Ready to Roar Again

Congratulations to Jordan Spieth on winning the first of many major championships. Even after a final round with guys like Rose, Woods, Mickelson and McIroy lurking behind, golf has a new guy next to Rory for years to come. But, this one is about what’s left of the last dominant young golfer in his day…

2015 Masters

No one had an ounce of an idea of what was going to happen with Tiger this week. In fact, I’m willing to put a pretty penny down that even he had no idea what to expect.

Having not played a competitive round of golf since February, many pundits believed that making the cut was a stretch and at least shooting under-par would have been a win. But maybe one of the most unique things about golf, unlike many other major professional sports, is we don’t really see what goes on behind the scenes when golfers aren’t on the course and in front of the patrons, as opposed to the “All-Access” that comes with the NBA, MLB and NFL.

So when Tiger stood over the little white ball with a Nike swoosh on it on the first tee Thursday morning, the majority of the people at Augusta and the millions watching across the country had not a clue of what Tiger was about to do and it wouldn’t surprise me that before he took his first cut the thought of, “Well, here goes nothing.” Raced through his mind.

Tiger finished Sunday with a 1-over 73 and was -5 for the tournament, tied for 17th. He most certainly could have been a few shots better, but also could have not made the cut, it was that sort of weekend for Tiger. The most glaring area he still has to work on is his swing off the tee.

On Sunday, he went through the front nine without touching a fairway and at multiple times this weekend there was that iron shot or that chip that ended up being a decently played shot, but Tiger knew he could have put it within 5 feet (his chip on the 8th today is the an obvious example) shots like those come in time and playing more consistently, and are also the type of shots that win tournaments and majors.

Of course there will be always something to work on, there was even when Tiger was untouchable in the mid-2000’s. So let’s put Sunday and the week into some perspective.

Fred Vuich/ Sports Illustrated
Rory and Tiger shake hands after their Final Rounds Sunday at Augusta.

For the first time in his life, he is the one going into tournaments looking up at the young guns.

He doesn’t intimidate like he used to, these guys want to compete against him, because they grew up emulating and idolizing him.

He seems to now completely accept all of this. Remember, Tiger has the same “cold-blood killer competitiveness” only the greats of the greats seem to have. Guys like Jordan, Ali and Brady.

At 39, he is still in better shape than the majority of the field, because he is still one of the best athletes on it. To say he will never win a major or a PGA Tour event again is a bit naïve to say. Is it likely? No, but he showed this weekend that he still has all the tools that made him the most dominant golfer ever.

Now that he has won back the fans that seemed to have turn on him during the sex scandal and all of his struggles with his swing and various back, wrist and knee injuries, the gallery and even his competition want to see that old fiery Tiger again.

They love the “old” guy story who’s gunning for one last shot at a title. A title that Phil has owned for the past decade now (even though Phil is only 6 years elder to Tiger, people love Phil because he reminds them of the guy you play your weekend golf with).

Moving forward after the masters, it will all be about consistency and health. Few golfers demand more from their bodies than Tiger. He looked to be in excruciating pain after he seemed to hit a tree root on his 2nd swing on the 9th Sunday. Even saying he had to pop a ligament back into place, the guy has an incompressible pain threshold, I still find it incredible he won a major on a torn ACL AND played an extra 18 in the process. Bottom line is it is integral to him that he takes care of his back, knees and his entire body in general in order to keep up with the young guys.

This is a brand new Tiger Woods, a script that has been constantly pounded by the mainstream, but it still holds completely true. He won’t be ending rounds saying, “Well, I didn’t win, so that isn’t good enough.” Even when he has been in contention recently, does he say something along those lines. That confidence is long gone, the game’s greatest gem is now far from his invincible self with those over-the-top expectations.

But as youthful guys like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIroy, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson are breaking course records (Spieth shot the best 54-hole’s in Masters history and was one stroke short of the best performance ever at the Masters) and hitting the primes of their golfing careers, we all still turn on the TV to watch the man in red on Sunday’s. Even if he is struggling or is hurt, nothing gets folks going than this:

Of all things to take away from the Masters, Tiger showed a multitude of things that coming in, no one was sure he still had. On Thursday, working through all the kinks and rust, he showed his once horrific short game back in February, is now cured, as he grinded out a decent first round. Friday and Saturday showed he can still put it all together and shoot a four-under 68 like he did Saturday, putting himself on the first page of the leaderboard. If it weren’t for a record shattering week by Spieth, Tiger could have teed off on Sunday in serious contention for a 5th green jacket compared to the most recent years in 2011, ’12, ’13 and ’14.

Although he struggled hitting the fairway all Sunday, as well as having to deal with a wrist injury all day, Tiger obliterated expectations this entire week and may be quieting his most well-known critics as well. 

Taking into account all of the last 5 days or so, this new Tiger entering his 40’s and a new era of his game, we can’t count the 14-time major champion out just yet. Even with the new faces and younger talent beginning to take the thrown, Tiger might be ready to roar, once again.

Fred Vuich/Sports Illustrated
Not done yet.

 

 

 

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