All right, all you Tiger fans grab that end of the rope and all you haters grab the other end. At the count of three, start pulling and let’s see where we get.
Chances are, the rope is not going to move much in either direction but we do know that the needle is moving again and that’s thanks to Woods’ winning the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago. It’s been said that Tiger not only moves the needle but he is the needle, and there’s a great deal of truth in that.
Everyone wants to know if Woods is really back this time, but it doesn’t matter if he’s returned to where he was in 2000 or 2005 or ’06. He’s back in the serious conversation and that’s what really counts.
Golf is in a much better place when he’s in the mix and, like him, love him or none of the above, professional golf and Tiger Woods go together like grass and fertilizer because one needs the other to be of its highest use.
The U.S. Open is this week and no one is being careful to talk in whispers as to whether Woods can be a factor at The Olympic Club. Because, remember that he won at Bay Hill in March and stunk up the place at The Masters the next month in his next start.
When Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it looked like everyone else kind of moved out of his way on a brutal weekend on a tough course. No one challenged him in the least. At the Memorial, he birdied three of his last four holes on Sunday – including the miracle pitch-in at the par-3 16th to snatch the title for his own.
And therein lies the difference. It’s exactly why Woods is at least one giant step out of the woods as far as his golf game is concerned. Will he appear on the leaderboard at Olympic? Only he knows and he’s not entirely certain, at least not yet.
Tiger 3.0 or 4.0 or whatever he is at the moment is not new and improved. At best, he’s a reclamation project. Woods spent three years at the lowest point of his career, personally and professionally. Through the injuries and the rebuilding of his golf game, he has endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and is on the verge of coming out on the other end. Whether he’s a better player and/or a better person is not readily apparent. But say this much: He is different.
All this time, he has been questioned and second- and third-guessed by everyone who knows anything about golf and even by some who know nothing about golf. Why he would so radically change his swing was not understood by most. And why in the world would instructor Sean Foley change Tiger’s short game when he was the best player around the greens maybe ever. Absolutely no one fathomed that.
Tiger’s endless mantra was that he needed reps (to work on his “traj”) and that hitting balls on the range wasn’t nearly enough for him to get comfortable with his new action. But he wasn’t playing that much more on Tour. In fact, if you’ll notice, almost half of his 73 Tour victories are on five courses – seven at Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational), seven at Torrey Pines (Farmers Insurance Open, U.S. Open), seven at Firestone Country Club (WGC Bridgestone Invitational) five at Doral (WGC Cadillac Championship) and five at Muirfield Village (Memorial Tournament.).
Woods almost never plays a regular Tour event where he doesn’t have a great deal of success. You can view that as smart business or chicken stuff, you work that out for yourself. Either way, it’s a successful formula.
But the U.S. Open at Olympic isn’t in his comfort zone and he’s going to have to find a way to get his ball in the fairway down those narrow corridors if he is to have any kind of a chance this week.
If you noticed, Woods didn’t hit many drivers off the tees at the Memorial, instead opting for 3-woods and long irons to put himself in the fairways. If you will remember, Tiger won the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool by barely taking his driver out of his bag. He 2-ironed it off the tee 10 or 12 times a round and beat everyone’s brains out, which he could have done every week, if he wanted to.
Don’t be at all surprised if he employs the same battle plan at Olympic. And if he does, the way he hit his irons at the Memorial, he will be squarely in the conversation come the weekend.
It was only about 20 minutes ago that people were saying, loudly, in fact, that Woods’ chances of catching Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships were about the same as a dog catching a car. The naysayers don’t have to be convinced just yet but they must be reconsidering or at least wondering.
The believers continue believing and the tug-o-war continues in earnest.