Tiger Woods hasn’t yet declared when he’ll be returning to the PGA Tour following multiple back surgeries last fall. When the former number one player in the world is ready to return, there’s at least one person that thinks that Tiger’s swing won’t be the problem. Instead, it could be the biggest weapon and advantage that Tiger used to have when he was the most dominant player in the game: his confidence.
In a media conference call ahead of next week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, 25-time PGA Tour winner, two-time major champion, and current NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller said that Tiger’s comeback bid might be a little trickier than it would appear. Yes, the physical ailments that have plauged Woods over the past few years will play a part in how this particular comeback effort goes, but Miller thinks it’s much more than that.
“In the back of his mind, he is thinking ‘I might really embarrass myself.'”
Miller, who offered up opinions on many of the game’s biggest players in the call, gave his take on exactly how he thinks Tiger Woods should handle things when he returns.
“If I gave him any advice when he comes back, he should say ‘I’ve been working really hard on my golf and it feels good in practice, but I really can’t tell what I’m going to do when I tee it up. I hope to just make some cuts and build from there and see if I can get my game inching back to where it used to be,’ instead of, ‘I came here to win.’ I really think that that puts too much expectation on him.”
However, Miller is keenly aware how difficult that might be for someone as competitive as Tiger Woods.
“If he could just go the other direction, which is not in his makeup, by the way, but it would be good just to say he makes the cut, tries to do well on the weekend, and like I said, build and get your confidence back. Because going that other route sounds heroic, but it’s just so much pressure.”
The pressure has always been there for Tiger Woods. Since bursting onto the professional golf scene in 1996 and winning his first green jacket at the 1997 Masters in record-breaking fashion only a few months later, Woods has been the face of the sport and is one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. Miller acknowledged on the call how difficult it must be to deal with that on a day-to-day basis, which only adds to the pressure that comes with each and every comeback effort that Woods has attempted over the years, especially since he certainly hasn’t played his best golf in recent years.
“The eyes on him are there every possible minute, and it’s just so hard being Tiger Woods. It was not that hard being Tiger Woods when you’re at the top of your game and you’re winning everything and you’re outdriving everybody and outplaying and out-chipping and out-putting and gutting it out in the finish and making the pressure putts, that was probably fun to be Tiger then, but it surely isn’t fun at this stage coming back because it’s just too much pressure.”
Miller also says that the chipping troubles that Tiger had last year will continue to haunt him.
“When you get the chipping yips it’s sort of like always in the back of your mind, ‘Oh, I hope I don’t skull it or chunk it.’ There’s a lot going on in his head, and he’s so darned smart that he never forgets all the great things he does, but conversely, he never forgets all the things he does poorly.”
There’s a general feeling in the golf world that Tiger Woods will return at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament, which Woods has won five times, beginning on June 2, which is only two weeks before the U.S. Open. However, Miller feels that perhaps Tiger should wait until the British Open in July at Royal Troon.
“You can play it so many different ways,” Miller said, “and that’s kind of a course where it’s a little more wide open.”
Tiger Woods will be back on a golf course very soon. Johnny Miller just simply thinks that the 40-year-old, 14-time major champion just has to go back to the beginning.
“He needs to drop his expectations and just get back on Tour and in the groove and start building … almost like he’s 16, 17 years old again. Got to almost like say, ‘OK, I’ve got a new career. This is a new career.’ He’s starting a new career. There’s no doubt about it.”
[Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]