Rejuvenated Tiger tames wild side to put fear back into rivals
TIGER WOODS exudes an aura of calm these days, a serenity which at Doral seemed every bit as threatening as the high-octane, fist-pumping excitement he brought to the fairways in his early years.
Now 37, Woods appears at peace with himself off the course and in control of his golf ball on it. He now has the dispassionate demeanour of an expert assassin.
Few are better placed than Graeme McDowell to evaluate the changes within Woods (right) which helped him win his 17th World Golf Championship last Sunday and established him as firm favourite for next month's US Masters.
McDowell played 36 holes with Woods over the weekend at the Cadillac Championship and found telling differences between the golfer who snuffed him out at Doral and the Tiger he slammed on Saturday and Sunday at the 2010 Chevron.
"He doesn't have those off-the-radar balls anymore," the Portrush man explained.
"In 2010 and 2011 when I was playing with him, he'd hit the odd shot that would make you blink twice and go 'that's really wide'. He's got his golf ball under control now and knows what his golf swing is going to produce.
"In the wind the last couple of days, his control of his ball flight with his irons was stunning, while I thought his short game and his putting were pretty impressive.
"He's pretty much cleaned up everything he had to and was tough to catch. He always was making me press."
McDowell (33) also played with Woods on Sunday at last year's Bay Hill Invitational, where he first noted a new, more conservative approach by Tiger as he picked up his first PGA Tour win since the crash of 2009.
"Bay Hill was tough and you had to play very defensively," McDowell explained. "I thought Tiger looked similar on both occasions. His driver looks like it's a bit safe. He doesn't look like he's got the 350-yard bomb in him anymore.
"Everything's just under control off the tee. It's a cut and it's in play and that seems to be the way he's learned to get his ball in the fairway. From there, we all know how good he is."
McDowell's fury after the double-bogey at 18 on Sunday which cost him outright third place and $172,500 was hardly tempered by an exemplary overall performance at Doral.
The Ulsterman banked $417,500 in a share of third place with Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson, exalted company for sure, but Tiger was five strokes better and a class apart.
A putting lesson from Steve Stricker last Wednesday, when he advised Woods to square up more to the ball and soften his left-hand grip, restored Tiger's confidence on the greens ... so Tiger won't begrudge Stricker Sunday's runner-up finish.
So good is Woods right now, Padraig Harrington is confident he'll overhaul the record 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus. "I'm around 80 to 90pc sure he can do it. It's not a big deal for him. He's got plenty of years; he's comfortably got the game. He's going to do it," said the Dubliner.