The smiles came easily for Tiger Woods during his third appearance at the Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge. Before the 14 time major winner pressed his first tee into the ground he warmly recalled his 25 year friendship with the tournament's host Notah Begay. He referred to his former golf teammate at Stanford University as family. Tiger said when Notah asks he gladly pitches in to help.
On the first fairway Tiger was smiling again, although this time at the misfortune of Notah's golf game which has gained a little rust in recent years as his playing schedule has diminished and his broadcasting time has grown on the Golf Channel. Begay's iron shot from the center of the fairway air mailed the green. That left Tiger shaking his head with Notah's brother Cliff, likely wondering whether he would have to carry the team in the best ball format.
Nearly three years removed from the Thanksgiving car crash that sent Tiger's life and golf game into a tailspin the winner of 74 PGA tournaments is confident his skills are returning to full form. This season he was won three times on Tour and contended in several majors.
When asked today at Atunyote Golf Club at Turning Stone about the way he is viewing his game at the tail end of a fairly successful year he said he is patient to stay the course because he has been down this road before with several other swing changes over the course of his 16 year professional career. When I asked Woods if he could explain why he was coming up short in the majors he reminded me that he has only been healthy and working hard on his game for about a year. Considering his new coach and new swing have also only been present for one season he feels like he is playing well and still improving.
Yani Tseng, the number player in the world in the women's game, has won five major titles since Tiger Woods won his last. When you see her strike the ball in person it's easy to see how she seperates herself from other women on the LPGA Tour. I asked her before the round if she has any advice for Tiger Woods on how to close the deal in major tournaments. After all he was either in the lead or near it on several occassions this year. Yani smiled and quietly deferred to Tiger and his list of victories which include 4 Masters, 4 U.S. Opens, 3 British Opens and 3 PGA's.
That litany of past success could explain why Tiger Woods was smiling during the exhibition match today. Even as some golf analysts question whether the old Tiger Woods will ever return, he continues to have the utmost belief in his ability and desire to be the best. After all, even with out a major victory this year, he is still one more win away from a likely Player of the Year award and Ryder Cup success this fall.