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Tiger Woods ready to rule again

Tiger Woods who did a passable impersonation of King Lear on this course last year, now talks of the “beautiful juggling act” of golf, love and parenthood.


The tempest that seemed to be blowing the most recognisable figure in world sport into a premature oblivion has abated to the point where the new world No 1 can now say: “Life is better.”

The cold, corporate Woods with the secret double life has vanished. In his place stands a reborn 37-year-old who seeks a second sporting prime, a first major title since 2008 and his first Masters crown for eight years.

If a new relationship with the Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn looks like one of the reasons for Woods’s return to the No 1 ranking, so does the restoration of his role as father to his two children, five and four.

This is not media supposition. Woods says so himself: “Life is better since I’ve had kids. People who are parents in here will certainly attest to that; that’s the joy in life, and to be able to be a part of their life and watch them grow and help them grow. Getting out there and taking them on the golf course with me every now and again, they will have a great time.

“To me that’s what it’s all about. That’s how I was introduced to the game, and that’s how I built such a great relationship with my father, to be able to spend that quality time out there on the course like that. I’ve been lucky enough to have a nice little set-up in the backyard, so I can hit a few wedge shots and the kids will come out and enjoy it as well.”

Golf is his Old Vic, at home as much as in sport, so nobody could be surprised to see him using the fairways and greens of Florida to grow closer to his children post-divorce.

“I think life is all about having a balance, and trying to find equilibrium and not getting things one way or the other, and I feel very balanced,” he said on the eve of a tournament that could usher in a second reign for the holder of 14 major titles.

Curtis Strange, a two-time US Open champion, has said: “The biggest and the best storyline so far this year is the re-emergence of Tiger — of dominance and, I think, intimidation.”

Is the old terror back? Woods has won six tournaments in his last 20 starts to regain top spot from the Rory McIlroy generation.

Forty years on from the first of Jack Nicklaus’s six Masters victories, Woods is unrecognisable from the tortured soul who kicked a club across a tee here 12 months ago and finished tied for 40th: his worst show as a professional in the Georgia pines.

Back in 1995 Nicklaus predicted that Woods would win more Masters titles than him and Palmer combined (10), but the young genius who skated home here by 12 strokes in 1997 has not sported the Green Jacket since 2005.

He remains four adrift of Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles. And many doubted whether he would ever win a 15th after the sex scandal of 2009 and serious injury problems conspired to bring him down.

The return to world No 1, he maintains, vindicated his belief that injuries and swing changes were the real causes of his decline.

“To battle the injuries that I’ve come through and to get through all that and to win enough golf tournaments to get to that point is something I’m very proud of,” he says. “I’m excited that at this point in my career that I’ve been able to get healthy and to be able to give myself another chance.”

There was never a doubt, he says, that he would return to the top of the pile: “No, there wasn’t, because I wasn’t physically capable of doing it (winning). I wasn’t healthy enough.

“Couldn’t practice, couldn’t play, sat out major championships and just wasn’t able to do any of the sessions that I needed to do to improve. And I was making a swing change with Sean (Foley, his coach). So all that happened at the same time. Once I started to be able to practise, things turned and they turned quickly.”

As Sports Illustrated points out, since 2010 Woods has changed his swing again, his coach, his caddie and his home. He has been through a divorce and recovered from knee and Achilles injuries. Across the full span of his troubles he collapsed to No 58 in the world and displayed all the features of a persecution complex on the course.

When an old line about “winning fixing everything” was repeated to him here he recognised the underlying arrogance of the slogan and sought to defuse it: “Well, I’ve said that since the beginning of my career.

“That’s something you guys have asked me about: what does it take to become No  1, player of the year, money title and all that, and I’ve said that from the very get-go when I first turned pro. That was an old quote that Nike put out there and people jumped on it.”

Woods first chugged down Magnolia Lane to this man-made paradise in 1995 and it will always be the tournament that defines him.

“Yeah, scary. Coming up on my 20th Masters,” he said. “I never would have foreseen that when I first came here at 19-years-old. It was a bit overwhelming to play here and to be part of the Masters, to stay in the Crow’s Nest and accidentally run into the champion’s locker room and all those different things.

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