x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Golf: Tiger Woods is getting his groove back

The former world No 1 took the Cadillac Championship with ease last weekend and may be returning to his best form after a long winless run, writes Steve Elling.

Tiger Woods celebrates after his two-stroke victory at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at the Trump Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Doral, Florida on Sunday. Scott Halleran / Getty Images
Tiger Woods celebrates after his two-stroke victory at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at the Trump Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Doral, Florida on Sunday. Scott Halleran / Getty Images

Most of the gushing centred on his game, for legitimate and myriad reasons.

It had been years since Tiger Woods seemed so comfortably in control of his game. He made the Cadillac Championship look like a one-man drag race, and he was never seriously threatened.

In this Cadillac, there were no fire hydrants or oak trees in his path. And that could represent the last wisecrack about his epic fall from grace, because it is starting to seem like it never happened.

His performance was only part of the equation last weekend outside Miami, in concert with his familiar, undefinable command of the field based on sheer aura.

All but absent as he slipped down the world rankings while cleaning up the toxic details of his messy personal life, Woods is back in charge of the class in more ways than one. Stagger has been replaced by swagger, and we have all seen how that plot line plays out.

He has amassed two wins before the Masters for the first time in five years. But this is about the most crucial intangible once associated with Woods.

As the embarrassing tournament results piled up over a 30-month winless stretch that ended last March, his trademark red shirt on Sundays became little more than some a personal, pitiable touchstone to a reputation that had been squandered through hubris and excess.

Two years ago, as Woods posted numbers that prompted cringes and snickers, players openly acknowledged that the impenetrable image of the game's best player was long gone.

"What it means to him is obviously a different thing," Graeme McDowell said in 2011 of Woods's trademark Sunday attire. "What it means to the rest of us - it's not really something to be intimidated by anymore."

As it turns out, red isn't dead. The most notable part of his performance at Doral was not that he used a career-low 100 putts, or did not hit any wild tee shots.

It was that, just like old times, not a single soul in the field made a run at him. Woods easily closed out a 54-hole lead for the 51st time in 55 career chances on the US tour.

Woods is fast regaining the psychological advantage that had many guys beaten before he stepped on the first tee. "His attitude and what I saw this week and his belief in himself again looks very similar to the early 2000s, or you can pick any year when he was playing great," said Steve Stricker, who finished second. "He just seems in a better place, mentally, to me."

A better question: Where are his adversaries, mentally, now that the Woods ambiance is back in balance? We might already know the answer.

 

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