Tiger Woods is human
Don’t quite know how to say this without being tried in the court of public opinion for third-degree blasphemy, but get this: Spent six days in Charlotte last week, U.S. Open-type venue, U.S. Open-type field, and made the most amazing discovery.
Tiger Woods – are you sitting down? – is, well, dare we say, human.
There. Said it. That’s right. Put it in big 72-point type atop the page: Dewey defeats Truman. Man Lands on Moon. Tiger Woods, mortal.
One of us.
At the Wachovia Championship, he spent more time in the woods than Paul Bunyan, more time in the high weeds than Willie Nelson. A few weeks ago, Woods was in North Carolina for five days of special ops training at nearby Fort Bragg. He continued that theme at Quail Hollow, playing Army golf – as in left, right, left, right . . .
Tired of “getting stuck” on his downswing and hitting occasional shots farther right than Pat Buchanan, Woods, ever the perfectionist, has decided his swing needs tweaking. Not the complete engine overhaul, but just, oh, a tire rotation. Here’s a guy who, seven months shy of his 29th birthday, has won 40 PGA Tour events – five or more each of the past five seasons – but has decided to pursue a new path to golf’s Holy Grail.
Woods’ working mantra from city to city: “I’m close.” A solid finish Sunday (68) kept Woods from going four starts without a top 10 for the first time since 2001. But in watching Woods hit only 24 fairways over four days at Quail Hollow – that’s eight misses a round, folks – it appears, at this point anyway, with the U.S. Open at ultra-demanding Shinnecock Hills just weeks away, that the only thing he’s close to replacing is Leonard Nimoy as host on “In Search Of.”
The most intriguing development isn’t the Nike golf balls he’s been depositing in water hazards from Bay Hill to Charlotte, but the layers of steel that are beginning to peel off his once impenetrable suit of armor. His competitors, who once cowered upon seeing Woods’ name on the leaderboard (or at the very least, began plotting the best route to second place), now see a man who appears vulnerable. At times, even beatable.
Take the Wachovia. On the heels of a truly magical putting round (22 putts) and a second-round 66 that pushed him to a two-stroke lead at the tournament’s midway point, Woods did the unthinkable Saturday, tumbling all the way off the board with a 3-over 75. The last 18 times he’d held a lead after 36 holes, he’d closed the deal 18 times. (Take that, Eric Gagne.) This time, his two-shot lead was gone by the time he got to the fourth tee.
Tiger Woods, mortal.
“He’s experiencing sort of the ebb and flow that exists in the game that all of us experience on a more regular basis,” said Notah Begay III, his Stanford teammate and close friend. “I mean, it’s just proving that he is mortal to a certain extent, but I think a player of his caliber and his work ethic and competitive drive, he’s going to do whatever it takes to acquire that edge that he’s had for so long.”
Short of getting out the Telestrator and assembling the panel of Leadbetter, Smith, Kostis & Harmon, we bring you this insightful, in-depth analysis of what’s going on with Woods: Something is missing. We all know he’ll work tirelessly to try to relocate it.
But bottom line, right now, it’s not there.
Superman’s “S” is missing from his chest, and as he stands there clad in just a red cape, he’s looking a little miffed.
Complicating matters is the fact that for the first time in years, somebody stands at his door, just as determined as he, maybe more so, trying to smash it down. Vijay Singh is running like an oiled machine, and has a work ethic second to none. There he was Thursday, drenched in sweat, rolling practice putts into a cup half the diameter of a normal hole in the blazing sun at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. No big deal? He had already been at the course for nearly 10 hours. The gap in the convoluted World Ranking has narrowed to the point where Singh, who has won three times to Woods’ once this season, could overtake Woods around the U.S. Open.
“It’s closer now than it’s ever been,” said Singh, already No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.
Right now, Sunday’s finish aside (Woods tied for third, Singh 10th), Singh is playing more solidly, more consistent. And Woods admits, inevitably, a day will come when he’s looking up at somebody else. We just thought it was going to be sometime around 2020.
“It’s a fact I won’t be No. 1 in the world forever; either someone flat outplays me or I might not play at the same level, or old age takes over,” said Woods. “Whatever the circumstances, I don’t know, but whatever they are, it’s going to happen. Every streak comes to an end. That’s just a fact of life.”
Of course, Woods’ “struggles” are the type we’d all like to endure. To stave off Singh’s charge and get the last laugh would be typically Woodsian, would it not? But the clock ticks. Only once since 1996, when he was a student at Stanford, has he gone to a U.S. Open without at least three worldwide victories. In nine starts this year, he has won once, and contended only one other time.
That was Sunday at Wachovia, when he was the hard-throwing pitcher without his best fastball, climbing the leaderboard on grit and heart and determination. He took a 5-iron right at the flag tucked against the water at the 217-yard 17th, playing like a man who didn’t need the money, and he pumped his fist when his 30-footer found the hole. He he comes. Game on.
The stage was set perfectly for another magical Woods finish, another entry for the bulging scrapbook, as he stood upon the fairway at 18 with a pitching wedge in his hands after a vintage bomb off the tee, staring down the flagstick. But you know how this one finished. Different script.
His shot hit short and right and meekly rolled off the front of the sloped green. The chip stayed out.Very un-Tigerlike. Almost, well, human.
We can only deduce he is learning what other PGA Tour pros have known for years.
It’s hard chasing Tiger Woods. Especially, these days, when you are Tiger Woods.