Being A Stand For Yourself

Tiger Woods’ Chevron World Challenge has staggered through three rounds of blustery winds and looks to be set up for a fourth on Sunday.

Each day we thought the wind was done but it seems they’re in for more. It was swirling again at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California, and caused a confident Tiger Woods to make five bogeys on the day. He managed to get four of them back with birdies to end up 1-over and one stroke back of Zach Johnson who had a grand finish to his day.

But to complete with Tiger first, he is adamant that he is hitting the ball better that he ever has and so stands like a citadel against the naysayers who question whether he’s back or not. He knows that he has more work to do, but he also knows that he’s at a whole different level now. He can feel how much better he’s hitting it—how much more solidly—how happy he is with his coach, Sean Foley’s, swing concepts.

It’s almost like there was the murky side and now he’s in the light. And he knows he’s in the light. He’s been saying it for months now. But everybody is judging him on whether he’s won or not. And he hasn’t. In two years. So while he dutifully grinds away trying the integrate concepts and muscle memory, he has to patiently assure his inquisitors that he is, indeed, getting better. And still they sit in judgment, wondering, doubting, withholding their Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

And so the mastery portion of all of this is that he has to assuredly keep doing what he’s doing to get better without all of the outside speculation penetrating this new, larger sense of himself and his game. It requires a whole other level of concentration because it is so personal. Most people can go through this process in anonymity. That is, people barely notice that any other player has been in a two-year slump. Tiger doesn’t have the luxury and it points to just how tough he is mentally that he has been able to weather all of the criticism and speculation and continue to get better in spite of it.

Sunday will be another barometer because he’s a shot back and the blustery winds may neutralize all the good work that he has done on his swing. And so it will begin again.

Zach Johnson had a solid beginning to his day; ten straight pars. And then, from that settled mind state, he made an eagle-3 on the par-5 11th and two birdies. Then he swapped two pars for two bogeys and finished up with his most well known score for the day, his eagle-2 on the par-4 18th. For his trouble, he got all the limelight…and paired with Tiger for the final round.

In his post-round interview, he shared his view of Tiger’s potential, his progress and his chances against him:

The guy never ceases to amaze me, so you kind of always assume he’s going to play well. That’s a pretty safe assumption based on history, his resume.

I watched the Presidents Cup – from my couch unfortunately – but, yeah, fortunately, and noticed that he looks pretty good. You know, I think it’s health. If he’s healthy and feels good about his health…

And his mechanics look great. I’m not a swing coach, but to me they look good. I think they look really good.

So he’s never going to shock me on the golf course because he’s certainly the best player I’ve ever played with. So, you know, I’ve glad I’m playing this week and I have the opportunity to, you know, go into Sunday with at least a chance.

For all the kind things he said about Tiger, it didn’t sound like a confident assertion that he could hold his own. It sounded like a deferential hedge…just in case.

So the question for Sunday is, with his appropriately lofty assessment of Tiger’s station in the game, can Johnson just play his game? Can he move early enough in the round so that he can get a little cushion between himself and Tiger to put pressure on him?

And, of course, can the great Tiger Woods steamroller yet another opponent as if he wasn’t even there? And win his first tournament in two years? And stem the tide of criticism and evaluation?

It’s why we care. It’s why we watch.

The early holes will be on the Golf Channel from 1:00 – 3:00 PM (ET) and finish on NBC from 3:00 – 6:00 PM (ET).

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