The last time we saw Tiger Woods, he was withdrawing from the
second round of the U.S. Open with a sprained left wrist,
visibly weary from the effects of a long college season and the
academic demands at Stanford. But the Woods who showed up at the
Western Open last week was a giddy 19-year-old embarking on an
excellent summer vacation--healthy, clear of mind and eager to
play with the big boys again.
Woods performed ably, shooting 74-71 to make his first 36-hole
cut ever in a regular PGA Tour event (the Western was his eighth
such event over the last three years). He followed with a 77 on
Saturday, then rebounded on Sunday with his best Tour round
ever, a 69, to finish in 57th place, 12 strokes out of the lead.
Woods then rushed off for his first-ever trip to Scotland--where
he believes he just might do some damage in the Scottish and
While in Chicago, Woods worked to quiet speculation on two
fronts, the first being general concern that his gangly, 6'1",
150-pound frame was in danger of breaking down under the force
of his swing and the weight of his heavy playing schedule.
Before his injury at Shinnecock--incurred on a hard swing from
the rough--Woods in the last two years had undergone a knee
operation and suffered from occasional back pain. But last week
he insisted he has no chronic physical problems. "The wrist is
fine," he said. "I don't have any lingering pain. I'm still
growing into my body, and as I get stronger, the less I'll get
Woods also made it clear that the one-day suspension he received
from Stanford for an NCAA violation--he kept a diary of his week
at the Masters for two golf publications--was perplexing to him
but would not affect his plan to remain an amateur until he
obtains his degree. "I won't turn pro until 1998, after
college," said Woods. "The only thing that's annoying about the
NCAA is trying to get used to the rules and regulations, because
I've been used to one governing body, the USGA. But it's not
going to force me out, no."
Once he got on the fairways and greens of Cog Hill, Woods looked
more relaxed than he had in a while. After taking his last final
at Stanford, on June 9, Woods returned to his parents' home in
Cypress, Calif., to decompress. He spent most of his time
kicking back with childhood friends, his most ambitious project
being a 60-mile bike ride along the coast to Laguna Beach.
"Tiger needed to air himself out," said his father, Earl, while
watching his son hit bunker shots for 45 minutes. "Now that he's
relaxed and clearheaded, there's a real joy in his practice.
Working on his game has always been his first love."
At Cog Hill, Woods's mission was to work on flattening his swing
plane, the latest advice to him from Stanford coach Butch
Harmon. The shallower plane should result in a lower, more
penetrating trajectory on his iron shots, allowing Woods to have
more command in the wind. "The next challenge for me is distance
control," says Woods.
Not that Woods has lost any of his phenomenal length with his
driver. At Cog Hill, Woods's four-round average of 292.6 yards
was the third best in the field.
Woods can hardly wait to unleash his driver on the wide, firm
fairways of St. Andrews, but he is even more eager to test his
revamped iron game in the gales that blow off the Firth of
Forth. "All I can do is keep trying to get better," said Woods
after his frustrating third-round 77. "But every day is about
making little adjustments, taking what you've got on that day
and finding the way to deal with it."
If Woods can make the sort of adjustments at St. Andrews that he
made Sunday in the Western, the young star may produce some
historic rocking in the cradle of golf. --J.D.
COLOR PHOTO:PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER [Tiger Woods]