Tiger Woods hopes to find his roar again, one meticulous step at a time

There were no scintillating low scores over the four rounds. There were no long putts or rationale-defying recovery shots which went viral on social media. In fact, he was never even in contention for a top-five finish, let alone winning the tournament.

But all things considered, Tiger Woods ticked the right boxes at the Hero World Challenge in Nassau, Bahamas. Playing his first tournament in nearly eight months after undergoing a subtalar fusion procedure in his ankle, Woods’ primary aim was to last the full 72 holes. On this count, it was mission accomplished.

Woods walked the course with no noticeable limp or pain. Yes, there was soreness at the end of each round, but this is expected given his age and the toll that multiple injuries have taken on his body.

No frills

He did not take much time lining up his shots — an encouraging sign that the mind is functioning without clutter. Woods, who will turn 48 at the end of the month, showed that while he is not quite the world beater of his heyday, he is far from a spent force.

For the crowds at Albany golf course — albeit small in number — there was only one show in town. Woods had the strongest contingent of followers, while the likes of World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and others had to be content with the company of a few family members and friends.

Woods (82 PGA Tour event titles) is tied with Sam Snead for most PGA Tour wins. With time, Woods will gain the belief that all it takes is one good week to lay his hands on yet another trophy. He can then bask in the glory as the lone man on the highest peak. Just one week of good golf. His par-288 overall score at Albany, which saw him finish 18th in a field of 20, can be viewed as the first step in that path.

Woods was happy to get back on the course and feel that competitive drive. “I was curious just like you guys (media) to see what this tournament is going to look like. With the way my ankle is right now, I was excited to get through each and every day and to start piecing rounds together. It was fun to feel that again,” Woods said.

Sweet and sour

Woods took comfort from the fact that the excruciating ankle pain, which forced him to pull out of the Masters in April, was no longer a bother. “I don’t have the bone pain that I did. But I still have to go through the same protocols of recovery, which takes a long time. That’s the unfortunate thing about ageing.

“I’ve worn my body out while trying to keep up with the younger people. You spend more time in the treatment and weight rooms than you do on a golf course. That’s just part of wanting to hang around as an athlete,” Woods said.

There were moments at Albany which provided a glimpse of the marauding Woods of old. None better than the tee off in the first hole of the invitational event where Woods crushed a 326-yard drive onto the middle of the fairway. His playing partner Justin Thomas, on the other hand, hit it out of bounds and took a penalty drop.

“I drove it on pretty much a string all week. Granted, these fairways are big. I had my ball speed up, which was nice. And I was hitting the middle of the face the entire week. So it’s not like I have to go and try and find something new over the next few weeks or in the next year. What I’ve been working on is right there,” Woods said.

Work in progress

There is, of course, plenty of room for improvement. Woods admitted that his putting was not up to the mark. “I would say my short game could be better. But everybody here says the same thing — it’s one of the most difficult golf courses. We have to chip the ball up with the holes running away from you.

“It’s tough. We use the 3-wood, 4-iron, 5-wood, hybrid. We were also talking about using the pitching wedge instead of a 60 (60-degree wedge). These are all weird things that we don’t normally see, right? It’s normally just a lob wedge to hack it out, but this is a different golf course around the greens,” Woods explained.

Heading into the New Year, Woods wants to play one tournament a month. This could be tough, but Woods is confident that his body is up to the task.

“Having a couple of weeks off to recover, and a week to build up — there’s no reason why I can’t get into that rhythm. It’s just a matter of getting into better shape. My game is not that far off, but I need to get into better shape,” Woods said.

Off the course, Woods has taken on a major new role. A few months ago, Woods joined the Tour Policy Board as the sixth player director. As a respected senior statesman, Woods will look to voice the concerns of players as the PGA Tour aims to merge with the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the DP World (European) Tour and the LIV Golf League.

Woods’ involvement has come as a boon for his peers, with the likes of Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott and others praising the 15-time Major winner for stepping up to the plate.

The Tour’s merger announcement, which took place in June, caught most players by surprise. Woods was unhappy that players were not taken into confidence before the decision was made.

“I was surprised, and I’m sure a lot of the players were taken aback by what happened. It happened so quickly without any input or any information. We will take steps going forward to ensure that players are not going to be left out of the process again. This was part of the reason for putting me on the board,” Woods said.

