Column: Woods is back, but maybe not the guy on TV

DOUG FERGUSON (AP Golf Writer)
The Associated Press

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) -- Tiger Woods couldn't have scored more points with his two children than when he took them to Miami this summer to watch Barcelona in a friendly, and then arranged for them to meet Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the locker room.

He described it as a surreal moment to watch his kids in awe of their soccer heroes, especially Messi, their favorite. It was a reminder of his own place in the world of sport when he said to daughter Sam, ''Isn't it neat to meet a living legend?''

Sam's reply: ''Yeah. We live with one.''

''I never thought my kids have understood what I've been able to do in the game because they always think I'm the 'YouTube' golfer,'' Woods said Tuesday. ''They've never seen me in action.''

His son, Charlie, was 4 when Woods won the Bridgestone Invitational for his 79th - and still his last - victory on the PGA Tour.

''Most of the stuff they've seen has been on highlight packages,'' Woods said. ''I want them to see what I've been able to do my entire career. I don't know how long I'm going to be playing, but I want them to come to a few events. I want them to feel it. I want them to understand it a little bit more.''

Woods is a YouTube sensation to more than just his own children.

He might as well add PGA champion Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and Daniel Berger to that list. They weren't on the PGA Tour in 2013 when Woods last won a tournament. The list is even longer of players who don't know the Woods that dominated his sport like no other.

Thomas was 7 when he was at Valhalla for the 2000 PGA Championship and the great duel between Woods and Bob May that went to a three-hole playoff. Thomas recalls hearing the roar of the crowd when Woods made a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff, which Woods considers the most important putt he ever made.

That was Woods at his best. That was the Woods that inspired a generation he now has to beat.

That was mostly a memory.

''I never played against that person,'' Thomas said. ''All I know in terms of watching him actually play golf is what I've seen. Until you're there and you stand and you watch the golf shots, you hear the sound it makes, you watch the putts, chips, then you really get an idea. But I guess we'll have to wait and see.''

Thomas will get that opportunity Thursday in the Hero World Challenge when Woods plays for only the fourth time in two years. Woods called him a few weeks ago and asked Thomas if he'd like to be paired with him for the first round.

What should Thomas expect to see? Not even Woods knows, having not teed it up in competition since Feb. 3 in Dubai.

Patrick Reed talks endlessly about the three years between the summer of 1999 and the summer of 2001, when Woods won 23 of the 46 tournaments he played around the world, including five out of eight majors.

''Not only did he beat people physically, he destroyed the guys in his group mentally. They completely unraveled,'' Reed said. ''Nowadays, that's gone away. All of us got to know Tiger when he was going through injuries. We saw Tiger when he was his most vulnerable, when he was trying to play golf being injured. ... I would love to turn back that clock and pop out for the '99 to 2001 Tiger. Because I was growing up watching it. I'd love to play against it.''

Reed is part of a generation that was inspired to play by watching Woods. In some respects, Woods trained the kids he now has to beat.

Do they think their games now are good enough to take on Woods in his prime?

''You'd be stupid to say you couldn't because you'd be doubting yourself,'' U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka said. ''He was very dominant. It's very intimidating when a guy wins so much. It must have been depressing when he showed up. You'd have a 1-in-3 chance of winning. I watched it growing up. I knew exactly how good he was. I wish I could have played against him.''

Assuming his health allows him to play a regular schedule, Woods would love that opportunity, too.

''In an ideal world,'' he said, ''I would like to have them feel what some of my past guys had to go against all those years.''

That's a tall order, and Woods knows it.

He often says that ''Father Time remains undefeated.'' He says the pain is gone after fusion surgery on his lower back. He appears to have freedom in his swing and power in his game. But he is not the same player on those video clips.

He turns 42 at the end of the month. He has gone through four surgeries on his back, four on his knee. He has gone 30 starts over four years without winning.

Can he ever be the guy on YouTube again? Can he be better?

''That's going to be hard,'' he said with a smile. ''I mean, I was pretty good.''

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