The Great Tiger Woods Debate

June 4, 2012

It was a gesture that had not been seen in almost three years. The famous fist pump, as much an indicator to competitors that they have no shot at winning as it is a signal of joy from the man who unleashes it, returned to golf Sunday afternoon in Dublin, Ohio.

Tiger Woods appeared to be his old self on Sunday, shooting a 5-under 67 to make up a four stroke differential that he started with at the beginning of the day. However, the final score will largely be an afterthought thanks to the final four holes of Woods’ round.

It started with a birdie on the par-5 15th to pull within one of leader Rory Sabbatini. Then, facing an extremely difficult second shot from deep in the rough on the 16th hole, Woods added a clip for the career highlight reel. Follow that up with a par on the tricky 17th and a birdie on the 18th for good measure, and Woods was shaking the Golden Bear’s hand for a fifth time.

It was as if the shot on the 16th represented the last three years of Tiger’s career. In an ugly position to start, nothing but a perfect flop would satisfy the golf gods. You could hear them saying “if you want to get back to the top, you’re going to earn it.” As the shot rolled slowly towards the hole, the reality that it might actually fall in became more and more apparent. Then, the pinnacle; the ball rolled into the cup, and the Tiger Woods that we came to know and love was back.

But is he really back? We have seen this once already this season. Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational back in March, his last tune-up before the Masters. He followed that win up with a lackluster performance in Augusta signaling that, no, the Tiger of old had not yet returned.

Unlike at the Arnold Palmer, the sports world was watching this time around. Fans overreacting over one strong performance? Never heard of it.

Skepticism aside, however, there was something about Tiger’s performance yesterday afternoon that felt familiar. That air of invincibility when he hits a tough shot and everyone in the crowd knows he has the tournament locked up seemed to be present. The pure exuberance displayed by a man who, quite frankly, hasn’t had much to be happy about in a long time was definitely present.  

In winning the Memorial Tournament, Woods tied Jack Nicklaus for second on the all-time wins list with 73. While doing so at the tournament Nicklaus built from the ground up could be construed as the ultimate “in your face” to a rival from a different generation, we all know there is still work to be done. At 36-years old with a surgically repaired left knee, Woods is in a race with the clock to best Jack’s record of 18 major titles.

No one can be sure how fast the clock is ticking or how close it is to striking midnight. However, on Sunday it appeared as though it might be slower and further away than we previously estimated.

The casual golf fan wants this. The PGA Tour wants this. Tiger Woods undoubtedly wants this. But buyer beware: one round, one shot, of brilliance isn’t enough to tell. It can only serve as the defibrillator to a career that was in desperate need of a jumpstart.

Woods will likely be a favorite at the next tournament he enters, the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. His performance there will dictate whether public opinion remains positive or shifts back to the negativity that has been the norm for the past two years.

Until then, let the debate continue.

– K. Becks

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