Tiger Woods finally ended his long, 25-month victory drought by winning his very own Chevron World Challenge at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California. The roar around the green at 18 was deafening; twice. Once when he made a crucial birdie putt on 17 to pull even with Zach Johnson as the crowd watched on the jumbo screen and again when he made the winning birdie putt on 18 in person.
It was vintage Tiger. A camera was on Johnson standing next to his caddie, Damon Green, as Tiger made the second putt. Johnson just looked at Damon and smirked, as if to say, “Well of course he was going to make that putt. He’s Tiger Woods. He always makes those putts he has to make.”
That was certainly true when Tiger was at his zenith, but it hasn’t been true for over two years. There was the accident, the rehab, the attempt at reconciliation, the divorce, the custody arrangements, the move to new coach, Sean Foley, the move to Jupiter from Orlando, the relocating of Elin to South Florida so that Tiger could be near the kids, the rickety attempts to play with Foley’s new scheme, the inculcation of Foley’s scheme into his short game, the attempt to train away knee and achilles’ problems…and then the operation on the knee and the golfless rehab and the dismaying attempts to play that went so badly.
It was finally the looming Presidents Cup and his own healing that allowed him to accede to Captain Fred Couples insistence that he play in a tune-up tournament. Couples willingness to reach way down the points list to make Tiger a Captain’s pick had been made on the condition that Tiger play in one of the Fall Series events on the Tour’s schedule.
He chose the Frys.com in California and then joined his teammates in the Australian Open the week before the Cup. He showed so much promise in finishing 3rd by himself that I pronounced him as “back.” He hadn’t won, but the old Tiger extraordinary flair was back, even if he chopped it around on a couple of holes. And he cemented that assertion in the Cup when he handled Aaron Baddeley 4&3, no problem. In fact, with fortuitous timing, his match put the Americans over the top to victory.
And finally, in his next tournament two weeks later, he got the job done.
If anything, he looked better still. There were no more flared shots into the tree lines, he hit stunning, long approach shots into green after green to tight pins and, as if by magic, he would once again be your choice to make a ten-footer to save your life.
As much as anything this whole renaissance was akin to the perennial flowers fighting their way up out of the ground for yet another Spring. Do you remember having seen those time-lapse, nature documentaries where the new shoots struggle up with such determination that they actually move stones out of the way? That was the feeling I got when Tiger finally reached the surface on Sunday after his turbulent fight for new life.
I was following Twitter as this was unfolding and as you would expect there were warm congratulations from many quarters. But there was also judgmental sniping that it was only an 18-man field, they were all hand-picked and that there was no way that World Ranking points should be awarded for such a short field.
I got so annoyed at this smallness that I tweeted that every man in the field was in the Top 50 in the world rankings. This was not the Washington Generals laying down for the Harlem Globetrotters. Tiger noted in his post-round interview that the tournament awards World Ranking points. To which one veteran player noted that that was because Chevron wouldn’t sponsor it otherwise. This inferred that the players in the tournament were otherwise unworthy. It was pretty cheesy.
So now he takes some time off to get geared up for 2012. And he will probably come back out a little rusty and the cynics may start in again. “Back? You think he’s back? How about flat on his back? I told you he’d never be the same.”
And so Tiger’s next piece of work will certainly be about fine-tuning what he’s put together so far, all the while maintaining that larger sense of himself. You could see in his facial expression that he was so deep in the zone he almost looked like a joyless zombie. You can’t get there when you’re looking over your shoulder at all the slings and arrows.
So it’s not just his swing that has returned to normal, it’s his tough mental state as well. In tournament golf, you can’t have one without the other because you really need to be able to pay attention to the golf—the target, the shot and hitting the shot—and nothing else.