“I was close.” Those were the words of Eldrick Woods after the final round yesterday and for the first time in a long time, the guy was actually right.
For years, we’ve heard that he was close when everyone in the world knew that he wasn’t. But yesterday, at the Valspar Championship, on Sunday, on the 72nd hole of the tournament, he WAS close. Just 2 ½ feet short of forcing a playoff with Paul Casey. That close to closing out a win on Sunday. That close to having a nation of Tiger honks losing their collective bleep and crying out tears of grown men joy on their couches.
And you know that crew was already going waterworks after Woods dropped a 44-footer on 17 to give himself a shot at tying Casey on 18. And no, I’m not going to say that old Tiger would’ve rolled in that 40-footer to force the playoff and then ripped out Casey’s heart in a playoff, even though he would’ve. Nor am I going to say that old Tiger wouldn’t have squandered the number of birdie chances that he left out there yesterday.
Because this isn’t old Tiger Woods. This is Eldrick Woods. He’s a different guy and a different golfer. And for a long time, Eldrick Woods has been more of a shell than a golfer, but lately, Eldrick has played well. And the last four days, Eldrick played very well. Very, very well.
His iron play wasn’t where he’d like it to be yesterday, but he still carded his sixth straight round under par and had his best finish in three years. More than anything else, he was relevant. He actually mattered. For the first time in a long time, the red shirt on Sunday didn’t seem like a sad reminder of what used to be. This time it actually sort of meant something.
But as always…, save the “Tiger is back” talk after finishing second at the Valspar Championship. Tiger isn’t back. He’s never coming back. That’s never happening. The guy we’re seeing right now is a good golfer… who might even prove to be a very good golfer. He might even contend at Augusta. Hell he might even win at Augusta or one of the other majors, something that seemed impossible not long ago. But he’s not Tiger. Tiger is the guy who could put all four major trophies on his coffee table at the same time.
Tiger would’ve been pissed about finishing second at a tournament named after a paint company. Eldrick, on the other hand seemed pretty pleased… and he should be. Hell, he’ll might even be the guy to beat at Arnie’s place. But don’t get it twisted. This guy isn’t running down Jack.
But this is definitely better than I expected and better than pretty much anyone could’ve expected. At 42 years old, with more major surgeries than major wins in the last few years, and he’s still competing on Sundays? It wasn’t long ago that this guy was breaking down on Thursdays and melting down on Fridays and now he’s dropping 44-footers on Sunday to give himself a shot.
His swing looks good. So much better than the mess of a swing that infected his brain the last few years. It almost makes you think that he’d have been better off if he started coaching himself years ago.
The fact that he’s contending, the fact that he matters, is an accomplishment. It’s something I never thought I’d see again. It’s impressive. It’s good for golf…, but let’s not make it bigger than it is. Tiger isn’t back. Because Tiger can’t come back. So don’t come in here and waste everyone’s time with that. To say that he’s back is to forget how good Tiger was. Tiger was incredible. Tiger won rounds before he even teed them up. He did the impossible regularly.
But that mystique, that aura, was shattered with a nine-iron and went to sleep in the street years ago. This is different. It’s not the same, it’s definitely not better…, but it’s definitely a lot better than I ever expected. So here’s a nice golf clap for you Eldrick. Keep it up, you’ve got my attention.