Tiger on prowl for Presidents Cup success
TIGER Woods feeds off the energy of the new breed of golfing superstars who, like he did, have made winning a habit before it should be.
The 42-year-old, he turns 43 later this month, soaks it in when he plays with them, hangs out with them, and gets caught up in their non-stop texting.
He said it has "rejuvenated" him after enduring a torrid physical time in recent years which included episodes in which Woods, once the most dominant athlete on the planet, was unable to walk.
The 14-time major winner who won the Masters in 1997, aged 21, was even part of the WhatsApp group at this year's Ryder Cup after a near unbelievable playing comeback netted him a previously unforeseen spot on Team USA.
Half of that 12-man team was aged under 30 but all bar two of those young bucks are major champions, just like Woods. Jordan Spieth, who is 25, has won three.
Next December at Royal Melbourne, Woods will be their Presidents Cup captain.
He wants to be their teammate again, too, but first he has to compete with them, and beat them to earn his spot.
Back in the day, before multiple surgeries and everything else, that was easy.
But in this current incarnation, as exciting as it is for everyone in golf, Woods, still a fierce competitor, still expecting to win, knows the world for him has changed, and he has to adapt to it.
"Ï'm not going to play next year as much as I did this year, that was a bit too much at the end of the year and I wore myself out pretty good," Woods, who played 19 times in 2018, said on Wednesday.
Staring out at the 18th green at Royal Melbourne, with his hat on backwards, sunglasses on, he was beaming with enthusiasm during a quick promotional visit.
But he didn't even bring any golf clubs, keen to rest up for his 2019 assault.
It's still there too, that Woods wants to "get more wins".
He has records in his sights; Jack Nicklaus' 18-major championships, Sam Snead's 82 PGA Tour wins (Woods has 80).
But the method has changed. It had to.
"I don't recover anywhere near like I used to. That's one of the challenges is that I still think in my mind I can go and play golf all day and train all day and I can, but then I am suffering for the next couple of days," Woods said.
"Therein lies the challenge of being an older athlete, and one who has gone through numerous operations.
"It was one of the more frustrating things this year, I couldn't work on all aspects of my game in one day. I had to pick one aspect, but then couldn't do that for three days.
"More than anything for me it's about being able to recover so I can go hard at it for the 18 holes I do play.
"I don't have the excess energy that I used to have to be able to go run three, four of five miles post-round just to get my mind off how I played. It doesn't work like that anymore.
"The enthusiasm is still there. I love competing, I love playing, I love winning. It's just sometimes I can't marry up the body and the mind."
Woods' comeback was so phenomenal it brought with it renewed attention, the sort that disappeared while he wasn't playing.
He started to "move the needle" again, as only he ever has.
First it was by simply being in contention, early in season then again in two majors, including the Open Championship where he took the lead on Sunday and the PGA in which he finished second.
Then came the "wow" moment.
Woods won again, the win many thought would never come at the Tour Championship in September.
That stunning victory brought renewed expectation, that when Tiger turned up, he'd win, like he used to.
But there were 18 tournaments in 2018 when that didn't happen, and there will be more in his future, too.
Woods is OK with that, more OK than he would have been before, because of where he's been.
"No doubt, no doubt. I accept the failures of winning far better now that I have an appreciation for having the game taken away from me," he said.
"There was a number of months there where I didn't walk, I needed help to get around anywhere I went, and golf was never in my future.
"To now have had the opportunity to come back and play, and compete and then win, I have certainly a greater appreciation for my career going forward. I know I am not going to have another 20 years of doing this, my window is limited."
Winning is harder, too, because of the example he set.
"I think it is harder to win now, and every generation it gets harder to win because the gap is narrowing, the margin is getting smaller, equipment is getting better, guys are training, guys are getting more physically prepared," he said.
"It's getting more challenging to win now, and that's one of the things that transpires in every sport, the athletes get stronger, fitter, better, faster, more educated at a younger age and more efficient."
It's those young guys he loves though, young guys Woods, as their Presidents Cup captain, doesn't have to send a fax to get in touch with.
"Getting to know them via the vice-captaincy at Hazeltine (2016 Ryder Cup), as well as Liberty, I got a chance to be around them, to get to know them, and it's been a lot of fun. It's been rejuvenating for me," he said.
"I love their energy, the way they bounce around. Me being almost 43, I don't have that exuberance any more. I do in my mind, but it doesn't come out physically. And I love how close they are.
"I look back when I was their age coming on the tour and cell phones weren't a part of our lives yet. The communication was so different between the players, and between the captain. You couldn't get a hold of a lot of guys, you had to leave them a voicemail at home and hopefully they'd check it. Or try and get them via fax.
"Now they communicate via text back and forth, face time, their social media handles. They are closer because of it.
"That's what we did this past Ryder Cup. There was texting that goes on all day. You can create a group atmosphere where there is constant ribbing, and that's the fun part."
But not as much fun as winning and Woods knows that while his physical capabilities have changed, he still has the one club in his bag no-one in the game has ever been able to match.
"One of my strengths has always been my mind," he said.
"I know what to do in the game, I know how to get around the golf course, it's just matter of whether my body can do it.
"That's one of the challenges going forward, being nearly 43 and playing beyond that at the elite level, is to try and pick my spots."
And Royal Melbourne is one of those spots.
TIGER: IN 1998 WE 'GOT SMOKED PRETTY GOOD'
A rejuvenated Tiger Woods is desperate to play in next year's Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
And he hopes a more targeted playing schedule in 2019 leads to automatic selection for the December showdown.
Woods, 42, asked to be captain of Team USA after the 2017 event in New York, where he served as an assistant with his own playing expectations limited as he eyed off more back surgery.
But the 14-time major winner's comeback in 2018, after spinal fusion surgery last November, exceeded those expectations.
After contending at the Open Championship and coming second at the US PGA, Woods broke through for a storeyed win at the Tour Championship in September.
After a disappointing end to his year at the Ryder Cup, Woods conceded he played too much as his comeback took off and he surged from 668th in the world to 14.
But during a three-day Melbourne blitz the former world No.1 confirmed to the Herald Sun he would change things in 2019, because he definitely wanted to tee it up in Melbourne this time next year.
"If I happen to qualify in the top eight, then yeah, I'll play. If I don't, then it's up to myself, the vice-captains and the rest of the team who we fill out the roster with," Woods said.
"Those are going to be some interesting conversations if I am not in the top eight, whether I would be a contributor to the team or not. But that's way down the road."
Woods said one of the challenges as captain was to make sure all his players, including himself, were peaking for the end of year event.
He said it would be "fantastic" if that meant all 12 members of Team USA played in Woods' event in the Bahamas the week before the Presidents Cup, which is being staged at the same time as the Australian Open.
But he won't force them, and will do everything he can to make sure they are ready to go for Royal Melbourne as the US look to rebound from the Ryder Cup defeat.
"Trying to get the right 12 guys to stay sharp, and stay at it is crucial, because that's what we didn't do in 1998," he said.
"Too many guys took a lot of time off and we came here not prepared and we got smoked pretty good."