For all the glowing positives surrounding Tiger Woods over the past 10 months there has always been a negative left hanging in the air.
‘Where’s the W?’
He’s lost his edge. Somewhere in the last five and a bit years he’s lost that winning edge. It was inevitable; the four back surgeries, the off-course concerns, the on-course chipping yips, he’s 42 for pity’s sake, his time’s been, all the young guns have overtaken him, all the young guns won’t get spooked by the GOAT.
Plus the very basic fact that he barely played from August 2015 to the end of last year.
This year he challenged at the Valspar, Bay Hill, Carnoustie and the PGA Championship and, despite everything, we nit-picked over certain shots at crucial times which somehow equalled a mind and body less able.
And now he’s done the lot of them at the Tour Championship, doing it the Tiger way, from the front and in a quite brutal fashion. This was supposed to be one of his toughest assignments, a new chapter where we could forget about some of our favourite Tiger stats – the 44 occasions Woods had held the solo lead after 54 holes and he’d won 42 of them. He’d never lost a lead larger than two shots, going 23/23 when he held at least a three-shot lead.
As it turned out it was just like old times. It was simultaneously as dull as it was thrilling. All those major wins where we knew the outcome midway through Friday afternoon seemed like yesterday.
While his closest rivals dribbled shots away, Woods’ execution was near faultless. He might have sweated buckets but he was as cool as the proverbial cucumber. The game’s greatest closer was putting on a masterclass.
Now 42 seems quite young, the Olympics in 2020 is on the radar, he’s edging his way back into the world’s top 10 and Jack’s major records will get plenty of name checks before we get to Augusta. A Vegas bookie has installed him as the favourite to win next year’s Masters, everyone else will likely follow suit in the coming days.
We all know the nuts and bolts of Tiger’s back story so it’s worth going back to March when he was dipping his toe back in the PGA Tour water.
“I didn’t really have a golf swing yet. I was still trying to figure out how to play. My body is so different than it was then, and my equipment is so different than it was then, too, as well, because of my body and because of my swing. I’ve gone through a lot this year to get myself to this point, and understanding and fighting my way through it, and I’m certainly much more equipped than I was in March because of what I’ve gone through,” Woods said.
“I felt comfortable when I got into the mix there at (the Valspar Championship) even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship. That didn’t really feel abnormal, even though it’s been years.”
For the record it’s been 1,876 since his last victory, by seven shots over Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson at the Bridgestone in August 2013. The following year was a write-off, he missed his first Masters since 2014 and he parted company with Sean Foley after eight wins together. In 2015 he missed his last three cuts in the majors, he wouldn’t get to start another until Augusta this year.
As for his back – has there been a day when he hasn’t had to think about it?
“Not for an entire day, no. There are certain shots I still think about it. More than anything, I just feel it. I’ll never be as flexible as I used to be. I can’t. It’s not moving. And so there are things that I’m limited by. I get reminded every day when I wake up in the morning that this is not what it used to be. But it’s a hell of a lot better than it’s been the last few years.”
And so to the Ryder Cup and some unfinished business, seven times Woods has represented his country and only once, at Brookline, has he been on a winning team.
His last input was a bogey at the 18th at Medinah to let Francesco Molinari in for a half and Europe in for the most unlikely of victories.
“I had worked my way back against Francesco, I was one down with a few to go, and I turned the match and I was one up, and thought my match would be the deciding point. Some of the guys had some tough losses. I wasn’t feeling physically well that Ryder Cup, and it’s where my back started bugging me. That’s the only wave I’ve ever missed was a Saturday afternoon wave, because I told Davis I just really couldn’t go. I said, can you put me out later on Sunday because I need the time to get my back organised.”
The scene is insane out at East Lake. pic.twitter.com/cr6F5rCf1J
— Skratch (@Skratch) September 23, 2018
The 18th at East Lake was altogether different, in truth it was like nothing else. Another bulleted drive down the fairway and, finally, there was the smile not just on Woods’ face but also on his playing partner Rory McIlroy’s. Fans swarmed in from every direction, the noise was through the roof, the whole of East Lake chanted his name again and again and again. His most impressive display was not giving way to the tears.
If it was the script for a screen play then you would easily suggest that it was too far-fetched. Which pretty much sums up the remarkable recovery of Tiger Woods.
Eighty PGA Tour wins and counting.