Woods addresses questions about former self

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- Most great golfers try to visualize shots before they hit them. Tiger Woods takes things one step further. He can see questions before they're asked.

But the world's top-ranked golfer is no psychic or soothsayer. He's just experienced in the ways of the media.

So when Woods strode to the podium on Tuesday for his 11:30 a.m. news conference at Baltusrol GC, site of this week's PGA Championship, with all the swagger of a 10-time major winner, he knew exactly what to expect.

As has been the norm ever since his mind-bending, world-beating, record-breaking, three-major-win season of 2000, Tiger Woods answered questions about -- what else? -- Tiger Woods.

Not just about himself, mind you, but about his old self, the guy who won by 15 at Pebble Beach and 8 at St. Andrews. He was queried on what's changed, what's improved, what's worsened. When each of those took place. How? Why?

Woods is, of course, but one man. Yet he is often -- 12 times in 30 minutes on Tuesday, to be exact -- asked to detach himself from himself and analyze what he once was versus what he is today.

Call it a dichotomy of a paradox.

Old Tiger (the single guy who worked with Butch Harmon and dominated in majors) has become a crucial subject for New Tiger (the married guy who works with Hank Haney and has again started winning majors), if not his favorite.

"I don't want to go back to 2000," Woods said. "I want to become better than that. And that's why I'm making the changes, you know, to become better. Not to become worse, [but to] become better. I'm very pleased."

Those changes include a different instructor and a different swing, but the same calculated on-course style. He wants to win -- needs to win, in fact -- and knows looking at the past has no immediate effect on his future.

"When I had my nice run there in '99 and 2000 -- I won 17 times -- that was great, but it can always be better, right?" Woods asked rhetorically (no one would know such a feeling other than himself). "People ask me, 'Are you there yet?' No. You never get there. And that's the great thing about it. You can always be better the next day.

"That's how I look at golf and how I look at life. You can always, always be better."

If that's true, his fellow competitors are in trouble. How much better can Woods get? After capturing eight major titles before his 27th birthday, he failed to win any of the world's four biggest tournaments over a 2½-year span, from mid-2002 through the end of '04, but was apparently just gearing up for another run.

The end of Old Tiger signified the beginning of New Tiger, and a renewed dominance has been unleashed this year. Woods won the Masters in April and the British Open in July, sandwiching a second-place finish at the U.S. Open, where he lost by 2 strokes. For the record, that's 403 other players that he has competed against in the majors this year and only one, Michael Campbell at Pinehurst, finished with a lower four-round total.

"He just thinks differently than the rest of us do," said Lee Janzen, who won the last major held at Baltusrol, the 1993 U.S. Open. "His best stretch of golf up until now was '99 and 2000 when he … seemed to just lap the field. There definitely was a perception that if he was in the field, he was going to win."

That notion isn't far from becoming reality once again. With a victory at the PGA, Woods would clinch the best season by a player in the majors, by the numbers anyway. His three wins and one runner-up would eclipse his own feats from 2000 (three wins and a fifth-place finish at the Masters).

And that's where New Tiger and Old Tiger are quite similar. Winning majors is a priority. Leaving a legacy. Becoming the best golfer. Ever.

Still, there's one major difference between Old Tiger and New Tiger. After all, the older version never had to answer all those questions about his former self.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com