An old Vegas friend is on the phone, we’ve been happily slandering a mutual acquaintance. Comes a pause in the conversation, David fills the hole with, “What are you writing this week?”
“Trying to find something new to say about Tiger Woods.”
“HA HA HA HA HA HA.”
David has a point. But I push on. One should consult bookies on these matters, in this case Betfair, an Internet betting exchange based in London. On Betfair’s website, Tereq Quiroz writes, and I paraphrase...not since Tiger won the U.S. Open in 2002, has a player with real prospects of winning the tournament finished in second place.
Now quoting: “Rocco Mediate, Chris DiMarco, Shaun Micheel, and Woody Austin have all finished second to Tiger in a major recently. Without exception, these are the kind of players who go into a major with no expectation of success.
“I genuinely believe that years of being beat up by Tiger have left the world’s elite with mental scars they can’t overcome. Young players rarely do well at a major so that leaves us with the usual crowd of journeymen. To them, coming second to Tiger is success.” (This was written before 2003 U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk finished second to Woods in the Memorial, but I don’t think that shakes his premise.)
Woods returned to stroke play at the World Golf Championship — CA Championship at Doral in March, nine months after he won the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. He finished 9th at the Doral. He won his first title of the year two weeks later at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, closing with a 16-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win by one stroke. Two weeks later, he finished 6th in the Masters; two weeks further on, at Quail Hollow, he finished in fourth place; then an 8th place finish in The Players Championship; and finally, a second victory at the Memorial.
Woods’s 2009 scorecard: six stroke-play tournaments, two victories, four top-ten finishes. That’s a career year for anyone else, but in Tiger’s case, media world began wondering if he’d lost his game. The unstated but accurate assumption is there’s Tiger’s game and there is every other golfer’s game. Two wins, six top-ten finishes, the guy is washed up.
The funny thing is, HE did seem sluggish, off his game, un-Tiger-ish. Then came the Memorial and the return of Mr. Woods. What was interesting about the Memorial was not his victory — that’s hardly unusual — not how well he played, or how many fairways he hit, but what happened on the 17th hole.
Four players came to the 17th hole on the final day of the tournament at 10 under par. Tiger, one of the four, played first. On the par four 17th, he was on the green in two, thence drained a 9-foot putt for a birdie and the lead. Next comes Davis Love III, who failed to sink a six-foot putt for par and wound up with a bogey. Jim Furyk made par working his way out of a bunker. Jonathan Byrd had a great shot at a birdie, but missed a 4-footer and settled for par. Tiger walked up to the 18th hole with a 1 shot lead.
Four guys, each with an equal shot at winning the tournament with two holes left to play. One bogied, two parred, and one made a birdie. Woods made the birdie, and you have to believe that the memory of his repeated beatings, plus the fact that no one on the planet thought he would bogey 18, was at least partially responsible for the fate of the other three.
There are some Tiger touches to his victory. He won the tournament and tied the course record for the lowest final round by a champion and at the same time shot his worst round of the year, a 74, on Friday.
Here are two Tiger quotes after his win. I don’t think there is another golfer, anywhere, who could say the following without sounding arrogant. “It was just a matter of time.” “I knew I could do this.” Jim Furyk came in second and became known as the “low mortal” of the tournament.
Steve Williams, Tiger’s caddy since 1999, talked to a reporter, Rob Oller of the Columbus Dispatch, and caught part of Tiger’s edge. “As soon as he drives out of here tonight, this tournament is gone, finished, history. He’s thinking about New York, about the U.S. Open. That’s the way he operates.”
Tiger is 33 and has been on the Tour for 13 years. Considering the way he takes care of his body, Woods could compete for another 20 years.