Posted on: May 12, 2011 6:42 pm

O'Meara 'shocked' at Tiger WD, but in dark, too

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla . -- Mark O'Meara and his new bride had dinner with old pal Tiger Woods at an upscale steakhouse on Wednesday night.

O'Meara, a mentor to Woods for years in the latter's early days as a professional, sensed that his former Orlando neighbor was in a good place emotionally, after many months of well-chronicled turmoil. As a for-instance, he said Woods even picked up the check.

"It's not often that he goes to the hip," O'Meara cracked.

A day later, he took a knee.

It was a decidedly disjointed first day at the Players Championship for the longtime buddies -- O'Meara shot a 6-under 66 and claimed a share of third place at age 54, while Woods headed home with yet another chronic injury to his leg at age 35.

It felt like one of those sci-fi, trading-places scenarios: O'Meara, who hasn't played regularly on the PGA Tour for years, was the guy in the interview room talking about his stellar round, while Woods was home licking his latest wounds. O'Meara, who now lives in Houston, played practice rounds at TPC Sawgrass with Woods on Tuesday and Wednesday and was as stunned as anybody else when he learned before he teed off that Woods had withdrawn after nine sloppy holes.

"I'm as shocked and disappointed for my friend as anyone else," he said. "I know he's a fighter. His injury is probably a lot worse than what we thought it was."

Not that O'Meara, a former confident who lived a half-dozen houses down the same street, really knows, either.

After a one-month layoff, Woods re-injured his ailing left knee on his opening tee shot, he said, and limped his way to a front-nine 42, then withdrew and headed home, his medical and professional future very much in doubt. O'Meara said Woods conveyed few signs of physical discomfort when they practiced this week, and when he asked the former world No. 1 how he was feeling, Woods gave him every assurance that his legs were fine.

"I haven't talked to him," O'Meara said after his afternoon round. "I don't know how bad it is. Obviously, it's pretty bad. But he needs to get that fixed, because you know, I know how much he loves the game, and I know how badly he wants to be competing, and the game needs him. I mean, he's great for this game."

O'Meara said that like all but a handful of folks, Woods isn't a fount of full disclosure with him, either, and he has to read between the lines like the rest of us.

"Sometimes, Tiger, even as well as I know him, sometimes it's very difficult to read him," he said. "I asked him the other day, 'How's the leg,' and he says, 'It's fine.' I don't know if it's fine or if he's just telling me it's fine and it's really not that fine.

"I saw [swing coach] Sean Foley out there, and I asked him, and he's like, 'You know, his leg is not good.' I mean, he can hit balls, but he's having a hard time walking. It's a hard game to play if he can't walk."

Woods is in an increasingly tough spot. He has completed 16 stroke-play rounds in the States this year, and needs to log more rounds to get battle-ready for upcoming majors. But that means subjecting the ailing knee to more stress and strain than it can handle at the moment -- if not beyond.

"He definitely needs to have more reps because you can stand on the range at home at Isleworth or you can come and hit balls or play practice rounds or whatever, but until you get out there in the thick of the battle, it's very difficult to trust anything," O'Meara said. "Even as great as he is, he can struggle with his confidence, and certainly when you start hitting some wild shots and you haven't had the success that he's accustomed to, that just adds to the pressure.

"If the limitations that Tiger is facing with his injuries are holding him back, then he needs to get those totally fixed and get back, and then he needs to come back and just take little steps to get back, because he knows how to win."

Given that his recent hiatus didn't solve his knee and Achilles issues, that increasingly sounds like it could take a not-so-good, long, while. O'Meara said he doesn't sense any anxiety or urgency from Woods about the biological meter running in his bid to supplant Jack Nicklaus as king of the majors. But he is also uncertain as to how much Woods still wants to break those marks.

"I think that's always been a passion of his, to win majors and to compete, and for a while that's all he's dreamed about," O'Meara said. "But I think over the last couple years, now having a family and wanting to be there for his kids, I think he still wants that, but how much only he can really determine.

"Is the fire burning as bright as it once did? Maybe not. But that's to be expected when you look at the intense pressure that this kid has lived under for the last 20 years of his life."

Woods is no kid, but you get the gist.

