In the past ten major golf tournaments, there have been ten different winners. Such is the nature of professional golf when Tiger Woods is not playing like Tiger Woods. For those who enjoy seeing parity in sports, this is as good as it gets. When it comes to golf, however, I am not one of those people. In golf there is no home team to root for, no team to hate and no city pride to defend. All I want to see out of a golf player is greatness, and of all the current players only Tiger Woods embodies that characteristic.
Entering the weekend, I was excited to see what Tiger could do after he had played his way into contention with a round of 66 on Friday. He was beginning to show signs of the old Tiger Woods, who was capable of suddenly turning on a switch and dominating the rest of the field at any moment. After he failed to make a surge on moving day, however, Woods went into the final day of the Masters seven strokes behind the leader, Rory McIlroy. I immediately lost most of my interest in the final round of the Masters, and I’m sure that many people shared the same sentiment.
Early in his final round, however, Woods quickly regained my attention. All of a sudden, he looked unbeatable. He was hitting his fairways and greens, and making big, dramatic putts as the galleries around him began to swell. With every big putt, the crowd began to show more and more excitement, culminating with his huge eagle-putt on the par-5 eighth. Before we knew it, Tiger had a share of the lead on Sunday at Augusta and all was once again right in the golfing world. Casual fans were gathered around their television sets willing every Tiger putt to go in. The crowds at Augusta were cheering him on with all the enthusiasm and excitement they could muster, as if the past year-and-a-half had been erased from history. Tiger was throwing around fist pumps like it was 2008, and the red shirt on Sunday appeared to have some force behind it again. It seemed almost inevitable that he would once again be putting on a green jacket in a few short hours.
Then, as quickly as the excitement started, it evaporated. Woods three-putted from inside thirty feet at the par- 4 12th, which included a heartbreaking miss on a three foot par put. It was one of his six three-putts of the tournament, which tied him for the most three-putts of any golfer at the Masters in 2011. Then at the par-5 15th, after a beautiful approach shot, he missed an eagle opportunity from less than five feet. Woods had a couple of other opportunities to pull closer to the leaders during the back nine, but ultimately his putting let him down. If he had been able to capitalize on just a few of those opportunities, every golf fan would now be raving about how the old Tiger Woods is back with a vengeance and here to stay.
Regardless of the fact that he failed to earn his fifth Green Jacket this past Sunday, it is impossible to deny that Tiger is making significant progress. This was in fact the best final round score of his career at Augusta. I won’t claim that he is back until he has another major under his belt, but this was a big step forward nonetheless. He hit 12 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in the final round. He was swinging the club with confidence, and the putts that he missed did not miss by very much. This has to be encouraging for Tiger, who hasn’t been able to put a meaningful round like this together since the incident with his Escalade that sparked the implosion of his previously secretive and well-guarded social life. Sooner or later, those putts that were just a little off line or a little too slow this weekend will start to fall, and Tiger will once again start winning tournaments and, more importantly, majors.
What surprised me most (although in retrospect it should not have surprised me at all) was how much everyone at Augusta seemed to be behind Tiger. When reflecting on what has happened to him over the past year-and-a-half, and how he has been constantly vilified by the media, it was almost surreal to see everything almost exactly as it was a few years ago. Just by sitting in front of your television, you could feel the electricity and excitement surrounding Tiger’s group. It is amazing how quickly and completely we are willing to forgive for greatness. With one of the greatest, if not the greatest, golfer to play the game primed for a full return to glory, fans should be very enthused about the rest of this season and beyond. Tiger should be excited about the rest of the major season as well. In fact, the entire sport should be excited because now that Tiger is relevant again, so is golf.