Is Tiger Woods playing the ultimate setup game
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Tiger Woods is brilliant. In this case, it is not because he has 79 PGA TOUR wins. Not because of the 14 major championships or the two FedExCups. Or the record 683 weeks as world No.1. But because he might just be setting up one of the greatest stings of all-time. The new Woods we’ve seen in the last couple of years. This friendly advice-giving cat… Is it just one of the greatest setups ever? Is he using this inopportune back injury as an opportunity to lull the new generation into a false sense of security? We are on to you, Tiger. Sure, we haven’t seen the trademarked Tiger Woods steely stare in some time. You know the one. The one that stands the hair up on the back of your neck. The one that makes elite golfers panic and try too hard and ultimately fail against him. Instead, Woods has been extra friendly with the young stars of today. Starting with Rory McIlroy and Jason Day and now continuing on with the likes of Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Rickie Fowler. He shared a plane with Thomas to Los Angeles this week. Shared a plane! Berger waxed lyrical on Woods and the help he’s given to a lot of young stars. “I’ve heard from other guys he wasn’t that open in the past, but I just think he’s at a stage of his career where he wants to help out the younger guys and that’s really cool,” the two-time TOUR winner said. “Obviously to be in the presence of greatness – when he talks you listen. The things he says are pretty simple and that’s easy to learn from. He’s great.” This is the same guy who you thought might walk right past Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els or Sergio Garcia if they were literally on fire back in his heyday such was his insular focus. But now we know what this new Woods is about. Keep your friends close – and your enemies closer. None of us knew, including Woods himself, if his latest comeback would be successful. But a top-25 result at the Farmers Insurance Open has everyone buzzing. The plan is working… The young stars of today never played in the Tiger era of dominance. They rely on highlights on PGATOUR.com and YouTube. But highlights don’t show the whole picture. “The hardest thing for people to understand who weren’t out here when Tiger was at the peak of his powers is how much of an aura he carried with him,” fellow Masters and PLAYERS champion Adam Scott says. “It wasn’t just if you were playing with him – if you look at the records of guys playing with him in last groups of tournaments, most guys shot 78 – but he could have been four holes away and his name pops up on a leaderboard and the leaders see it and start playing poorly. “No doubt in my mind Tiger worked all those little bits of gamesmanship and also he knew he was intimidating to people and he’d play up on that. Tiger has always been very friendly to me but at the right moment he wouldn’t say hello.” That’s right. Not even a hello. But the blank stare. The game face. The beauty of it was that it was his attitude was so intense that Woods didn’t always have to beat you. You beat yourself. “The intimidation with Tiger was he never lost when he was leading on Sunday, so he made you feel like you had to play some heroic round,” former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy says. “Golf has always been difficult when you feel like you have to play well. Good rounds come out organically, they just turn up, but if you force golf, it doesn’t usually happen for you. “There was this aura or this feel that you had to do something really special and then usually you do something worse because you were trying too hard.” When we asked Woods how he thought the younger generation – who he has befriended – would react to competitive down-the-stretch Tiger, he immediately grinned that Cheshire cat grin of his. “I don't care how they react,” he beamed. “I'm trying to win a tournament. I'm sure they'll feel the same way, but it's winning time. “Once I get into contention, I can handle myself. I just need to get there.” We knew it! You ARE setting them up for a sting! While it is unlikely it would happen this week – just given Woods’ poor record at Riviera – it just might. And if not here… the weeks to come look even more tantalizing. For the record, Thomas is loving his relationship with Woods. He will play with him in the opening two rounds this week at the Genesis Open, along with McIlroy. When the possibility of Woods turning “nasty” on him was raised, the FedExCup champ hoped it wouldn’t be a successful operation. “I would like to think I am a little more mature than that and I have been there enough now that I’d be pretty comfortable with that and I hope I am not fazed by something like that,” Thomas said. “Hopefully it happens soon, and we will know.” Yes. Hopefully very soon.
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