The continued mellowing of Tiger Woods … Jon Rahm adds his chapter

Bernie McGuire
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Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods at the Masters (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

By Bernie McGuire, Albany, The Bahamas.

It is an old expression, and it was an expression I recall double British World 500cc motor-bike champion Barry Sheene once used and that is: ‘the people you pass on the way up, you pass on the way back down’.

It’s an expression one could use in all walks of life and Sheene drew on the phrase in describing a rival, who clearly was intent on caring little about those around him and focussed solely on riding his way to a championship title.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that and you could argue a Tiger Woods competing at his career best is a person Sheene could have been describing, as Woods muscled his way, between years 1996 and 2008, to a handful shy of now 148 victories around the globe.

It was like Woods was wearing blinkers and nothing mattered more than winning 19 major championships and one more than Jack Nicklaus.

However, in recent years, well prior to the events of early 2019, we’ve seen a distinct mellowing of the soon-to-be 47-year-old Woods.  The record-setting former World No. 1 has mellowed and that has helped, of course, also in becoming a father.

I can speak to this mellowing from a personal standpoint as from the late-2000s you could walk the practice round fairways alongside Woods.  I did this often in plying the PGA Tour and in travelling to report on him competing in China, Singapore, Thailand, Europe and on his visits to Australia.

One example being in late 2013 in the Woods versus McIlroy match at Mission Hills in China and soon after Brandel Chamblee marked Woods’ season a ‘100’ but then crossed it out and gave Woods an ‘F’.

‘Shambles’ backed down and apologised.  I walked with Woods on match day from the practice range at Mission Hills to the tee, and with Woods’ permission asked him for a response to the TV analyst’s grovelling apology.

Of course, you had to pick the right moment and it helped greatly that Woods knew you so that you could pose questions such as: “Hi Tiger, Do you mind if I can walk and talk with you?”. Woods’ response would be: “Sure Bernie.  What do you need?”.

Now in getting to the point of this article, we are learning how Woods continues to mellow by ‘opening-up’ to those who are by his side, inside the ropes at tournaments.

Super Spaniard Jon Rahm played the final round of this year’s Masters alongside the five-time Masters champion, in what was Woods’ 24th showing at Augusta National. In contrast, it was Rahm’s sixth Masters but then he was the reigning US Open champ.

Rahm went on to share 20th place while Woods ended 47th.

Though in being asked on the eve of this week’s Hero World Challenge, what he learnt about Woods’ ‘determination’ that April 10th Sunday afternoon, Rahm first was critical of the insensitivity shown by Augusta officials for putting the pair ‘on the clock’.

“I think the fact that we got put on the clock at 7 and he was somehow trying to speed up, I was looking at him like — we all looked at the official, like he can’t walk any faster, let’s be honest,” said Rahm.

“Like he was already doing an amazing job trying to move up and down those hills. We all joked around with the official and then when he turned around, Tiger takes off and I’m looking at my caddie, like, well, this is incredible.

“I’m not going to mention how much we had to wait on the second shot on 8, but I think the fact that he actually still tried to speed up that much even though he couldn’t really walk.

“Then we see the reality afterwards that the cameras don’t see. He puts on a bit of a show for the camera, like he’s not going to show how much he’s really hurting. When we finished scoring, just seeing him stand up and move around that room when there’s nobody watching, there’s a difference, especially after playing 18 holes and after sitting down when your legs cool off a little bit, it changes.

“It’s really inspiring. How many surgeries has he had where he was written off? He was done, he’s not playing again, he’s not only come back and won tournaments, right? It seems right now that we might be reaching that point, but I don’t put anything past him.

“He surprised me before and he surprised a lot of people before.

“I’m hoping that he can keep playing, he can contend again, especially major championships”.

Being put on the clock is not only what Rahm remembers, as there was an insight to Woods that I sought to ‘paint’ at the commencement of this piece.

“That Sunday’s going to be a fun one to remember,” said Rahm. “Maybe because of my comments in the past, he was a lot more talkative in that round. I don’t know if he was just trying to prove a point to me or not, but he was a little bit more talkative and he shared a lot of great stories, a lot of personal stories. I asked a little bit about golf and parenting, and he was very engaging.

“What is the word? He was very open about it and very respectful. It was great, it was great. It will be a round I remember for a long time.”

I too will long recall the handshake from Woods soon after Tuesday’s formal press conference here in the media centre at the Hero Woods Challenge, and after Woods spoke of a new source of pain in his body.

“Bernie? Good to see you”, said Woods with that smile that for so long has brightened the usually bland ancient club-and-ball game

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