It sure was nice to see that familiar red in the mix at the end of a Sunday again, wasn’t it?
Maybe he’s back or maybe he isn’t, it’s always difficult to know with him. It’s probably safe to say the old Tiger – he of 14 major championships and a dominance that was unrivaled in the sport’s history – will never be seen again.
But as long as that question can be asked, golf will savour every moment of it, as it did on Sunday when all eyes were on the American as he not only reminded us of his unquestioned talent, but also refreshed our memory of what the experience is like to see him compete in the final stages of a major.
Woods started the day at -5 under, four shots off the lead. That in itself was a promising sign for a player who struggled to even walk during his recovery from a back injury for much of last year. Just watching Tiger in with a chance on the final day was must-see TV, considering he hadn’t finished better than 17th (2015 Masters) at a major in five years.
That he actually held the outright lead on Sunday – his first in a major since the 2009 PGA Championship – and went into the back nine atop the leaderboard, set alarm bells ringing. To get there, he had a bogey-less front nine, just as he had in the third round on Saturday, to look like the Tiger that used to own Sundays with regularity.
But that’s where the dream died. Just when it appeared the stars had aligned for one of the best sports stories of the year, Woods frustratingly fell apart. As encouraging as his front nine was, his final nine holes were equally as maddening as he exhibited the same uneven play that has plagued him throughout this decade.
After a par on the 10th, Woods required six shots to finish off the 385-yard 11th, resulting in his first double bogey of the week.
Another bogey on the 12th all but ended his hopes for a win as, just like that, excitement gave way to disappointment.
Fittingly, his final hole of the tournament encapsulated the entire Tiger experience at the Open. During his tee shot, a fan yelled out and Woods was not happy. Just as furious, however, was every golf fan, and not necessarily because it violated the sanctity of the game, but because it felt like everyone was pulling for Woods to claim victory.
Tiger still recovered well to set up a birdie putt that would have earned him a top-five finish, but missed to settle for par – a fizzle of a finish to an otherwise intoxicating performance.
The end result would have been nice, but as the saying goes, Woods’ weekend was about the journey, not the destination. Even in his heyday, he didn’t win every single time, even though it felt like it.
As long as he’s contending in the biggest tournaments, golf is better for it. Especially from an American perspective, the attention of the casual fan is more dependent on Tiger’s form than anything else.
It’s not as if the game has died during Woods’ absence. There’s been no shortage of emerging talent among American golfers and someone like Jordan Spieth especially has helped fill the void, winning three majors and finishing second in two more since the start of 2015.
But Tiger is a different animal and the galvanising effect he has on golf fans is something that can’t be matched and maybe never will.
So yes, we don’t know if Tiger is back or if he’s here to stay. That the possibility even exists in 2018 though, is something the sport won’t take for granted.
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