Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy: Coming Into the Honda Classic

The Honda Classic at PGA National (Champion course) in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, has done a great job of bringing out most of the top players. 7 of the top 10 including, Tiger, Phil, Rory, Adam, et.al. have assembled for the first East Coast tournament of the calendar year, primarily because so many of the top players live in the Palm Peach/Jupiter area. Oh, and they are now all seeing it as a precursor to Augusta, six tournaments away including this one.

Tiger addressed that in Wednesday’s media session:

Well, I think once we get to Florida I think we’re all thinking about our way to Augusta.  Some guys usually start at Doral, some guys start here, but once we get to Florida, now most of the guys are getting pretty serious about their prep to Augusta.

This week I think it’s — you can understand now with the field the way it is, the quality and the depth of the field has gotten so much better over the years, plus I think a lot of the guys have moved down here, as well, and they’re playing the event. 

So since Tiger is one of the movers, what’s his take on his new home?

I love it.  I love playing here.  It’s always nice to be in your own bed, in your own home.  When I lived in Orlando, I played Bay Hill and it was always good to be at home.  This is my new home, and I absolutely love it down here.

In answering a question about whether that gave him any kind of advantage, he segued into a discussion of the travel demands of tour pros as compared with other professional athletes:

I think it’s just comfort.  As I said, I’m going home to my own remote, my own bed, and those are things that we don’t get a chance to do very often.  Most sports you spend half the year on the road and half the year at home.  Most golfers spend pretty much their entire career on the road.

And that sort of got into an exposition on the making of a Tour pro, how he set his schedule and just how important experience is on Tour courses:

When I was 22, I was still making adjustments on my scheduling.  Didn’t know what to play and how much to play.  I played too much in ’97 and wore myself out, never played that much golf in my life.  Made a few adjustments in ’98, and in ’99 I think I got it right.

Back then if I looked at it, I was still — all the golf courses were new.  I had never played them before.  Now most of the courses I’ve seen 15 times or so sometimes, and it makes a big difference.  The practice rounds and the pro‑ams, you already know the sight lines when you’re at home practicing,   You already know how the golf course is going to be playing.  There’s an added comfort to that.

As you’ve seen over the course of my career, I’ve won at certain venues quite a few times because I just know it, and that’s probably the biggest difference when you’re a rookie or your first few years on Tour, you don’t know golf courses, and you’re a little bit behind the curve on the veterans.

Sean Foley came in to work with Tiger and it’s quite interesting the way in which they work together. They are both masters of their particular approach — feel versus the technical — and the secret to their success lies in bridging those two polar opposites.

We’re just working on the same things.  He’s just doing a lot of video, and he’s looking at it.  I’m not really looking at it.  I know what I need to do and the feels that are associated with certain parts of the video, and I’m just focused on that.  He focuses on a more technical level of it.

He comes in, we come up with a game plan of what I need to work on, and then I go off and work on it.  A few days later we do the same thing, so the process is I’ve always done it in the past, and it’s worked pretty well for me that way.

Phil came in for his media session and didn’t have much to say from a golf mastery point of view except to offer that he’d gone skiing during his family vacation. And that since he’d been skiing since he was 4, he considers it his second best sport and has high confidence in his ability…just not quite as much as his fearless daughter, Sophia.

He also mentioned that he had brought Dave Stockton in to give him a touch-up on his putting. But he was so close, they only spent a half hour together and Phil left feeling highly confident about that one too. A good thing, since that’s the one that matters.

Rory talked about finally getting his driver right. You’ll recall that he withdrew mid-round last year on his way to 90 and took quite a bit of flack for it.

I’ve started to drive the ball much better.  It’s a big key in my game, and it’s something that I didn’t do well enough last year.  The ball and the driver, figuring out what that combination is, definitely helped.  I put a new ball and a new driver in the bag in October, and I saw results with that straight away, and I’m swinging the club better.  I’m swinging the club much better than I have done and as good as I ever have done, and I’m very comfortable with it.

It’s been a lot of hard work and a bit of a grind, but I’m definitely back to a place now where I feel comfortable off the tee.

And so that has created a totally different vibe than last year:

Yeah, it feels like a long time ago, yeah, and coming in here last year, I was coming off the back of a couple of bad results in Abu Dhabi and the Match Play.  Still getting used to new equipment, high expectations, and not really — I guess not really being in control of my game.  There was a couple of things happening off the course, as well [legal issues with his ex-management company and with Oakley, one of his sponsors].  It just wasn’t a great time.

But obviously it’s so much different this year.  I’m much more comfortable.  I’m in a better place, and I feel like when my game is in a good place, everything else can sort of fall in line with that.  It makes me feel more comfortable about everything.

And he chose another element to build out, his fitness and strength. He brought back his former trainer to fill out his team:

Yeah, I mean, I’ve been working hard in the gym, and yeah, it’s something that I’ve taken a lot more seriously over the past couple of years, and it’s something that I quite enjoy.  It’s something that I’ve really got into the habit of, and I enjoy it now.  I’ve got a gym in the house, and when I go back there this evening I’ll go in the gym.

And I’ve got a great trainer in Steve McGregor, and he keeps me right, tells me what I need to do or don’t need to do.  It’s been — I sort of spent, again, about six or seven months at the start of last year without his guidance, and I brought him back on time September, October time, and that’s really borne fruit, and it’s given me some continuity on the team.

I always want to have the same people around, and not having him around was definitely a mistake I made last year, and bringing him back into the team has definitely helped give me more structure on that side of things.

Here are the starting tee times for the marquee groups:

7:25 a.m. off 10th tee – Henrik Stenson – Sergio Garcia – Luke Donald

7:35 a.m. off 10th tee – Zach Johnson – Tiger Woods – Keegan Bradley

12:25 p.m. off 1st tee – Adam Scott – Billy Horschel – Rory McIlroy

12:35 p.m. off 1st tee – Phil Mickelson – Graeme McDowell – Rickie Fowler

The Golf Channel has the broadcast from 2:00 to 6:00 PM (Eastern).

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