WGC-Cadillac Championship: Tiger’s Ready to Go

The World Golf Championships – Cadillac Championship is set to begin Thursday at the Trump National Doral (Blue Monster) in Miami, Florida.

And while the field size (69) is approximately the same as the Accenture Match Play Championship (64), Cadillac boasts the top 50 in the world. While Accenture was based entirely on the World Golf Rankings, Cadillac has a more eclectic selection process to give some of the other world tours a chance to send some players.

Here are the eight criteria: 

  • Top 50 from the Official World Golf Ranking as of February 24 and again on March 3
  • Top 30 from the final 2013 PGA TOUR FedExCup standings
  • Top 10 from the 2013-2014 PGA TOUR FedExCup standings as of March 3
  • Top 20 from the final 2013 European Tour Race to Dubai
  • Top 10 from the 2014 European Tour Race to Dubai standings as of February 24
  • Top two players from:
    • 2013 Japan Golf Tour Order of Merit
    • 2013 Australasian Tour Order of Merit
    • 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit

Tiger Woods, still the No. 1 player in the World, is the Defending Champion. But his defense is clouded by his having to withdraw from the Honda Classic last week with a bad back. He provided more detail on that in Wednesday’s Media Center session:

I just couldn’t twist.  I literally couldn’t twist anymore.  To get the club back, if you watch a couple of the swings towards the end, I was just dumping it towards the top to try to get my momentum so I could hit the ball.

I said, this is absurd, I’m going to be hitting it a hundred yards either way right now; I don’t know which one is coming.  Like on the third hole, I hit it a hundred yards right of the fairway and on 6 I hit it 50 yards left of the fairway.  I don’t know what’s coming, and it’s to a point where I’m going to be doing probably more harm than good.

But his treatment in the intervening time has gone well and he has no hesitancy about being able to go full out on Thursday:

My treatments have been fantastic, anti‑inflamms and just a bunch of treatment — it’s annoying being poked and prodded all the time, but it’s got me to a point where I can do this today, and tomorrow I’ll be able to hit more full shots and go all‑out.

He was asked if he’d seen the new Doral yet and he laughed. At first it sounded like, “Are you kidding me? Of course I’ve seen the course.” But it turned out it was more a wistful laugh implying, “I’ve been hurt, I wish I could have.”

I’ve got no idea about what that golf course holds out there except for what is on video, that’s it.  Joey came down here and tried to describe some of the holes and I’m like, “What, there’s water on that hole?”  Yeah.

So there are a few changes I need to go see.  So as soon as I’m done with you guys, I’m going to go out there and walk the course and try to get a good feel for how the sand is.

I’m not going to play.  I’m just going to chip and putt and get a feel for how the grass is and if it’s different from what it was the last time we played, green speeds, slopes.  Joey has a couple books he wants me to take a look at on the place, and we are going to go from there.

I thought it was interesting that the thoroughness of his preparation included checking the bunker sand. Clearly, at the professional level, sand is not just sand.

The reason he’s not going to play is that he doesn’t want to chance it just yet. He hasn’t made a full swing since the one before he withdrew:

I hit some balls yesterday.  Furthest ball I hit I think was 60 yards, just trying to make sure I keep my feels.

So I chipped and putted for a while, just making sure I had my feels in my hands and I didn’t lose that over the last couple days.

And it turns out this isn’t first time that he’s simply nurtured his short game while he was quietly convalescing from his leg issue:

When I came back from the surgery that I had in ’08 after the Masters and I came back and I didn’t play a tournament until the U.S. Open, I putted and chipped all the time, but I didn’t really play.  I didn’t play my competitive golf and I was still able to win in The Open.

But I think it’s more important to keep my feels and making sure I can have my own feels I can call upon, and that comes from practice.  I didn’t hit a lot of balls back then because my leg was busted, but I chipped and putted a ton.  And so I still kept the feels in my hands and I think that’s what saved me that week, that particular week, and has saved me in a bunch of weeks throughout my career.

What was very interesting in this media session was that Tiger has shifted his position on giving any quarter to his opponents. It used to be that when he was asked about injuries, he just sort of blew them off. It gave him a reputation of being uncooperative and secretive. Turns out there was good reason; he’s had back issues on and off since college:

I had my first back issue in college actually.  I had a back and shoulder and elbow and a wrist.

Unfortunately there are times where I’ve damaged my knee pretty good and I’ve had surgeries over the years.  I’ve had knee injury, wrist injury, elbows, you name it, now I’ve had back, neck.  It is what it is.  It’s the nature of repetitive sport.

We do the same motion.  Some guys do it a thousand times a day, but it’s the same exact motion.  So you have repetitive injuries and most of my injuries are that.  So that’s the nature of why we lift, why we work out is to try to prevent a lot of these things and keep us healthy and keep us out here.

As we get older, and I’ve learned it as I’ve aged, I don’t quite heal as fast as I used to.  I just don’t bounce back like I used to.  That’s just part of aging.

But the secretiveness has been going on with the leg a long time too:

When I had my injuries over the years, it was always after impact.  So it’s fine; the ball’s gone.  It’s going to hurt like hell, but the ball’s gone.  So I can do my job and deliver the club and deliver the final moment to the ball and hit the shot I want to hit.  It’s just going to hurt like hell afterwards.  I played that way for years.

Did anybody know this until his amazing 2008 U.S. Open victory on his broken leg? It’s almost as if he’s withheld this information all these years for competitive reasons and now he hopes to be acknowledged for the heroic suffering he quietly endured.

Given the way the media kept going after this topic, they didn’t know either. As I listened to the interview unfold, I had the sense that this was all groundbreaking stuff, stuff he’s never talked about before.

So we thank him for all the astounding shows he’s put on for us over the years and the suffering he’s endured while he did it. Is there a more exciting player than Tiger Woods? We’ll see if he can go Thursday and how he holds up.

He goes off the 1st tee at 12:39 Eastern with Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson.

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