Stop No. 2 on Tiger Woods’ 2017 comeback tour is this week in Dubai, and following his pro-am round Wednesday at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic he spoke to the media.
A back injury that required multiple surgeries and kept Woods out of competition for more than a year is clearly still on his mind, judging from his assertion, “I swing away from pain.
“Whether my swing looks classical, rhythmical or it may look unorthodox, I don’t care,” added the 41-year-old, who is slated to tee off in the first round at 11:15 p.m. EST Wednesday. “As long as I don’t feel that nerve pain again. Anyone in here who has ever had nerve pain in their back or anything in their spine, it’s like hitting your funny bone a thousand times a day. It’s just not fun. And I would much rather not have to go through that again.”
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 1, 2017
While issuing his usual “playing to win” mantra, Woods also discussed the success of his fellow Nike stablemate Roger Federer, the 35-year-old Swiss tennis great who last Sunday won the Australian Open, his 18th major title, after having struggled with knee and back injuries in 2016. With the victory, Federer became the oldest man to win a Grand Slam singles title in 45 years.
“What Rog has done is he’s been dominant for so long, and then to compete against (Novak Djokovic), to compete against Rafa (Nadal); and now Andy (Murray) is playing well,” Woods said. “He’s had a litany of guys who have won slams and no one wins slams at his age.
“He’s rehabbed properly and you can tell how fast he’s moving. He’s shortened up points, changed his strategy around a little bit. Didn’t hang around the baseline as long. I mean, as you get older, you change your game and you do things slightly differently. He did that.”
Reshaping his game to compete with the likes of Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and a crew of young upstarts led by Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm – all while remaining healthy – is the challenge before Woods. It will require shifting from the power, intimidation and unconscious putting that carried him to 14 major titles to precision off the tee, consistency and mastery around the greens.
Thus far Woods has yet to show an ability to adapt to his new circumstances. Will he emulate his pal Federer and win another major? Not likely. But it is still early on the comeback trail, and one can only hope that he finds a way to become a factor again.