A day later than usual and with little tension in the air, Tiger Woods' press conference could be a sign he is in his new happy place.
Woods was relaxed ahead of the Farmers Insurance Open — his 2011 PGA Tour debut and played on a golf course where he's dominated even more than usual. The fact it was Wednesday offered a clue as to how poorly things went for him between the ropes in 2010 because his money-list standing pushed his pro-am time into the afternoon, hours later than normal, and his press conference a day later than the norm.
At very least, he handled himself better than his first appearance before the media last year. Back then, he gave that now infamous, stilted performance that one PGA Tour pro joked was like watching a parody of a Saturday Night Live skit.
"I, obviously, was consumed by other things in the last year," Woods said. "Had to deal with that.
"Life goes on and life moves forward. That is what's most exciting about this year, is having the proper perspective on things.
"And my [two] kids are doing great and that's my No. 1 priority. Golf falls somewhere down the list after that."
Tiger's Trying 2010
2010 was a season previously unimaginable for Tiger Woods. He relinquished the No. 1 ranking for the first time in more than six years and suffered his first winless and worst statistical season since he turned pro. He also divorced after being publicly exposed as a serial adulterer.
2010 was a season previously unimaginable for Tiger Woods. He relinquished the No. 1 ranking for the first time in more than six years and suffered his first winless and worst statistical season since turning pro. He also divorced after being exposed as a serial adulterer.
Cuts: 11 of 12
FedEx Cup: 12th
Money List: 68th
Ranking: 2nd (now 3rd)
Aside from saying he was looking forwarding to finally playing with a "clear mind," Woods didn't give much away as to what he was thinking. But what Woods is thinking may not matter as much anymore. That's because the young guns that now populate the upper reaches of the PGA and European tours bring with them remarkable talent but not the baggage between their own ears that used to clutter the minds of Tiger's rivals pre-scandal.
Back before the most expensive fender bender in history, it was easy to sense the dread most felt at the thought of having to face the former world No. 1.
Now, for all of Tiger's failings in 2010, it was the maturity of his young rivals that could be just as critical a development as his personal troubles that beget such poor play.
Whether it's German Martin Kaymer, the powerful Northern Irish duo of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel or American Dustin Johnson, there is no shortage of golfers with a combination of ability and a certain swagger that suggest Woods won't enjoy the benefit of his opponents rolling over when the heat gets turned up.
Beyond that group, English veterans Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and current world No. 1, Lee Westwood, form the core of what make their country the second-best golfing nation in the world.
Though a little older than the previous group — only Westwood was born before Woods — they range in age from 30 to 37 and aren't going away anytime soon. And if his cheeky tweets are any indication, Poulter is infusing a little fun into the situation.
"That's just Poults being Poults and that's fine," Woods said.
'Trying to get more refined'
Woods' Canadian coach Sean Foley maintains that Woods is well on his way back both in the confidence he now has in his game, but also because he is now comfortable with swing changes — the third such alterations he's made in his career.
"All [Foley and I] are doing is a continuation of what we've been working on and just trying to get more refined," said Woods, adding later that focusing on swing changes took away from the time he normally spends on his short game.
It's also easy to forget that Woods was a lot closer to winning last year's first two major championships than many give him credit for. Had Phil Mickelson not made the miracle shot out of the woods on the 13th hole at Augusta, who knows what he and the rest of the field would have done with Woods lurking late on Sunday? Woods ended up tied for fourth — same as his showing at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach two months later.
But Woods' play later that summer was a write-off, highlighted by the embarrassing 18-over par at the WGC-Firestone — his worst score in relation to par as a professional. He needed a captain's pick to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and he played just OK in Wales.
But as Woods' proponents are quick to point this out, he's just 35, a little more than halfway through his prime. With 14 majors in hand, Woods needs only to win one every other year and he will eclipse Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 before he's 46 — the same age the Golden Bear won his last in 1986.
Even if Woods only becomes part of the group of elite players for the next decade, he's still likely to finish his career — statistically, at least — as the greatest player to tee it up. So unless Kaymer, McDowell and Co. go on a collective Tiger-like streak, he's already put too much hay in the barn for the travails of 2010 to matter much in the big picture. Or so the argument goes.
With the big picture coming closer into focus now that it's 2011, that could be the biggest reason why Woods was so much more relaxed on Wednesday.[GALLERY id=4370 cat=sports]