By Brendan Moloney
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA | Wonder now if Greg Norman has changed a bit of his tune? Norman, the International Presidents Cup captain, was more than vocal in assessing the choice of Tiger Woods as a captain’s pick for the American side by Fred Couples as a really bad idea.
Now that the former world No. 1 has found some especially good form,
Norman might take Woods a little more seriously this week at Royal Melbourne. Woods was big news and drew the biggest galleries at The Lakes Golf Club and, for a while, he also drew the most excitement.
For much of the week, it seemed that Woods had turned the corner and finally would end his winless streak dating to the 2009 Australian Masters at Huntingdale. He opened with rounds of 68 and 67 to lead by one at the halfway mark.
He went out on Saturday in the final pair with Peter O’Malley and all hopes fell when he started the round with three consecutive bogeys. He never really righted the ship and finished with an ugly round of 75 and was six back of 54-hole leader John Senden.
But Woods fought back and drew to within one shot of the lead, at the time held by eventual champion Greg Chalmers, with a chip-in for eagle at the par-5 15th, leading to a 67.
Chalmers would end up winning the championship for the second time, this time by one shot from Senden and two clear of Woods.
And Woods can look at two holes on the back nine at The Lakes that ultimately would become his undoing.
At the par-5 11th, easily reachable in two shots for Woods, he hit a poor tee shot and wound up with a bogey. At the driveable par-4 13th, he hit another bad drive that led to another bogey. Had he simply made pars on what appear to be reasonable birdie chances, he would have been in a playoff with Chalmers.
“Two holes on the back nine today, and I putted awful (Saturday), or I would have been right there,” Woods said.
“I shouldn’t have gone for it (on the 13th), in hindsight, because I should have just laid up with a 5-iron and a (had) wedge (second shot) in there, but I figured I needed to shoot somewhere around 31 on the back nine to at least give myself a chance. It was a day that could have been really low. I hit the ball really good out there.”
Woods’ struggles have been well-chronicled. He is once again changing his swing and is working with Sean Foley, one of the most highly regarded coaches in America. Foley was in attendance at the Australian Open and he and his star pupil put in some time on the practice tee into the evening on Saturday after Woods ran off the rails.
“I felt like I was close to finding it (Saturday) but it wasn’t quite there,” said Woods, now 58th in the world rankings. “We did a little work on the range but really worked on the putting green for a while and I found my stroke, found some of the old keys, and rolled it good today.
“When you play in this much wind, it’s very easy to start getting off and unfortunately, I did that, and I just had to reset my game and I was fine.”
Woods hadn’t been in contention to win a championship since April in Augusta, when he shot 5-under 31 on the front nine on Sunday to tie for the lead. When he made an eagle on the par-5 eighth, the thunderous roars reverberated around Augusta National like days of old.
Yet, his incoming nine was little more than ordinary, which kept him from winning another green jacket. And on Sunday at The Lakes, he didn’t quite have what it takes to bring the title home, not the way he did when he was at peak form.
“It’s been since Augusta that I had the lead on Sunday, that’s the last time I’ve been in that spot,” Woods said. “It’s been a long time. Unfortunately, I haven’t played a lot of tournaments in between. But it was great to be out there. I had a chance. Unfortunately, I didn’t post the number I wanted to post.”
The pundits all wondered what it would take for Woods to consider this week a success. For his part, Woods says that the only success for a championship that he enters is to win. But he has been on the shelf for so long, that even he now finds the positives, especially when the result was not victory.
“I’ve just got to keep plugging along,” Woods said after finishing with an 11-under total of 277. “I’ve showed some progress. It’s nice to be out here and competitive and actually playing golf again. It’s nice not being on the sidelines.
“I felt great,” Woods said. “It’s nice to finally be healthy again.”
And that could be good news or bad news, depending on whether you’re in the shoes of Norman or Couples.