By Richard Animam
After his best finish of the year that looked close only on paper, Tiger Woods went from shaking his head to chuckling before he even heard the rest of the question.
After spending a full year out of contention, will he have to teach himself how to win again? “No,” Woods quickly replied, still laughing. “No, no, no.”
There is no reason for him to be alarmed, although some of the numbers are startling. He went an entire season without winning for the first time in his 15 years as a pro.
He was at least 10 shots behind the winner in six of the 12 tournaments he finished. Only once this year did he go into the weekend within three shots of the lead.
And the last time he really felt the heat on the back nine Sunday? Maybe the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and that was lukewarm.
“Saturday at the U.S. Open was probably it,” Woods said.
He is in the process of changing his swing for the fourth time under a third teacher, and Woods realizes it will take time. In some of his most candid remarks about going to Sean Foley for help, Woods said he was waffling about a change the week of the PGA Championship.
“Every night, I was trying to figure out, ‘Should I actually do this or not?’ Because I know what the undertaking is,” he said. “I know how much effort it takes, how many swings you have to make in the mirror, how many things you have to think about. Do I really want to do that again?”
By all accounts, Woods is picking up on Foley’s concepts much quicker than he did with Butch Harmon and Hank Haney. If history is any indication, he will return to win tournaments in the bunches, majors included.
But even in the midst of two big changes since turning pro, he still managed to give himself chances. He was still able to measure his progress on the back nine Sunday.
In 1998, when he won only two tournaments, he also had five top 3s, including two playoff losses. In 2004, when his only wins were the Match Play Championship and his last event of the year in Japan, he had six top 3s and twice finished one shot out of the lead.
Woods has always said he doesn’t enter a tournament unless he thinks he can win, a goal that has never changed. He also conceded in an interview last week that there were times this year when winning wasn’t always at the forefront of his mind.
His marriage was crumbling. His image had been shattered. His mystique was being questioned.