IS A GHOST A BY BRIAN WACKER

game by texting Fowler, Keegan Brad-ley and others like Love, with whom he recently shared opinions on Da-vis’ captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup...

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24-25 SEPTEMBER 2016 | THE BUSINESS TIMES WEEKEND

Tiger WOODS IS A GHOST

BY BRIAN WACKER

SCHOOLING CAN SWIM, CAN SWING TOO

OLYMPIC CHAMP PLAYS OFF A 9-HANDICAP

BT CORPORATE GOLF LEAGUE

SUNMOON RISES TO THE TOP ONCE MORE

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BY BRIAN WACKER

‘HE’S A GHOST’ TIGER SIGHTINGS HAVE BEEN RARE, PARTICULARLY ON THE GOLF COURSE

Illustration by Peter Oumanski

2015, when he shot an even-par iger Woods has not played golf competitively since Aug. 23, 2015,when nal round of the Wyndham Championship to tie for 10th at Sedgefi eld Country 70 in the fi final Sedgefield finished four strokes Club in Greensboro, N.C. He entered the weekend tied for the lead but finished behind 51-year-old winner Davis Love III. Since then, Woods, now 40, has undergone a then,Woods, second microdiscectomy, and almost two months after that a third “procedure” on his back.

8 | SWING BY SPHGOLF | 24-25 SEPTEMBER 2016 | THE BUSINESS TIMES WEEKEND

Golf has largely moved on, ushering in a new era with Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlory all trading headlines and the top spot in the World Ranking. Woods, by many accounts, seems to have become as private as ever. In the 20-mile strip of the Sunshine State between Jupiter and West Palm Beach to the south, where you can’t go to the local Chipotle without bumping into a Tour player, Big Cat sightings have become increasingly scarce since he has been on the shelf. These days, he leads an existence closer to Bruce Wayne than Batman. “I never see him,” says the coach of one Major champion, among other big-name clients, who lives in the area and is well-connected. “You don’t hear anyone saying they see him. He’s a ghost. He might as well be Ben Hogan.” Adds a trainer based in the area who works with a number of Tour players: “He’s more introverted than ever. He doesn’t show up anywhere any more.” Indeed. Fifteen minutes north of Woods’ 12-acre, 10,000-square-foot, $60-million compound is the Medalist, Woods’ home club. In April, there were reports that Woods was regularly grinding out four-to-five-hour practice sessions. By late July and early August, best anyone could tell is that Woods, after announcing that he would sit out the rest of the season and re-evaluate in the fall, hadn’t been there in a couple of months. “We’ve been trying to set up some games, but it’s been tough recently,” says Rickie Fowler, who also plays out of Medalist and is an active member in the club’s affairs. “Scheduling and things.” Woods doesn’t need to travel even that far to do some work. He has a simulator and short-game area to go with a sweet practice facility at home, but that tops out around 150 yards. And even when he was at Medalist, the reports weren’t promising. One former player, who has multiple wins on Tour and lives in the area, says, “I never hear good stuff.” A former Wall Streeter who played college golf and still carries a low-single-digit handicap says he saw Woods earlier this summer and adds, “It was so bad it almost looked like he can’t play golf any more.” Another source adds that the last few times Woods was practising, the range sessions were brief and the shots scattered: “He used to hit threewood up into the back corner of the range, same spot every time. “Last time, they were all over the place. It wasn’t good. Not like the old days.” (Woods declined comment for this story, as did his caddie, Joe LaCava, and swing coach Chris Como.) Woods’ restaurant, The Woods Jupiter, is a bustling, sleek sports-barmeets-nightclub a couple of miles away from his compound on Jupiter Island.

“We see him quite often!” says one of the bartenders, though she can’t recall the last time her boss was in. Neither can many of the patrons I talk to. Of the half-a-dozen regulars I speak with, only one has seen him — once. It is true, however, that the staff has seen him often. But not everybody has a private table in the back that’s out of sight of the rest of the patrons. “There’s been so many rumours about secret doors and stuff, but most of it is untrue,” an employee says. (Notice he said most, not all?) In the old days, Woods was a rock star wherever he went, doing things that had never been done in the game and hanging out with guys like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, taking golf to a place it had never imagined.

HIS BACK IS SO SORE. I THINK WE’LL SEE HIM SOMETIME NEXT YEAR, BUT I’M NOT SURE WHEN.

sary of his victory in the 1997 Masters, and other sponsor appeasements. But by nature these are things that can largely be handled in a series of phone calls and visits that do not occupy the bulk of one’s time. Inside the walls of his home is where Woods tends to spend a lot of his time, say those close enough to the Woods camp to know but far enough from his reach (not employees) that they’re willing to speak. That has been the pattern in the past. “He watches a ton of sports,” says Woods’ previous coach, Sean Foley, who was let go by Woods in August 2014. Adds Hank Haney, who split from Woods in May 2010 and later wrote a book, The Big Miss, about his years coaching Woods: “He played a lot of Navy SEALs-type video games. He’d have the headset on and everything. And trust me, he’s good at them.” Others who have stayed with Woods also say that often he will order in food instead of going out, spend hours watching programmes about the SEALs and sometimes suddenly disappear within the house for long stretches without a word.

TIME WITH KIDS

— JASON DAY

Sure, Woods is rehabbing a few hours a day, and he keeps tabs on the game by texting Fowler, Keegan Bradley and others like Love, with whom he recently shared opinions on Davis’ captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup. (Woods is a vice-captain for this year’s team.) He’s also heavily involved with his foundation. Other activities include his course-design business, an upcoming book on the 20-year anniver-

None of this is to say Woods is a total recluse. He has joint custody of his two kids, Sam Alexis, 9, and Charlie Axel, 7, with ex-wife Elin Nordegren, who lives nearby. When he has the children, Woods is by all accounts very much the doting dad. That includes taking them on a recent lobster-fishing trip to the Bahamas, where he often keeps his boat, Privacy, docked in the marina behind Justin Rose’s house, or attending

Sam’s soccer games or Charlie’s golf tournaments. On one such occasion in June, Charlie was playing in a nine-hole US Kids Golf tournament at Mayacoo Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, and Woods was there to watch. He walked slowly and took a knee or chair whenever he could because of his back, say observers, but otherwise was a parent like anyone else (except for the two bodyguards who accompanied him). Nordegren was also there.

WE’VE BEEN TRYING TO SET UP SOME GAMES, BUT IT’S BEEN TOUGH. — RICKIE FOWLER

“One of the guys I was with asked him when he’s coming back, and he said, ‘Man, I’m trying. I’m really trying,’” says Mike Forgatch, whose daughter was also playing in one of the events that day. “He was trying to keep a low profile but wasn’t annoyed at all. A couple of the kids went over, and parents were asking if they could take a picture with him, and he did a few of those. “Then we had lunch at the halfway house, and 10 minutes later this big, red helicopter took off from somewhere on the property, and he was gone. “We’ve run into Keegan Bradley and Camilo Villegas at Chipotle, Ernie Els at the movies, Jesper Parnevik at Five Guys. We saw him at the kids’ tournament or have seen him at his daughter’s soccer games but have never seen him around town.”

THE BUSINESS TIMES WEEKEND | 24-25 SEPTEMBER 2016 | SWING BY SPHGOLF | 9