For the first time he seemed old. I mean, not old-old, like Warren Buffett, but old, noticeably older than his closest competitors.
Used to be when Tiger was tied or had the lead going into the final round, you knew he was going to win. On Sunday, after shooting a jaw-dropping 31 on the front nine, after working his way into a tie for first place, you knew he was going to lose.
Nobody cracked on Sunday because Tiger made a charge...except, maybe, Tiger. Tiger missed putts when it counted, which is what he does nowadays. He three-putted the 12th, missed a four-foot eagle putt on the 15th, scored one birdie and three pars over his last four holes. The winner, Charl Schwartzel, 26, birdied his last four holes and finished with a 20-foot putt.
Here’s a Masters Tournament quote from former U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger: “Tiger is creeping past his prime now. The next generation is coming, and they’re from all over the world.”
All right, I don’t mind getting on the bus early. Follows is a recap of Tiger’s late, great golfing career as told through Sporting Box columns.
From an August, 2000, column. Tiger won the PGA Championship after a three-hole playoff. It was his fifth major championship.
Winning the PGA is not how I came to realize that Woods, at the absurd age of 24, has moved to the level of Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali....
I drive over to Lindbergh Field to pick up a friend flying in from Portland. I’m a little early, step into the bar.... The bar is full. All tables, all chairs, all bar seats are taken. People stand along the walls, in some cases, two deep. Children are bunched up in the entryway, standing just behind the imaginary line that separates booze from minors.
I give up on claiming a seat, give up on an order, begin to back away when I catch sight of a television set. Tiger Woods is lining up his putt on the 18th green. No one in the bar is talking, no one coughs, every eye is locked onto a 27-inch television set. When you can crowd an airport bar on a Sunday afternoon, have men, women, and kids come to a full stop in order to watch you putt a golf ball, you are...you are Tiger Woods.
June, 2002. Woods, a child of 26, has won seven majors and has never finished second.
Never. And he’s only slightly less than perfect on the regular PGA Tour. There, his record, when leading or tied going into the final round, is 23 wins and two losses. Bottom line, Woods is the greatest front-runner in sports.
Give him the lead after three rounds and he’s going to crush you. Worse, he is going to make you be the instrument of your own destruction. During the last round, when tournament pressure becomes unbearable, he’ll play error-free golf. He’ll have a smooth, pleasant round, come in at one, two, or three strokes under par. You’ll be shooting double-bogies because you’ll have to take low-percentage shots hoping to make up strokes, because you know, like a dog knows dinner time, that Tiger is not making mistakes.
April, 2007. I’m still amazed at the shots he routinely makes and how mercilessly, sadistically, he drains the life out of his rivals. Along the way I have come to understand that Tiger plays another game, and he’s as good at it as he is at golf.
Have you noticed that everything you’ve read about Tiger Woods, every interview you’ve heard or seen, sounds as if his dialogue was written by an advertising agency? There’s no meat on the bones of his words, everything has been combed and brushed.
Follows are some representative Tiger quotes: “Amazing thing is, I love golf more than ever.” “I mean, as an athlete, as a competitor, you have to have that belief in yourself.” “I’m trying as hard as I can, and sometimes things don’t go your way, and that’s the way things go.”
The thing is, we don’t know much about him. Don’t know his fault lines or the places where he’s funny.
There is something weird about Tiger. He’s way too wholesome. Normally, you’d expect a kid who had a crazy father or, to put this in a kinder way, a kid whose father had him playing competitive golf at the age of two, to wind up hating Dad. If not that, at least the kid would rebel against the bastard, come back to him when he’s 30. Not Tiger, he kept his place and stayed in line.