PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | It’s not just that he’s back playing golf, that he is fit, that he can generate a club speed that is remarkable for a man of 42 and that he and Phil Mickelson seem to be conducting a love-in to end all love-ins. All these things contribute to the phenomenon that is Tiger Woods.
It is that he is so entertaining. He needles Mickelson endlessly. He deprecates himself. He teases Patrick Reed, the Masters champion. He talks warmly about Jason Day and Justin Thomas. He is gracious about his current rivals.
This is if not a new Tiger Woods certainly a different one. His answers are longer yet more focused. He smiles a lot and a wide Tiger grin is a fine sight indeed.
He seems relaxed and happy within himself. He made a thoughtful distinction between domination and greatness. His answer? That “every player out here can have one good week and blow away the field. Now: Can you do it for a month, for a year, for a decade, for a decade-plus? Then you start defining what is truly great.”
He is not yet a threat to Matt Kuchar as one of the practical jokers of the Tour or for that matter to Mickelson as one of the best “needlers” in the very necessary locker-room banter. But spells as a U.S. vice captain at the Ryder and Presidents cups have made Woods far more at ease with his peers and they with him.
Typical is his relationship with Mickelson, once perceived as a rival of his.
“It has gotten a lot closer with me being a vice captain the last couple of teams and sitting there and having very lengthy conversations with him about things, not just pairings, but things in general,” Woods said. “It is fun for me to be able to play with Phil the first two days (of the Players Championship). We don’t really do this very often, unfortunately.”
And with that, he smiled … a long, warm, 100-watt beam. This is indeed a new Tiger Woods.