Everyone needs balance in life, Tiger Woods said here this week, and he’s found his.
For Woods, that means this: Asked about changes to holes No. 7 and No. 11, he gave a clinical 227-word answer. Asked, indirectly, about new girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn, and being “happier,” Woods responded with 29 words.
That’s the balancing act that has Woods ranked No. 1 in the world again heading into the Masters, which starts here today at Augusta National Golf Club.
“I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game,” Woods said during a news conference in which he flashed a shark’s smile and the swagger he had during a seven-year stretch in which he finished no lower than tied for sixth at the country’s most hallowed golf course.
Those elements were missing a year ago when Woods finished tied for 40th place, his worst finish since his only missed cut, which came in 1996 in his second Masters appearance.
The difference is winning, his new Nike advertising campaign plainly states. Woods has won three times this year, including in his past two outings. Nike’s newest ad campaign is tagged, “Winning Takes Care of Everything,” and many have suggested it’s a dismissive swipe at the messy public divorce he endured in 2010.
“That (slogan) is something I’ve said since the beginning of my career,” Woods said this week. “That’s something you guys have asked me about, what does it take to become No. 1, player of the year, money title and all that, and I’ve said that from the very get-go when I first turned pro. That was an old quote that Nike put out there and people have jumped on it.”
Speaking of being jumped on, Las Vegas and the gambling public have pounced on Woods again. He is a 3-to-1 favorite here, while Rory McIlroy is next at a distance 8-to-1.
At 37, Woods made it clear this is no swan song for him.
Golfers “have very expansive careers, and I feel like I’m basically right in the middle of mine,” he said. “I have a lot of good years ahead of me, and I’m excited about this week.”
He has made some concessions to age and the toll that one of history’s most powerful and practiced golf swings has taken on his body. The new swing he has implemented with the help of coach Sean Foley was designed in part to protect a left knee that was operated on once.
Woods compared himself to former NBA great Michael Jordan, who went from high-flying dunker to a more ground-bound approach as he aged.
“It’s MJ jumping over everybody and then the next thing you know, he’s got a fade-away (jump shot),” Woods said.
Woods, a four-time winner here, is playing in his 19th Masters. He has not won it since 2005, the longest drought of his career.
“It does” feel like a long time ago, he said. “I’ve been in the mix, just haven’t gotten it done.”
His current charge from as far back as No. 58 in the world started when Woods’ health and swing finally peaked, which he never had any doubt would happen, he said.
“Once I started to be able to practice, things turned and they turned quickly,” he said.
The 14-time major winner still is every bit as determined to eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins.
“It took Jack a while to get to 18, all the way until he was 46 years old,” Woods said. “So there’s plenty of opportunities for me.”
Still, Woods hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open.
“Really?” Nicklaus said when informed of that fact this week. “I mean, it’s been a while. He’s going to have to figure it out, but I think if he figures it out here, it will be a great boost for him. If he doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, I think it will be a lot tougher on him.”
TIGER AT THE MASTERS