Monday, April 15, 2019

Can't hold that Tiger

I was thinking about this earlier today. I'm not aware of anyone else mentioning this, although it could have been part of a conversation that I haven't heard yet. But the only golfer who has an opportunity to win professional golf's vaunted Grand Slam this year is ... (wait for it) ... Tiger Woods.

Who would have thought that a couple of days ago?

But after his remarkable victory in The Masters on Sunday, earning his fifth green jacket (or is it Green Jacket?), Woods can now take aim at the PGA Championship at Bethpage, NY, in May; the U.S. Open Championship at Pebble Beach, CA, in June, and The Open Championship (or The British Open, if you must) at Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland, in July.

Those are the three remaining majors on the PGA Tour's redesigned schedule. Only Tiger has a shot to win all of them. Wouldn't that be something?

Even a day later, I'm still trying to process what we just saw at Augusta National on Sunday. A 43-year-old golfer who's had four serious back surgeries since 2014 (including a spinal fusion) and who hadn't won a major tournament in 11 years is, what? Jumping through time portals? Defying logic? Writing history? Messing with our minds?

A broken body could have ended his career at any moment. His incredible work ethic, drive and will to succeed have kept him going. We don't see the hard work; we only see the par saves and birdies on the golf course that come as a result of that hard work.

I've always been a Tiger fan and to this day I still savor some of the shots only he could have pulled off: the incredible chip on No. 16 at the 2005 Masters that falls for a birdie on its last-gasp roll; the shot in the dark that he stiffed from 167 yards out in the fading light of the Bridgestone Invitational in 2000, and the 6-iron out of a bunker in the 2000 Bell Canadian Open at Glen Abbey that carried water and landed just off the green 218 yards away.

It was talent like that that kept me watching. It was talent like that that drove the debate whether or not Tiger is the greatest golfer of all time. Usually that debate includes Jack Nicklaus, because Jack has 18 career majors, and Tiger now has 15. But Tiger also has 81 career Tour victories, second only to Sam Snead's 82.

Now I'm thinking those are just numbers and they don't really even matter, except for fun. I will say that Tiger, who is just seven years away from competing on the Senior Tour, is playing in a much more competitive era. To keep it in perspective, Jack's primary competition came from the United States, England and Ireland with outposts in Mexico, South Africa and Australia. Tiger's competition is truly global, from Japan to Indonesia to Scandinavia and with a larger field of players playing the game than ever before. That fact has to be factored into any silly conversation about GOATs (greatest of all time).

Tiger changed the game not only with his physical strength (remember when everybody was trying to Tiger-proof their courses?) but his mental strength as well. He has, I think, an unparalleled laser-like focus.

Even now, with age serving as another one of his competitors, Woods is changing his game again, finding ways to win.

And he comes with a postscript: Never give up.

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