It was the Sunday flex that propelled Team USA to Presidents Cup glory but Tiger Woods’ heroics at Royal Melbourne Golf Club could also help in his quest to capture yet another record in PGA TOUR history.
Woods is making his first appearance for 2020 at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a venue where he has won eight times previously, most famously at the 2008 US Open when he bested Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole Monday playoff.
Save for a hit with his son Charlie on his birthday on December 30, Woods kept his clubs at arm’s length in the wake of a Presidents Cup campaign in which he not only served as captain but returned a 3-0 record as a player, including an inspirational win over Mexican Abraham Ancer first out on Sunday.
For much of the past decade Woods’ first tournament of the year has come with questions about physical fitness and expectation but as he sets sights on snaring win No.83 the 15-time major champion says his end to 2019 provided the opportunity to enjoy a rare stress-free break from the game.
“I feel like I ended the year on a good note and I felt like my game really didn’t need a whole lot of kind of dusting,” Woods explained.
“I did play on my birthday. That was the only day I touched a club since the Presidents Cup. Just wanted to get away from it. I was a little bit fried physically, mentally, emotionally and just wanted to
have it all end.
“I played on my birthday with my son and we had a great time. Very similar to what I used to do with my dad on each and every one of my birthdays when my dad was still alive.
“I may hit balls here or there with my son in the backyard, nothing serious. Then I started to grind up the process of putting, chipping, pitching, wedging, working my way throughout the entire bag.”
Although not normally an avid Presidents Cup watcher, defending champion Justin Rose tuned in during his off-season, the lure of one of the game’s greats plotting his way around Royal Melbourne enough to turn the Englishman into a golf fan at least for one week.
“I thought it was quite compelling actually,” Rose offered.
“One, I enjoy watching Royal Melbourne. I think it’s such an incredible golf course and every shot you could tell the guys had to be on point. And I thought Tiger was amazing from that point of view as well in
terms of being a tactician on a golf course.
“I really enjoyed watching how he went about playing Royal Melbourne.”
When Woods triumphed at the ZOZO Championship in Japan in October he joined Sam Snead with 82 PGA TOUR wins.
On the back of a two-win season including The Masters and now 44 years of age, it is a matter of when, not if, Woods wins No.83 and sets a new benchmark that may never be bettered.
Customarily playing down any consideration of a crowd circling the 18th green on Sunday to rival that of 12 years earlier, Woods acknowledged how difficult it is to win beyond 40 and keep up with the growing band of kids taking the game by the scruff of the neck.
“When I was younger I had more good days than bad feeling-wise. Now at 44 I feel more bad days than I do good days,” Woods conceded, drawn to play this week with Collin Morikawa, the phenom who wasn’t even born when Woods turned professional.
“That’s the hardest part about being an older athlete. You see it all the time at the Masters. You see it every single year, either Fred (Couples), (Bernhard) Langer or somebody’s up there for two to three days, then they fade. It’s hard to put it together for all four days as you get older. It’s just harder.
“That’s one of the things that I’ve noticed, it’s just harder to do, it’s hard to recover now.
“But I’ve been able to have won a few tournaments since I’ve made my comeback and hopefully I
win some more.
“Trying to get to 83, I really don’t think about it because I have to think about all the things I need
to do to win the golf tournament.
“There are so many different shots I have to play and strategy and thinking my way around the golf course that I’m more consumed in that.”