Tiger ‘pacing’ himself into busy stretch

Tiger Woods is likely to play in the Ryder Cup. (Reuters pic)

PARAMUS: Tiger Woods was ranked 656th in the world and facing an unknown golf future entering 2018 as he mounted a tenuous comeback following a fourth back surgery.

Less than eight months later, he is ranked number 28 in the world, coming off a second-place finish at the PGA Championship, and building momentum leading into his busiest stretch of golf in five years.

Woods committed to the first three legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, which begin Thursday at The Northern Trust. Sitting at number 20 in the standings, he’s in excellent position to qualify for the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, which is reserved for the top 30.

That tournament ends just five days before the start of the Ryder Cup, where Woods is expected to be a captain’s pick for Jim Furyk’s squad that will take on Team Europe in Paris. That means Woods is facing a stretch of seven events in nine weeks.

“That is a lot of golf,” he acknowledged on Tuesday at The Northern Trust in Paramus, New Jersey. “It’s about pacing myself and making sure I don’t practice too much, don’t overdo it and make sure my training schedule goes well.”

Woods has already played 14 events in 2018, his most since teeing it up in 16 tournaments in 2013. He said he put his clubs away for a few days after the PGA and spent most of his time watching his kids’ soccer practices.

“That is one of the hardest things of this year, trying to find the right balance. As the summer has gone on, I’ve gotten better and felt better. This is a pretty important stretch,” he said.

Woods is the only two-time winner of the FedExCup. He won the inaugural playoff event in 2007, missed 2008 due to injury, and then returned to win it again in 2009. He is back in the playoffs for the first time in five years.

“It’s exciting to play the playoffs again, it’s been a while for me,” Woods said. “Really looking forward to getting out here and testing it, and trying to work my way to Atlanta.”

The underlying story during the first three playoff events will be the jockeying for position for Furyk’s four captain’s picks. He will announce the first three on September 3 after the Dell Technologies Championship, and will fill the last spot on the team on September 9 following the BMW Championship.

Furyk has not committed to selecting Woods, although the prevailing wisdom is the 14-time major champion and seven-time Ryder Cup participant is a virtual lock for the team, for which he is already a vice-captain.

“I want to be picked, I want to be part of the team,” he said. “The interesting role here is that I’m a vice captain. So we’re talking about myself in the third person a lot. So that’s one of the more interesting conversations that we’re having. We’re having a lot of fun with it. But, yeah, I’m one of the guys on the short list.”

“I told Jim at the very beginning of the year that I wanted to be part of the team, and not just as a vice captain, but as a player,” Woods said. “I’m very close to making that happen. It’s been a long year, and that was one of my goals – to make that team. To make that team I had to be one of the 12 best players, and I’m trending toward that.”

Woods acknowledged that this year has been unique for him on many levels, from managing his workload and swing coming off several injury-plagued seasons to the reception he has received from fans.

“I’ve had excitement, I’ve had people into it over the years, but this has been so different,” he said. “Everyone knows that I’ve struggled, that I’ve gone through four surgeries and that I’ve tried to work my way back. And it’s been tough. People understand that.”

“They know that I’m at the tail end of my career. I don’t know how many more years I have left. But I’m certainly not like I was when I was 22. At 42, it’s a different ball game.”