BETHESDA, June 25- Tiger Woods has followed the example of basketball star Michael Jordan and adapted his golf game while aging, youthful overpowering long drives now replaced by other skills and strategy.
“I feel old,” Woods admitted as he prepared to return from a three-month injury layoff in Thursday’s opening round of the $6.5 million US PGA National.
Citing then-14-year-old Chinese schoolboy Guan Tianlang’s low amateur turn at last year’s Masters, the 38-year-old American noted: “He was born after I won the tournament (in 1997). That’s just not cool.
“That’s what’s coming, the next generation. And they are taller, bigger, more physical, just like in all sports.”
Jordan, who won six NBA titles in the 1990s with the Chicago Bulls, altered his game from high-leaping slam dunks and acrobatic moves at the start of the title run to fadeaway jump shots and improved passing in later years.
“As I’ve aged, I can’t play the way I used to, but, just like MJ, I’ve got a fadeaway now,” Woods said. “I’ve had to rely on different parts of my game and strategy and understand how course management skills are improved, where to miss it, how to miss it.
“It has allowed me to be as consistent as I have over the course of my career.”
Woods, a 14-time major winner chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, must win next month’s British Open or the PGA Championship in August to avoid falling behind the age pace of Nicklaus for the first time in his career.
But Woods has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open, a six-year drought.
Nagging injuries to his knees, back and legs have forced Woods to be patient with injuries, never moreso than the microdiscectomy surgery he underwent in March to ease the pain of a pinched nerve.
“Listen to my body, that’s one thing that I have learned, stubbornly, over the years, that I have to do,” he said. “I just couldn’t play through this. In the past, I probably would have pushed through it and set myself back and then kept pushing harder and harder and harder until stuff breaks.”
Having two children with Elin Nordegren, who divorced him in 2010 in the wake of an epic sex scandal, has taught Woods much as well.
“I think about that old adage, with age comes wisdom, and I have certainly become much more patient,” he said.
“Having two little ones, that has definitely taught me a lot of patience and it has carried over into my golf. That part of me has certainly changed over the years.
“I just remember all the early years on tour when I used to run 30 miles a week and just push it, no matter how hurt I was. I would just go out there, still logging all the miles and do all the different things and still play tournament golf and I was winning, but I didn’t realize how much damage I was doing to my body. I have to now pick my spots when I can and can’t push.
“Before, when you’re young, I just pushed it all the time. But now I’ve got to listen to my body, listen to my therapist and then get treatment.”
Woods could feel the hunger to play growing as his body neared being well enough to return.
“As I got a little bit closer to feeling where I could compete, I was starting to get the itch,” Woods said.
“But I knew that I had to go through my own progression first.”