Tiger Woods decided not to wait until the end of an “incredible year” to enjoy watching a re-run of his return to winning ways with a spectacular fifth Masters victory in April. “I did,” replied the 43-year-old, speaking as he prepared to host this week’s Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas, to being asked by The Scotsman if he’d found time to take a proper look back on his 15th major win at Augusta National.
“I sat down and watched it with Joe [LaCava],” added Woods of a success that re-ignited his bid to chase down the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus after a drought of nearly nine years. “He came down to do a TV spot then he and I just sat there, had a few beers and watched it. We spoke about the conversations that we had over each shot; some of our friends and family who were there were like ‘Oh my God, you guys really talked about that?’
“But that’s what we were talking about, that’s what was going on. We were running through all the scenarios, Joe looking at the boards, I am looking at the boards. We were trying to figure out what was going on; who birdied what, who was making a move.
“We were having those discussions in the fairway about what we needed to do while still staying focussed about executing. So it was a lot of fun seeing it back and sharing it with Joe because he has been through all the tough times with me as well as the good times.”
Woods came from two shots behind heading into the final round to win by a shot from Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele after Francesco Molinari came a cropper in Amen Corner. “You can’t see the runs of other players ahead; whether DJ, Bubba, Rickie, Xander,” added the 43-year-old of how different it had been to watching it to actually being in the heat of battle.
“The only one we could see was Brooks [his playing partner in the final round]. We just had to look at boards whenever we possibly could. You hear roars and try to figure how many holes ahead it is, who would be on that hole.
“All these scenarios are running through our heads as we try to handle the situation in real time. Now, it’s a lot easier on TV. You see it in front of you. It’s like calling a game on a sideline versus up in a booth. It’s much easier in that booth.”
Woods, who is heading from here to Australia to lead the US into battle in next week’s Presidents’ Cup as a playing captain, was asked if he believed 18 majors was still achievable on the back of a season that also saw him win the Zozo Championship in Japan and climb to seventh in the world rankings. “I think it is,” he insisted. “I have to do everything right. I have to have all the pieces come together. It has taken Jack a lifetime to get there, until he was 46. I’m just proud of what I’ve done, to come back from where I came back from to win another major championship but also to do it in a different way. I’ve finally come from behind to win a major championship, I finally know that I can do that now. I had never done it; 14-1 is not a bad record, but I had never done it this way.”
The future looked grim for Woods when he had a bout of the chipping yips in this event here four years ago, yet he now has his sights set on edging ahead of Sam Snead when it comes to record PGA Tour wins after moving level with him in Japan. Is it all about the future now rather than anything that has happened in the past?
“It’s going to be both,” he said, smiling. “That’s life; what we have done in the past and what could be in the future. Unfortunately tomorrow is never promised. So I live in the present, enjoy that moment whilst obviously making plans for the future. People will look back on the past as well.”
It was during the 2017 Masters Champions Dinner that Woods told some of his fellow Green Jacket winners present that he “was done” as he struggled with chronic back trouble. Yet he’s the man deciding on the menu again next April after pulling off one of the great recoveries in sport.
“It is never a bad thing as it has been incredible,” he replied to being asked if it will feel different going back to that dinner on this occasion as the defending champion. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I first won in ‘97. To be able to sit there and listen to the jokes and the needling I received. And the needling I had to give back to Sam [Snead] and Byron [Nelson] and Gene Sarazen, all those guys.
“That was an incredible experience for me and now to have been part of it for so long in different ways. I have struggled physically and hadn’t played the Masters and been able to be champion five times. Just to be part of that club. It’s a pretty exclusive club and you have to earn your way into it. And there is nothing better than that dinner. It is one of the hardest dinners you have to get into.”
Will he perhaps be more reflective this time around? “In different ways, yeah,” he added. “I think we all get a bit more reflective as we age. My time as a player is not as long as it was when I first turned pro. My window is a lot smaller than it used to be so understanding that and recognising it is not a bad thing.”
While it remains to be seen when it will actually happen, next week’s captaincy stint against an International side that is being led by Ernie Els is aimed at preparing Woods for the same post in the Ryder Cup. A line of succession was something put in place by the task force set up by the PGA of America in the wake of a heavy defeat at the hands of Europe at Gleneagles in 2014. “We have a system in place, which is great,” said Woods on that particular biennial contest. “Our system, I think, is working. We obviously didn’t play well at the right time last year and we got smoked [losing 17.5-10.5 at Le Golf National in France]. “But it is one of those things that we looked as a 20-year window. If we are able to win, call it seven out of ten cups, that’s what we are looking at. It’s hard. For Phil [Mickelson] and I, it was a case of we need to take a step back, take a look at it as a 20-year run. It is going to outlive us, so how do we set it up for that and how do we set it up to be successful. That’s what we have done and we will let it play out over the next 16 years and see how it ends up.”