There is a deadline in place — December 31 — for working out all details of the merger. Woods will take the lead when it comes to ensuring that the players get a fair representation in the deal.

“All the parties are talking and we’re aggressively working on trying to get a deal done. We are all trying to make sure that the process is better as well. We want to get the deal done, while making sure it’s done the right way,” Woods said.

(The writer was in Nassau on invitation from Hero MotoCorp)

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The haunting Masters meltdown that changed Rory McIlroy’s career | CNN


Slumped on his club, head buried in his arm, Rory McIlroy looked on the verge of tears.

The then-21-year-old had just watched his ball sink into the waters of Rae’s Creek at Augusta National and with it, his dream of winning The Masters, a dream that had looked so tantalizingly close mere hours earlier.

As a four-time major winner and one of the most decorated names in the sport’s history, few players would turn down the chance to swap places with McIlroy heading into Augusta this week.

Yet on Sunday afternoon of April 10, 2011, not a golfer in the world would have wished to be in the Northern Irishman’s shoes.

A fresh-faced, mop-headed McIlroy had touched down in Georgia for the first major of the season with a reputation as the leading light of the next generation of stars.

An excellent 2010 had marked his best season since turning pro three years earlier, highlighted by a first PGA Tour win at the Quail Hollow Championship and a crucial contribution to Team Europe’s triumph at the Ryder Cup.

Yet despite a pair of impressive top-three finishes at the Open and PGA Championship respectively, a disappointing missed cut at The Masters – his first at a major – served as ominous foreshadowing.

McIlroy shot 74 and 77 to fall four strokes short of the cut line at seven-over par, a performance that concerned him enough to take a brief sabbatical from competition.

But one year on in 2011, any lingering Masters demons looked to have been exorcised as McIlroy flew round the Augusta fairways.

Having opened with a bogey-free seven-under 65 – the first time he had ever shot in the 60s at the major – McIlroy pulled ahead from Spanish first round co-leader Alvaro Quirós with a second round 69.

It sent him into the weekend holding a two-shot cushion over Australia’s Jason Day, with Tiger Woods a further stroke behind and back in the hunt for a 15th major after a surging second round 66.

And yet the 21-year-old leader looked perfectly at ease with having a target on his back. Even after a tentative start to the third round, McIlroy rallied with three birdies across the closing six holes to stretch his lead to four strokes heading into Sunday.

McIlroy drives from the 16th tee during his second round.

The youngster was out on his own ahead of a bunched chasing pack comprising Day, Ángel Cabrera, K.J. Choi and Charl Schwartzel. After 54 holes, McIlroy had shot just three bogeys.

“It’s a great position to be in … I’m finally feeling comfortable on this golf course,” McIlroy told reporters.

“I’m not getting ahead of myself, I know how leads can dwindle away very quickly. I have to go out there, not take anything for granted and go out and play as hard as I’ve played the last three days. If I can do that, hopefully things will go my way.

“We’ll see what happens tomorrow because four shots on this golf course isn’t that much.”

McIlroy finished his third round with a four shot lead.

The truth can hurt, and McIlroy was about to prove his assessment of Augusta to be true in the most excruciating way imaginable.

His fourth bogey of the week arrived immediately. Having admitted to expecting some nerves at the first tee, McIlroy sparked a booming opening drive down the fairway, only to miss his putt from five feet.

Three consecutive pars steadied the ship, but Schwartzel had the wind in his sails. A blistering birdie, par, eagle start had seen him draw level at the summit after his third hole.

A subsequent bogey from the South African slowed his charge, as McIlroy clung onto a one-shot lead at the turn from Schwartzel, Cabrera, Choi, and a rampaging Woods, who shot five birdies and an eagle across the front nine to send Augusta into a frenzy.

Despite his dwindling advantage and the raucous Tiger-mania din ahead of him, McIlroy had responded well to another bogey at the 5th hole, draining a brilliant 20-foot putt at the 7th to restore his lead.

The fist pump that followed marked the high-water point of McIlroy’s round, as a sliding start accelerated into full-blown free-fall at the par-four 10th hole.

His tee shot went careening into a tree, ricocheting to settle between the white cabins that separate the main course from the adjacent par-three course. It offered viewers a glimpse at a part of Augusta rarely seen on broadcast, followed by pictures of McIlroy anxiously peering out from behind a tree to track his follow-up shot.

McIlroy watches his shot after his initial drive from the 10th tee put him close to Augusta's cabins.

