Tiger delighted with his driver play

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The dawn-patrol, dew-sweeping practice rounds are not as prevalent as they once were, but there was Tiger Woods early Tuesday morning at TPC Scottsdale, floodlights on the driving range, itching to get on the course before the sun rose.

He struck his first tee shot in the gloaming, playing alone as had once been common, finishing nine holes before most people were barely warmed up.

But that was nowhere near the same as the interesting link to the past that Woods somewhat surprisingly revealed.

“I’m a lot longer than I thought I ever could be again,” Woods said about his driving distance.

Perhaps there is a bit of hyperbole in there. Or maybe Woods’ back is feeling so much better than it has at any time over the past two years that swinging freely gives the illusion of a longer tee shot.

But there is no mistaking the difference in a golf swing that was first apparent last month at the Hero World Challenge, then again in his brief practice session in advance of this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

“My driving has come around a lot faster [than expected],” Woods said. ” … My speed is way back up, and that’s fun. I’m touching numbers that I did 15 years ago, so that’s cool.”

Of course, there has been a school of thought in recent years that Woods was too obsessed with distance. That, as younger players began to hit it past him — and as he inevitably failed to gain or even lost distance — he got consumed with hitting it farther.

This inevitably led to attempts to control spin and hit the ball farther. Without getting into all the technical aspects of such a quest, more than a few observers wondered whether this is why he struggled with hitting the ball in play, with his ball flight and with his consistency.

And then there was the still-not-fully-known issue of just how much of a hindrance his back problems presented. At the very least, it didn’t help because he couldn’t practice, which led to other issues.

Although it is true that Woods does not need to dominate the driving statistics to get back to his winning ways, there is no doubt that it helps. The hallmark of his career has been taking care of the par-5s, and the way you do that is to hit a long tee shot that allows reaching the green in two. That means lots of birdies, even on days when he is not hitting it close.

Figuring out the short-game issues that plagued him last month at Isleworth and making a few putts will undoubtedly be factors as Woods tries for his 80th PGA Tour victory — as well as his 15th major championship — this year. But getting off the tee is no less important.

And it clearly has him upbeat.

“The happiest part? I’m driving it,” he said.

As for his time with swing consultant Chris Como, which began in November, Woods would appear to be pleasantly surprised with the progress.

“We have done some really good work,” he said. “We have a game plan we need to get to. Each stay … we’re ahead of schedule on the game plan, and that’s a good sign. Overall, I’m very pleased to go out there and hit shots. I’m cranking up speed. It’s going to be a fun year.”

It was just one brief practice round. And this is just one tournament, a place where Woods has not played for 14 years. His health, his optimism, plus putting it in play out of his usual selection of courses, should make for a good test this week.

Woods needs to see how it all works under the heat of competition, which is what his 2015 debut should be about.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/tiger-delighted-driver-play/story?id=28529416