It was Sunday August 12th in Oklahoma and it was the last chance for Tiger Woods to make a major statement in 2007.
Zach Johnson had stood up to Woods in the heat of the final round in April to win The Masters. Angel Cabrera had done the same Sunday on the back nine of the U.S. Open at Oakmont. And Woods had been a non-factor at the Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Actually Woods two-shot victory over Woody Austin at Southern Hills in Tulsa made several statements. For his part, Austin added a few statements of his own that underscored how Woods dominance has other players making comments that dont always make sense.
On Friday Woods had gotten hotter than the searing conditions. And Austin, in a left-handed, back-handed, off-handed, ham-handed kind of way paid Woods a compliment.
I watched (Woods round on TV), Austin said after posting a 70 that was seven shots higher than Woods 63. And I had it inside him all day long. I outplayed him by at least four or five shots, and he beat me by seven.
Huh? Outplayed him by seven?
Woods second round 63 actually just as easily could have been 62 which would have been an all-time 18-hole record for a major championship. But his very makeable birdie putt on the final green decided, after going almost three quarters of the way down into the hole, that history would have to wait. Woods had to settle for a 63 that he promptly insisted was a 62 1/2.
Mad, Woods said in the press room when asked how he felt. I was just trying to get myself back into this tournament. And lo and behold, here I am.
We know by now that Woods doesnt think'or at least doesnt want us to know he thinks'about records. Play good golf and win tournaments, he mantras, and the records will take care of themselves. So we shouldnt have been surprised, when, pushed for more quotes on the 63, Woods simply said, A 62 would have meant I had a three-shot lead instead of a two-shot lead.
Tiger remained in the lead after 54 holes, a fact that highlighted one of the most amazing stat streaks currently alive in golf anywhere: Woods entered the final round of the PGA with a perfect 12-for-12 mark when leading or sharing the lead in majors with 18 holes remaining. Make that 13-for-13.
There were anxious moments Sunday. Austin, whose fame would grow later in the year at the Presidents Cup, hung on doggedly. And Ernie Els, who would finish in third place, three back of Woods, kept the pressure on as well with a closing 66.
Theres a lot of good in my game, said Els, who also fired a 69 Saturday. Im not quite where I think I can be. But if I can get to the next level where I want to be, maybe I can at least give him a real go, a run for his money. Because someone needs to step up.
The him to whom Els referred was, of course, Woods. And Els testament to Woods stature at the top of the game made more sense than Austins verbal meanderings.
I need to start winning tournaments and that will create confidence, and winning becomes almost like a habit, Els added. Look at Tiger.
Just try not to stare.