Sunday 22 April 2018

'I'm fitter, sharper, stronger and I'm at Hoylake to win'

Tiger Woods and Sean Foley walk past a scoreboard at Hoylake showing details of his 2008 Open triumph at the same course
Tiger Woods and Sean Foley walk past a scoreboard at Hoylake showing details of his 2008 Open triumph at the same course

Kevin Garside

He's back, he's brash and he's coming to win.

Yes, all you Tiger lovers out there, the all-new Woods is much like the old one, hitting the bombast button as hard as ever, and of course, he believes he can "win this thing".

Asked what might be an acceptable finish at Royal Liverpool after playing only two rounds of competitive golf since March, Woods replied: "First." And anything less would be unacceptable? "That's always been the case, yeah."

Woods had surgery to cure a long-standing back injury in March.

Doubts about his fitness to compete at The Open, which starts tomorrow, were erased three weeks ago when he returned at the Quicken Loans Trophy at Congressional, scene of Rory McIlory's 2011 breakthrough Major victory.

"Playing at Congressional was a big boost to me, the fact that I was able to go at it that hard and hit it like that with no pain.

"It wasn't like that the previous time I played pre-surgery. Playing at both the Honda and Doral I did not feel well.

"But to come back and be able to hit the ball as hard as I was able to hit it was great.


"I've gotten stronger since then, I've gotten more explosive, I've gotten faster."

Woods claimed his latest injury was the worst of his career. "When my knee was bad (2008), I could still do things, I could still swing a club. Yeah, it was going to hurt a lot, but I actually could do it. With this back, it just wasn't the case. I just couldn't do it any more.

"Once I went through the procedure and I was sitting there in the recovery room and I just didn't have any of that pain any more, that was a lot of relief. It was a matter of time before I could get strong.

"Once I started getting stronger, more stable, I could work on my explosiveness, and start getting my speed back, probably not quite at the level that I think I can be as far as my explosion through the golf ball, but I'm pretty darn close."

But surely this is too early even for Woods. Apparently not. "I've been in circumstances like this before. In '08, I had knee surgery right after the Masters.

"I teed it up to the US Open and won. I didn't play more than nine holes on the Sunday before the US Open. I didn't break 50 for nine holes and still was able to win it in a play-off, with an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament injury) and a broken leg. I've proved I can do it, it's just a matter of giving myself the best chances this week."

The contrast with Justin Rose, who followed Woods into the media suite and who boasts back-to-back victories coming into Hoylake, could not have been greater. Understated, modest, prosaic even, yet eminently believable.

Rose explained how his best golf is played when he doesn't set targets but concentrates instead on playing the course, plotting a strategy. It does not sell tickets necessarily but it does get the job done.

"Winning a Major championship is never easy, no matter what the circumstances.

"So for me the goal is to trust my game, to get a good game plan going, to not get ahead of myself, to get on the first tee fresh and ready.

"If I commit to all the things I know I have to do, all my skills, let them all come out this week, then I'm going to give myself an opportunity." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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