Forum Spin Doctor
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Tiger Woods' year can be summed up in a series of snapshots on the 18th green at Royal Liverpool. One minute he thrust both arms in the air after winning the British Open, the next he sobbed on the shoulder of his caddie.
Even now, Woods has a hard time watching his most meaningful tournament of 2006, his first victory since his father died of cancer. He has seen replays, but only until he taps in for par on the final hole.
Right before the tears start to flow, Woods shuts off the tape.
"I skip past it," he said in an interview over the weekend. "I refuse to watch it."
Woods can find success in the record books - eight PGA Tour victories, including six in a row, two of them majors. He found loss at his father's gravesite in May.
If there was ever a case where someone could get Player of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year, this might be it.
The first half was a blur.
Despite winning his first two starts, Woods relied on others' failures, whether it was Jose Maria Olazabal missing a 4-foot putt in a playoff at Torrey Pines or Ernie Els hitting into the water in a playoff at Dubai.
At Doral, Woods won the day Earl Woods turned 74.
But as his father's condition got worse, so did Woods' game.
Even though he collected two more majors to run his career total to 12, it's the final round of the Masters, where he finished three shots behind Phil Mickelson, that sticks with him.
"That's something I still continue to think about, even to this day," Woods said. "It was my last round that my Dad ever watched me play. Knowing that going into it, if I could have given him one last shot, some positive memories before he goes, it would have been huge."
It was the first time Earl Woods did not make the trip to Augusta, and Woods believed then it would be the last time his father would watch him on TV in a major.
"It was the only time I saw him try too hard," caddie Steve Williams later said.
Woods three-putted the 11th to fall five shots behind. As he tried to make a late charge, he had a 6-foot eagle putt on the 13th that he missed, a 12-foot eagle putt on the 15th that he missed and a three-putt on the 17th - he had six three-putts for the week - that ended whatever hope he had left.
When he won the American Express Championship in October for his sixth straight PGA Tour victory, a British TV reporter asked Woods how he would remember his year. Woods didn't hesitate in saying, "a loss."
The reference was to his father. But if he refuses to watch highlights of his emotional outpouring at Hoylake, seeing a replay of the final round at Augusta National must really be painful.
What turned it around for Woods was three hours on a Thursday afternoon outside Chicago.
He had missed the cut for the first time in a major at the U.S. Open, and it wasn't really close. He shot rounds of 76-76 in his first tournament back after taking nine weeks off because of his father's death.
His next round was a pedestrian 72 at the Western Open that left him in danger of missing another cut. He summoned coach Hank Haney to the range at Cog Hill, and they went back to the basics.
"I said, 'Let's forget everything that's happened. Let's work on what we did at the beginning of the year that won the first two events, and let's get everything organized,'" Woods said. "We did that in one afternoon, and all of a sudden, it turned around. And boom!
"No other practice session was more important than that one."
Picking his best shot of the year is never easy.
There was that 4-iron on the 14th hole of Royal Liverpool in the second round that he holed for an eagle. He hit 3-wood from 266 yards into a gentle breeze on the seventh hole of the TPC at Boston in the final round, the ball landing 10 feet away for eagle that sent him to a 63 and an amazing rally to beat Vijay Singh.
Woods goes back to the range at the Western Open.
"There was a series of shots, but they weren't in competition," he said. "It was a practice session I had at the Western when I hit balls about three hours out there. I had about an hour where I really hit it. That was fun. I had every shape, shot, height, spin, whatever you wanted. I had it for about an hour. That's what you're always looking for.
"Then," he said, "I just built upon that for the rest of the year."
The rest of the year was as good as he ever has played. Woods not only made the cut in Chicago, he tied for second, two shots behind Trevor Immelman. It took another two months and six events before he played a tournament without going home with a trophy, losing in the first round of the HSBC World Match Play Championship.
Since missing the cut at Winged Foot, Woods has not finished worse than second in stroke play.
"He's winning 55 percent of the tournaments he plays," Fred Couples said. "He's probably ahead of Shaq's free throw percentage."
Woods' benchmark might always be 2000, when he won nine times, including three straight majors, and completed the career Grand Slam at age 24. Woods says this summer was better, considering what he dealt with off the course.
It was a year of big wins and enormous losses, a constant conflict between joy and sadness, all of which was captured at Royal Liverpool.
"I don't know if that's a highlight, me breaking down and crying," Woods said with a grin.
"Without a doubt," he said.