AFP/Bethpage, United States
Tiger Woods plans to practice smarter and play less to keep his body fresh, but the 43-year-old golf star might change that strategy to reach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Sixth-ranked Woods, who snapped an 11-year major drought by winning last month’s Masters, seeks his 16th major title at this week’s 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
With the PGA settling into its new May date after moving from August, it’s only the sixth time Woods has not played between major starts, admitting Tuesday he wasn’t mentally ready to return two weeks ago at Quail Hollow.
“I’m always looking for breaks,” Woods said. “I wanted to play at Quail Hollow, but to be honest with you, I wasn’t ready yet to start the grind of practising and preparing and logging all those hours again.”
Woods, whose 2017 spinal fusion surgery ended years of back injuries, has plenty of motivation this week.
Woods could return to world number one for the first time since March 2013. He would match the all-time US PGA win mark of 82 set by Sam Snead by capturing his fifth Wanamaker Trophy. He would also pull within two of the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.
“Coming here is a different story. I was able to log in the hours, put in the time and feel rested and ready,” Woods said.
“That’s going to be the interesting part going forward – how much do I play and how much do I rest? I think I’ve done a lot of the legwork and the hard work already, trying to find my game over the past year and a half. Now it’s just maintaining it.
“I feel better when I’m fresh. The body doesn’t respond like it used to, doesn’t bounce back quite as well, so I’ve got to be aware of that.”
Woods, who will play only nine-hole practice rounds Monday and Wednesday, also says the chance to play in next year’s Olympics is enticing even if it might make him play more events next season to secure a spot.
“Would I like to play in the Olympics? Yes, I’ve never played in the Olympics, and I’m sure that I won’t have many more opportunities going forward at 43,” Woods said.
“That would be a first for me and something that I would certainly welcome if I was part of the team. Getting there and making the team is going to be the tough part.
“How many events do I play? Do I add a couple more to get in. These are all questions that will be answered going forward.
“I just know that if I play well in the big events like I did this year, things will take care of themselves.”
Woods has adjusted his workout regimen to his older, repaired body. “I end up spending a lot of time on my short game, a lot of time on pitching, putting and wedging,” he said. “I can swing a longer clubs easier and just make sure I have the feel and save it for game time.”
Woods spoke with former Super Bowl champion NFL quarterback Peyton Manning about coming back from neck surgery last year. “Just because someone doesn’t have the strength to do something, he’s going to figure out a different way,” Woods said.
“He has to do more work in the film room. I had to do more work on managing my game, my body, understanding it, what I can and cannot do -- and more than anything, trying to figure out how to be explosive day in and day out.”
That’s tough when Woods never knows how his back will feel any given day.
“Some days I have more range of motion. Some days I don’t. Some days I ache more and sometimes I don’t,” Woods
said. “There are more days I feel older than my age than I do younger.
“Being a little bit older and with the back the way it is, there are a lot of concerns.”
Woods says he’s not looking to return to his dominating form of old, but to make him old form more dominating.
“Whether I’m dominant or not going forward, that remains to be seen,” Woods said.
“I need to give myself the best chance to win the events I play in. And sometimes that can be taking a little bit more breaks, making sure I’m ready and able to give it my best at those events.”
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