger Woods will take on the Augusta National course in a bid for a fifth US Masters green jacket.
Tiger Woods will take on the Augusta National course in a bid for a fifth US Masters green jacket.

For most people, one remodelling or repair project at a time is headache enough.

That is why we wait until the construction crew finishes the bedroom addition to our house before we let the landscapers rip up the yard. Or why we hold off getting the hip replaced until the scars from our knee surgery heal.

Juggling two extreme makeovers carries more risk than devoting full attention to one.

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Tiger Woods had no choice. His career crashed, forced off the road by injuries and a misplaced swing. Promiscuous behaviour led to divorce and humiliation wrecked his home life.

He could not ignore fixing one for the other. Both demanded immediate attention.

Woods's family, torn asunder by his misdeeds, could not be salvaged, much as he may have tried. The ordeal became infinitely more painful as he was shamed like no other contemporary sports figure ever at the altar of a judgemental public.

That Woods has warmed (belatedly) to parental responsibility with his two youngsters, as he attests, we must take him at his word. There is no scorecard to measure parenting.

And were he still carousing, the inescapable tag team of social and professional media surely would have let us know by now.

It is easier to evaluate how Woods has fared at refurbishing his game. The numbers cannot tell a lie.

In five tournaments this season, he has been the invisible man. There was a tie for 10th in which he shot 66 on the final day to climb from mid-pack. Also, ties for 44th, 20th, 33rd and 24th.

Woods has endured 18 tour events without a win dating to September 2009, contending in only four. Of 69 rounds over the past calendar year, he has beaten par in fewer than half.

Remember how we could count on Woods scoring eagles on par-fives as sure he would wear a red shirt on Sundays?

His eagle total for this year: one.

Somehow, he tees off between the majestic magnolias at hallowed Augusta National this week amid lofty expectations from all of golfdom.

Woods is regarded as co-favourite for the Masters, along with Phil Mickelson.

The thinking goes, Augusta could have the power to heal Woods's errant drives and mis-struck putts.

Yes, he has won enough green jackets, once by a ridiculous 12 strokes, to outfit a barbershop quartet.

There have been several almosts - even last year, a remarkable fourth-place tie while insulting banners towed by prop planes taunted him from overhead, the club chairman hammered him through the media as a disappointment "to all of us and, more importantly, our kids and grandkids" and one of his paramours staged a widely promoted performance at an Atlanta nightclub.

If Woods can scratch the leaderboard amid such distractions, the hypothesis holds, could he not top it this time? Except this: Woods's revamped swing remains a work in progress, if improvement by baby steps can be termed progress.

With addiction, it is said that recovery begins only when the subject hits rock-bottom.

For Woods the golfer, that was the World Golf Championships last summer in Ohio, where he recorded his worst 72-hole score - an unfathomable 298, outscoring only two of 79 players.

So Woods called a doctor. A shot doctor named Sean Foley, a Canadian prone to quoting Greek philosophers and whose playing career peaked at college.

He is Tiger's third coach - fourth, counting his late father, Earl. The New York Yankees used to replace managers at this pace.

Foley's treatment has been holistic, directed at Woods's brain as well as his hips and limbs. The goal: get the former world No 1's mind back to pre-scandal, when it was cleared for muscle memory that produced precise shots.

An overhaul of his swing has followed, partly a concession to the accumulation of injuries. His ball is travelling less far than before, often less straight.

Golf recovery takes time, a task in this case complicated by the new-found no-fear approach of fellow players towards Woods, especially the young bucks.

They no longer cower in his presence or play for second place against him.

Funny. In 2002, Augusta National was toughened with higher rough, narrower fairways and more yardage, a process widely called "Tiger-proofing".

It turns out, they could have accomplished this with voodoo, sticking a pin in a Woods doll. Knee, ankle, all the ailing body parts that have complicated his return.

The old Woods, in a slump, would have flitted from one tournament to the next each week, hitting enough practice shots in between until his hands bled and his game healed.

But life has interfered. Priorities have been shuffled.

Asked about his limited playing schedule, Woods said: "If you've been divorced with kids, you'd understand."

Ultimately, every athlete requires a personal/career balance. Woods, moving toward that middle, has not found it yet.

If he departs Augusta National at nightfall on Sunday in another green jacket, we will have witnessed his finest achievement.

 

sports@thenational.ae