ORLANDO — It’s easy to see what Tiger Woods is doing these days. His T-2 finish at last week’s Valspar Championship was NBC’s highest-rated regular PGA Tour event in five years.
The soaring trajectory on approach shots, the low-rising, 2-iron bullets off the tee, the razor sharp wedge play – all of it is easily seen by the naked eye and helps explain why he’s competitive again at age 42.
How is he doing this?
Why has he been able to generate ridiculously fast swings, registering one last week at 129.2 miles per hour, the highest of any player so far this season?
Those are the more intriguing questions, ones which Woods shed light on Tuesday at Bay Hill ahead of this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I’ve gone back to a lot of stuff I used to do with my dad and how he first taught me how to play golf,” Woods said.
Woods parted ways with swing coach Chris Como in December and said he felt it was important to rely on the feel he had in previous years while rebuilding the swing. He wanted to do this on his own.
Now it’s clear he’s also been relying on certain advice and lessons from his dad, Earl Woods, who died in 2006.
“I finally have gotten to the point where my back is good enough where I can let my hands tell me what to do,” said Woods, who underwent spinal fusion surgery in April. “I’ve built this golf swing … with my hands. My dad always used to say that’s the only thing we have direct contact with the club, so trust your hands.”
Woods’ dad used to tell him to “putt to the picture,” when he was so young he couldn’t grasp the concept of inches and yards. That’s what Woods told himself to do at No. 17 Sunday at the Valspar, where he drained a 44-foot putt to get within one shot of the lead going into the final hole.
Now that he knows how the swing feels with his newly fused back, he’s gone back to relying on some of the first things he ever learned to do as an athlete. And his body is allowing him to do it.
“Playing baseball as a kid, you have to trust your hands,” Woods said. “I’ve trusted my hands again. My right arm and neck aren’t shaking because my back is out, my nerves are out, it’s inflamed. I don’t have those issues anymore. So I can trust my hands again.”
As for the newfound swing speed and what has allowed it?
“Dude, if I knew I would tell you,” Woods said. “All of a sudden it’s just happening. We think, amongst my inner circle, that I was living in so much pain I didn’t know it and I was just going through that slide of just protecting, playing around it and I didn’t know. I (used to think) ‘Oh, I hit that hard,’ and it’s like slo-mo. But to me it felt hard. Now I don’t feel like I’m swinging very hard, but it’s producing some incredible speeds.”
Woods relied on his 2-iron and 3-wood off the tee much of the week at Valspar, but he’ll need to work the driver into the rotation more this week at Bay Hill, where he’s won eight times.
Familiar as he is with the course, he hasn’t played in this tournament since he won it in 2013. That means Wednesday will be a heavy day of prep for Woods and caddie Joe LaCava ahead of his 8:23 a.m. opening-round tee time with Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama.
“Just because I won here eight times doesn’t mean I’m going to win this week automatically,” Woods said. “I’ve still got to do the work.”