Though his initial escape was successful, yet another collision with a tree and a two-putt on the green saw a stunned McIlroy eventually tap in for a triple bogey. Having led the field one hole and seven shots earlier, he arrived at the 11th tee in seventh.

By the time his tee drive at the 13th plopped into the creek, all thoughts of who might be the recipient of the green jacket had long-since switched away from the anguished youngster. It had taken him seven putts to navigate the previous two greens, as a bogey and a double bogey dropped him to five-under – the score he had held after just 11 holes of the tournament.

Mercifully, the last five holes passed without major incident. A missed putt for birdie from five feet at the final hole summed up McIlroy’s day, though he was given a rousing reception as he left the green.

Mere minutes earlier, the same crowd had erupted as Schwartzel sunk his fourth consecutive birdie to seal his first major title. After starting the day four shots adrift of McIlroy, the South African finished 10 shots ahead of him, and two ahead of second-placed Australian duo Jason Day and Adam Scott.

McIlroy’s eight-over 80 marked the highest score of the round. Having headlined the leaderboard for most of the week, he finished tied-15th.

McIroy was applauded off the 18th green by the Augusta crowd after finishing his final round.

Tears would flow during a phone call with his parents the following morning, but at his press conference, McIlroy was upbeat.

“I’m very disappointed at the minute, and I’m sure I will be for the next few days, but I’ll get over it,” he said.

“I was leading this golf tournament with nine holes to go, and I just unraveled … It’s a Sunday at a major, what it can do.

“This is my first experience at it, and hopefully the next time I’m in this position I’ll be able to handle it a little better. I didn’t handle it particularly well today obviously, but it was a character-building day … I’ll come out stronger for it.”

Once again, McIlroy would be proven right.

Just eight weeks later in June, McIlroy rampaged to an eight-shot victory at the US Open. Records tumbled in his wake at Congressional, as he shot a tournament record 16-under 268 to become the youngest major winner since Tiger Woods at The Masters in 1997.

McIlroy celebrated a historic triumph at the US Open just two months after his Masters nightmare.

The historic victory kickstarted a golden era for McIlroy. After coasting to another eight-shot win at the PGA Championship in 2012, McIlroy became only the third golfer since 1934 to win three majors by the age of 25 with triumph at the 2014 Open Championship.

Before the year was out, he would add his fourth major title with another PGA Championship win.

And much of it was owed to that fateful afternoon at Augusta. In an interview with the BBC in 2015, McIlroy dubbed it “the most important day” of his career.

“If I had not had the whole unravelling, if I had just made a couple of bogeys coming down the stretch and lost by one, I would not have learned as much.

“Luckily, it did not take me long to get into a position like that again when I was leading a major and I was able to get over the line quite comfortably. It was a huge learning curve for me and I needed it, and thankfully I have been able to move on to bigger and better things.

“Looking back on what happened in 2011, it doesn’t seem as bad when you have four majors on your mantelpiece.”

A two-stroke victory at Royal Liverpool saw McIlroy clinch the Open Championship in 2014.

McIlroy’s contentment came with a caveat: it would be “unthinkable” if he did not win The Masters in his career.

Yet as he prepares for his 15th appearance at Augusta National this week, a green jacket remains an elusive missing item from his wardrobe.

Despite seven top-10 finishes in his past 10 Masters outings, the trophy remains the only thing separating McIlroy from joining the ranks of golf immortals to have completed golf’s career grand slam of all four majors in the modern era: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.

The Masters is the only major title to elude McIlroy.

A runner-up finish to Scottie Scheffler last year marked McIlroy’s best finish at Augusta, yet arguably 2011 remains the closest he has ever been to victory. A slow start in 2022 meant McIlroy had begun Sunday’s deciding round 10 shots adrift of the American, who teed off for his final hole with a five-shot lead despite McIlroy’s brilliant 64 finish.

At 33 years old, time is still on his side. Though 2022 extended his major drought to eight years, it featured arguably his best golf since that golden season in 2014.

And as McIlroy knows better than most, things can change quickly at Augusta National.

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From childhood hero to playing partner, Adrian Meronk’s fairytale Open meeting with Tiger Woods | CNN


Never meet your idols, the saying goes. Try telling that to Adrian Meronk.

