Oh, some will say that he’s not back until he wins again and he didn’t win the Australian Open. He bogeyed two easy holes on the back nine, one of them a par 5, and lost by two to Aussie, Greg (Snake) Chalmers.
But he surrounded those bogeys with five birdies and a chip-in eagle on the par-5 14th to shoot a 5-under 67 and finish 3rd by himself just behind Aussie John Senden who began the day with the lead. Tiger didn’t lose it Sunday, he lost it Saturday when he got off to a ragged three-bogey start—those three bogeys were the difference. And even though he made two on Sunday, there was no evidence of Saturday’s ineptness and reticence.
The reason I say Tiger is back is because he was in it right to the end of the tournament, Twitter was electric with all manner of tweets about how exciting it was to have him in the mix with a chance to win and the Australian fans were lined up twenty deep on some holes.
And the final reason we know that Tiger is back is because you just know that Presidents Cup captain, Fred Couples, is sitting in his hotel room with a big grin on his face; his long shot pick of a rusty and rickety Tiger to the team has paid off. Now he only has to worry whether the painful shoulder that caused Hunter Mahan to withdraw on Friday will be ready to go on a week’s rest.
While Tiger still managed to take God’s name in vain a couple of times, the other nice thing to watch was his quiet humility, not a Tiger staple. There were no dramatic fist pumps, no boisterous cheering himself on, none of that. Just calmly and masterfully going about his business like an icy Tour pro with a splash of warmth every time he acknowledged the crowd with a wave and a smile.
And, in a charming tradition of the Australian Open, he did win something: the bronze medal for “coming” third.
Chalmers victory was a popular one. A perennial journeyman, he won the 1997 ANZ Players Championship and the 1998 Australian Open before he decided to come the states to play on the PGA Tour. He finished 4th at Q-School to win his card and had two or three good years before he found himself on the Nationwide Tour. He won two Nationwide events, one in 2005 and another in 2008 and finally found his way back up to the “Big Tour” in 2009. Plus he gets kudos for being one of the good guys. He lives in Dallas.
For his part, John Senden put in a very gritty performance to finish 2nd. He had Tiger’s Saturday start with three back-to-back bogeys starting on 2 and then another on 7. But he cleaned them all up with four matching birdies on the back nine. His performance recommends the old saw, “Never say die.” Very gutsy.
My favorite natural player, Geoff Ogilvy, had the low round of the day shooting a 7-under 65 with one bogey. He also took some grief for an uncharacteristic mustache that only his wife seems to find attractive.
Nick Watney was the only other American in contention with a late charge truncated with a bogey on 16. He finished T4.
The rest of the Americans who made the cut finished as follows: Kyle Stanley, 11; Bubba Watson, T12; Fred Couples, T15; low amateur Kelly Kraft out of SMU, T19; John Cook, T23; Bill Haas, T29; and Dustin Johnson and David Toms, T38. After Johnson’s sizzling first-round 66, he never broke par again. Odd.
To round out the Presidents Cup players, Matt Kuchar missed the cut by one shot and, again, Mahan had to withdraw.
So it’s on to the Presidents Cup from Royal Melbourne’s Composite Course in Melbourne, Australia. Thursday’s opening round begins Wednesday evening in the U.S. on the Golf Channel at 9 PM (Eastern) and runs until 2 AM. And there will be a tape-delayed broadcast at 9 AM Thursday morning for those of you who don’t want to stay up baying at the moon.
The interesting thing about this one is that there doesn’t seem to be any real consensus on who’s going to claim the Cup.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why they play the games.