'Normal' Tiger Woods seeing the light and getting back to his best
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CAPE TOWN - Innisbrook Resort, Copperhead Course, par-5 5th hole. Third round. A back-breaking 602 yards. Uphill. So playing exceptionally long. He rips a monstrous drive over a fairway bunker on the right, and then finds the green in two with a majestic three-wood approach. This is brute power. Few golfers on the planet can hit this far and this straight.
Same course. Par-3 17th hole. Final round. Same guy, facing a big birdie putt of exactly 43 feet and 8 inches. Left to right, downhill, super fast, super slippery. Really difficult to judge. But in it goes, dropping into the cup on the ball’s last roll for a spectacular two.
Just like he used to do when the pressure was on and it was a must-make to win the tournament. The huge crowd go ballistic. Now he needs to birdie the last to tie for the lead. He makes par (just missing a 39-foot birdie attempt), and ties for second place.
But what a display it’s been from a 42-year-old who had spinal fusion 11 months ago - to go along with a bunch of other major surgeries over the years - and many felt, including himself, that his days might be over as a golfer.
I am, of course, talking about Tiger Woods who looked like the Tiger of old in the weekend’s Valspar Championship in Florida on the PGA Tour, where he finished on nine-under-par, tied for second with Patrick Reed and just one shot behind winner Paul Casey.
He whipped the multitude of fans at Innisbrook into a frenzy with his golf, and he did much the same to me watching on television, as I’m sure he did for you sitting in your armchair.
Written off by critics after one dismal comeback after another and bedridden with constant pain just a year ago, Tiger’s latest return is different. He was a solid 12th at the Honda Classic last month and now he has come tantalisingly close to notching his 80th PGA Tour win.
With a birdie at the first hole, Tiger grabbed a share of the lead early in the final round on Sunday in just his fourth start on the PGA Tour since being sidelined for a year.
— Presidents Cup (@PresidentsCup) March 13, 2018
And while his putter wasn’t the friendliest, he did manage a 70 and for the first time since way back in 2013, he broke par in all four rounds in a tournament.
When he felt he didn’t need a driver off the tee, I loved watching him whack those low “stingers” miles down the fairway with a long iron, just like he did when he won 14 majors.
“My game was quite solid this entire week,” said Woods, who will play this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he has won a record eight times. “As a whole, I felt very good about what I did this week. I believe my game is progressing.”
Two years ago, Tiger said he couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now there is light, and it seems to be shining pretty brightly.
Ernie Els, who spent 17 consecutive years ranked in the top 10 going toe-to-toe with Woods, had doubts whether Tiger would ever return. Now Els is thinking differently: “He’s putting well, his short game looks really sharp and he’s got energy.
"He’s swinging hard, as good as I’ve seen him back in the day, and he’s swinging with confidence. This time he’s physically fine and I’m seeing the normal Tiger.”
And so are we, Ernie, so are we.