At the Open Championship in July, the Polish golfer tracked down Tiger Woods for a photo. Twenty-four hours later, he was chatting away with the 15-time major champion for nine holes of the legendary St. Andrews Old Course.

The fact Meronk was even at the same tournament as his childhood hero was itself a pinch-me moment. Just two weeks prior at the Irish Open, the 29-year-old had made history as the first Pole to win on the DP World Tour, stamping his maiden ticket to the 150th edition of the major.

Spotting Woods on the putting green on the Monday, Meronk holed his picture opportunity, believing that another chance would be unlikely to arise once the competition began Thursday.

Imagine his shock then when, strolling on to the 10th tee for his practice round at 8:45am the following morning, he saw none other than a lone Woods, readying his opening drive. After asking him if it was ok to join, Meronk spent the rest of the morning side-by-side with golfing royalty.

“That was probably one of my childhood dreams, so I received a lot of messages from back home and that was very exciting for me,” Meronk told CNN’s The Jazzy Golfer.

“I picked his brain a little bit. He was very kind to me, quite talkative as well, so I was quite surprised.”

What would you ask your idol? For Meronk, it was important to begin with competition advice, especially as Woods is a two-time Open champion at St. Andrews.

With the Open potentially not returning to St. Andrews until 2030, speculation had been swirling that the 150th edition would be Woods’ last at the Scottish venue, especially given his physical struggles.

The 46-year-old had made a remarkable comeback to the sport following injuries sustained in a car accident in 2021, with returning to St. Andrews his main focus during a punishing recovery process.

“I started with some advice on the course, some lines and stuff like that,” Meronk recalled. “Some advice on how to deal with putting when it’s really windy.

“Then he was telling me about his first Open at St. Andrews, because he asked me if that was my first Open.

“I asked him how he was feeling, how is his health and stuff like that, just casual stuff. He was very open.”

Meronk and Woods stroll past the St. Andrews Old Course Hotel.

The legendary golfer’s tournament ended in moving scenes on the Friday as, having missed the cut, a tearful Woods was serenaded down the 18th fairway by a heaving St. Andrews crowd. For Meronk, it was an ovation fit for the greatest of all time.

“Probably to most of the guys here he was the idol and still is to be honest,” he said. “With what he has achieved, I’d say he is the greatest in our sport for sure.”

Unlike Woods, Morenk’s time in St. Andrews went the distance. Enduring a nightmare three-over 75 start, the Pole roared back with an impressive 68 to make it to the weekend, where two strong rounds of 70 and 69 saw him record a solid 42nd place finish on his Open debut.

Meronk plays from the tee during the third round at The Open.

It marked the latest highlight of an excellent season for Meronk, his best on the DP World Tour since turning professional in 2016. After three-runner up finishes among a string of top-10 placings, the Pole emphatically laid his near-misses to rest with a three-shot victory in Kilkenny, Ireland.

“To be able to win on the DP World Tour was always a goal of mine, always a dream,” Meronk said. “To able to do it in Ireland, at the Irish Open, at such a historic event, it was a very great feeling for me.

“I had a great season this year, I was very close a couple of times, so it was also such a relief for me that I finally got it done.”

Meronk celebrates his Irish Open win in July.

As well as writing a winner’s earnings check for over €974,000 ($947,690), the triumph also penned Meronk into the history books as the Tour’s first-ever champion from Poland, a country not famed for its golfing prowess.

Comfortably Poland’s highest ranked golfer at 64th in the world, Meronk’s best ranked compatriot is Mateusz Gradecki at No. 341. After that, there is currently no Polish golfer inside the top 2,700.

“It did [feel historic],” Meronk said. “More and more people are following me back in Poland but also all around the world. There’s a lot of Polish people everywhere.

“There was a lot of Polish people in the crowd congratulating me and I received a lot of messages from back home, so that was really exciting and also motivates me to go even further.”

Meronk poses with the Polish flag after his first Tour win.

At 6ft 6 inches tall, Meronk uses clubs that are longer and have different lie angles to accommodate his towering frame. To counterbalance his natural bend over the ball, Meronk repeats a rigorous posture drill five times before each session. While his longer levers allow him to drive the ball greater distances, he believes his height presents a tradeoff in the short game.

“I’ll probably have to catch other guys with accuracy,” he said.

“I have to be working on that a little bit more, especially around the green and short game. So there are drawbacks as well, but I think I can hit a little bit further with the longer levers for sure.”

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