"Any athlete that's under the scrutiny like he's been under, there's a little price you have to pay, and so it slowly erodes," O'Meara said. "No one can be inside his brain or his body and figure out where he's at, but he needs to just get around his friends, keep practicing, get healthy, and then I think he'll be back where he wants to be."

After three injury-ravaged seasons and yet another debilitating setback, it anybody still holding their breath?

Category: Golf
Posted on: April 4, 2010 5:25 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2010 5:30 pm

On Easter, Woods emerges to start comeback

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods hopped out of an electric shuttle cart, sauntered onto the practice range at Augusta National and took a look around.

Make that a long look.

Sure, the professional practice area at the course is brand new and quite a sight to behold, but those who witnessed his arrival on Sunday said he looked slightly perplexed as he stood, alone, for a couple of minutes, drinking in the place.

The Masters driving range aside, that's not all that has changed in golf or his life as he gears up for Thursday's opening round at the season's first major championship. It's probably not the only thing this week that will stop him in his tracks, either.

Woods, who was wearing sunglasses and had longtime caddie Steve Williams in tow, warmed up alongside several other professional players, his trademark TW logo on his golf bag where the corporate insignias used to be. Key phrase: Used to be. His entire landscape has changed, not just the location of a few trees or tee boxes here and there.

"Hey, listen, in life, no one’s perfect," said his old pal, Mark O'Meara, who played nine holes with the world No. 1 Sunday. "We thought he was, but no one’s absolutely perfect."

Woods was not particularly close, as international tabloid sales indicate. Which brings us to his predicament this week, and what Sunday possibly portends.

Even though The National, as the locals call it, is closed to spectators and media on Sundays before the tournament, a Golf Channel producer said he counted more than 40 security guards ringing the rim of the practice area as the players warmed up, a possible precursor of the phalanx that will surround Woods when play begins Thursday. Inside the media center, some of the Augusta National brass were holding a meeting inside the room where, on Monday at 2 p.m., Woods will meet the global press for the first time since before his Thanksgiving collision with a tree.

Sunday's practice round marked his first appearance in a semi-public area since before the crash that sent him into the worst public-relations tailspin in sports history. After warming up, Woods ventured to the practice putting green near the clubhouse, then hooked up with former neighbor and mentor O'Meara, whom he had not seen since last July.

"He’s swinging well," O'Meara said after they finished. "It’s good to see Hank [Haney] again because we’re dear friends, too. Yeah, I enjoyed my time out there with him. He was relaxed, swinging well and ready to get back at it."

They gave each other a long hug when they met and whatever words were exchanged happened well out of earshot. Woods then jumped under the ropes and joined O'Meara as the latter played his back nine. Woods and O'Meara, past Masters champions, once lived six homes apart on the suburban Orlando street where Woods' life changed after he crashed his car at 2:30 a.m. The course is closed to media and spectators on Sunday, so the old friends had it all to themselves, a few members and tour players notwithstanding.

"Of all the people I’ve ever met he’s one of the toughest guys mentally I’ve ever met," O'Meara said. "He’ll do well this week. He’s been out of the game for awhile, but he left with a win [last November in Australia]. Certainly, he knows how to win. He’s won here, what, four or five times? I think he’s just ready to get back out competing with the rest of the guys."

O'Meara raised a good point about Woods' state of readiness. Woods is used to living in a fish bowl, a term he once texted to one of his mistresses. Well, allegedly.

"Forget about what’s happened over the past four or five months," O'Meara said. "Certainly what’s happened over the past 10-12 years, he’s been the most scrutinized player who’s ever played the game. He’s created the most notoriety, he’s one of the most famous people in the world, forget about being a golfer and an athlete.

"With that comes a lot of responsibility and he probably feels like he’s dropped the ball there. But you know what? He’s manning up to it, he’s trying to get better and as a friend I can only be there to support him and that’s what I’m trying to do."

How his peers will react this week will be interesting. He said hello to Jim Furyk on the practice putting green, but generally kept a low profile. Players on the range didn’t exactly line up to shake his hand.

Woods did show some signs of returning to normalcy, like when he spotted two veteran reporters flitting on the periphery of the new range. He tossed a light-hearted insult at them and then headed off to play.

How many laughs are contained in the rest of the week, or to some degree, his career, is anybody's guess.

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