Wednesday 16 January 2019

'I didn't want to live with the pain I was in' - Tiger Woods arrives in Paris a winner after fearing career was over

USA captain hails Woods for showing his team the way by playing through pain barrier

Tiger Woods (C) arrives at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy yesterday
Tiger Woods (C) arrives at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy yesterday
Friendly fire: USA captain Jim Furyk and his European counterpart Thomas Bjorn share a joke during yesterday’s press conference ahead of the Ryder Cup. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Oliver Brown

The raw emotion of Tiger Woods's resurgence to the summit of golf has been laid bare by his admission that he feared, at his lowest ebb, that he would never again be able to live free of pain.

As he reflected on his rousing triumph at the Tour Championship, his first win anywhere for over five years, the greatest player of the modern era described how his long absences through injury had triggered a deep existential crisis.

"I was beyond playing," he said. "I couldn't sit, I couldn't walk, I couldn't lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg. That was a low point for a very long time. I just didn't want to live that way."

A mere 16 months ago, Woods's agonies were broadcast to the world through pictures of his haggard, haunted face after an arrest for driving under the influence of prescription medication. No less a figure than Michael Phelps identified that moment as a "massive cry for help".

But a reinvigorated Woods, his state of mind restored and his back fused thanks to successful spinal surgery, swatted aside the doubters in Atlanta to seal his 80th Tour title, arguably the least likely of them all.

"It means a lot more to me now, in the sense that I didn't know whether I'd ever be out here doing this again."

‘It means more to me now in the sense I didn’t know I’d be here doing this again’. Photo: AP
‘It means more to me now in the sense I didn’t know I’d be here doing this again’. Photo: AP

Not only is he doing it, Woods is back winning with a flourish to suggest that he could electrify the Ryder Cup here at Le Golf National this week.

As he flew into Paris yesterday with the United States team, captain Jim Furyk acknowledged that the astonishing scenes at East Lake had galvanised the entire 12-man line-up.

"It's a buzz for our team," he said. "This is probably the biggest, grandest event in all of golf, but it will add that much more excitement.

"You could see, in the way he fought back tears and raised his arms in the air, how important it was for him to win.

"In comparing past Ryder Cups to this one, what's so special is that Tiger has ingrained himself in our team atmosphere. He was such a big part of it in 2016 as a vice-captain and now he is joining these younger players as a team-mate."

Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Woods last competed in Paris, at the World Amateur Cup in 1994.

At 42, he has reached such a vintage that he was happy to make light of a question asking if he knew his Atlanta victory had "broken" the internet.

"When I first came out here, there wasn't any internet," he smiled.

As soon as he tapped in the par that sealed his two-stroke win, Woods was saluted by Rory McIlroy with a long embrace. That gesture, amid countless more by his peers, clearly moved a man who once drew his aura from his aloofness.

"The people who are close to me saw the struggles I was going through," Woods said.

"They've really helped throughout their process. Their support, and some of the things they said coming off that last green, meant a lot to me."

There was a time when Woods would revel in his perceived indestructibility, but the traumas of his past decade, both personal and professional, have brought a fresh humility.

With win No 80 taking him within two of Sam Snead's record, he explained: "Yes, 80 is a big number. Sam is still ahead of me, but I still have, I feel, a chance to play some more golf. Maybe I'll keep chipping away at that number, maybe I'll surpass it.

"I just think, after what I've dealt with, that I've got lucky, to be honest with you. I'm not playing a full-contact sport, or one where I have to move people around. At 42 years old with a fused lower spine, that's not going to happen. But in this sport, it can."

The instant Woods left the commotion of East Lake's 18th green, he was swept up by the affections of his girlfriend Erica Herman and his two children.

For his daughter Sam and son Charlie to witness his renaissance was a source of intense satisfaction. It was Sam, he once disclosed, who had needed to call doctors at their Florida home just to pick him off the floor.

"They understand a little bit of what Dad does now," he said. "I hadn't won any tournaments they could remember, so this was different for them.

"They shared in what I did at the Open this year, where I had a chance, I had the lead. They felt it and they know what their dad can do on a golf course now. A lot of times they equated golf to pain, because every time I did it, I would hurt, and it would cause me more pain. And so now they're seeing some joy and how much fun it is for me again."

Fresh from being pursued by record crowds in the Georgia heat, Woods has arrived on the outskirts of a cool, autumnal Paris, ready for a Ryder Cup crucible that he has not savoured as a player since 2012.

"This is 12 against 12, and Tiger enjoys that kind of contest now," Furyk said.

"He enjoys being part of a group. While I know how much winning as an individual meant, I think he has flipped that page pretty quickly." (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

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