I didn’t want to hurry to write this, for I knew as soon as the final putt dropped yesterday everyone else would be starting their stories as well.
I can’t imagine being at the age in life where you got to witness peak Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Palmer, Trevino, Faldo, and now of course, Woods. That list includes some of the best to ever play the game, and many out there have been lucky enough to witness all their individual greatness. As for myself, let’s put it this way, I’ve been alive for all of Tiger’s major victories, but maybe could only fully appreciate the past two decades. After not knowing if he could ever play again, the appreciation for every moment of Tiger Woods career is growing more every round.
In the past years, many people seemingly ruled Tiger out from winning ever again. His string of injuries and hardships only seemed to set him back further each time. Of course, in Tiger fashion, he proved all the doubters wrong last year with his first win in 5 years at the Tour Championship. Proving he still had the game.
It really makes me wonder. During those years of struggle and pain, just how hurt was Tiger? I don’t think anyone can question his toughness, whether it be from winning the U.S. Open on a broken leg, or going through Navy Seal training, Tiger has always seemed to be a step ahead not only mentally, but physically. Many questioned Tiger and his toughness after multiple tournament withdrawals, and some even thought his charade was turning into a joke. Tiger was hurting bad, but his competitive spirit was hurting as well. Tiger knew how close he was, and what he could be when he was healthy. He wanted it back so bad, and his competitive spirit wouldn’t let him take that time to properly rest. He was chasing majors and wins, so can you blame him for wanting to play through the pain?
When Tiger won the Master’s in 97’, he claimed, “I’ve never won a tournament playing with my A game all week, but this was pretty close.” I don’t believe Tiger won with his A game this week. His putting was short of spectacular, and to be quite honest, if he could have made a putt within 10 feet on Thursday and Friday, he probably would have been leading by multiple strokes heading into the weekend. What separated Tiger was that he lead the field with 54/72 greens hit for the week. A prime ball striking week that lead to 2 putt pars, and a lot less difficult up and downs around the greens of Augusta National.
We always talk about Tiger’s ability to go to another level mentally. He can enter a zone that 99% of people in this world can’t even touch. There’s an old quote from a movie, The Sandlot, about Babe Ruth, which read, “People say he was less than a god, but more than a man.” When it comes to mental toughness, Tiger seems to have something more than the rest of us. Earl Woods once said, “He will never meet someone more mentally tough than he is in his life.” To stand on the tee at Augusta National and stare down all the young guns who he just couldn’t “compete” with anymore, and deliver an old fashioned mental thrashing, it was so pure.
In the movie Tin Cup, the main character Roy McAvoy defines a “defining moment” as a situation where, “you define the moment, or the moment defines you.” In un-typical Tiger fashion, the defining shot of this Masters wasn’t a wild cut shot from the trees, a long eagle putt, or a chip-in under pressure. As a matter of fact, it was probably his most simple defining moment yet. Heading into Hole 12, Tiger was still 2 behind. In the group in front, both Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter hit it in the water, dropping 2 shots each. Tiger, who was second to tee off, then watched Francesco Molinari dump it in the water as well. This was his chance. In dominant Tiger fashion, he must go right at the pin here and stick it, only to take the lead after a possible 3 stroke swing. Not this time, and that’s what makes this defining moment different. Tiger elected to aim to the middle of the green, the safe play. Tony Finau followed Tiger off the tee, and dumped it in the water as well. This was the moment I knew Tiger Woods was not losing the 2019 Masters tournament, and he knew it too.
The back nine on Sunday was so vintage Tiger winning that it brings chills just thinking about it. Coming from behind, he was patient. He didn’t take chances, but attacked in the right moments, and waited. We’ve seen so many crumble under the pressure of Tiger, and they did it again Sunday. They charged up the leaderboard and made their birdies, but in the end, Tiger’s iron play was too strong and helped position himself hole after hole in the right spot. Even Molinari, who seemed untouchable through most of the day, faltered down the stretch. The powerful Brookes Koepka gave himself chances, but couldn’t get putts to drop. Dustin Johnson made a charge, but it was just a little too late. The young guys, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele made their respective charges, but opportunities ran out down the stretch. There stood Tiger, in control of his game, and watching those make the mistakes around him. They said the young guys wouldn’t do that. “They” said it.
The back nine execution Tiger displayed on Sunday was second to none. The ability to find his zone, and take total control over every aspect of his game was incredible to watch, and you would have thought he was back in his prime. For that 2+ hours, he didn’t seem like a 43-year-old. He didn’t seem like he’d been through multiple surgeries. He didn’t seem like he had to start all over again with his life and game. He seemed like Tiger Woods. The most dominant athlete many of us have ever seen.
You’ll see the social media clips in the coming days of the so-called golf experts saying Tiger would never be the same, nor would he ever win again. The thing is, he knew he would win again. He knew all he had to do was get healthy, and all this was possible. That he, at 43-years-old could be the best in the game again. He proved us wrong, all of us. In a generation where we want to be so quick to don the next “great one” in each sport, we may never see another athlete like Tiger Woods again in any sport. We are lucky and blessed, to have witnessed the career of Tiger Woods. Take it all in.