I dont know who said Tiger was in a- shhh now - S-L-U-M-P. I failed to see it anywhere. I have seen plenty of stories from journalists who tried to cozy up, ridiculing those of us for daring to mention that something might be a little wrong with the man who was so nearly perfect last year.
Yes, some of us did have the temerity to point out that, compared to last year, he certainly hasnt played as well. We are comparing him, of course, to the magnificent standards he set the past 18 months. As far as I know, no one said that he has s-l-u-m-p-e-d compared to your average everyday pro. If that is the standard Woods wants to be compared to, fine. He definitely has not been in a s-l-u-m-p. But compared to his performance last year when he won almost 50 percent of the time he teed it up, well...
But of course, I dont 'know golf.' Im not really sure what Tiger meant by that. Does he mean that I dont know what it feels like to hit a wedge 185 yards? Hes right, of course. Does he mean I dont know golfs heritage, all about Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen and Wild Bill Melhorn? I confess its probably true. Does it mean I cant read, that I cant read nine wins in 20 starts - Tiger Woods record last year? Just what does he mean? The media surely doesnt know golf, whatever that means.
Question: Does it bug you that the media is ' that we make it a story line that, My God, hes gone six events and he hasnt won, whats wrong with the guy?
Tiger Woods: Well, it's annoying because of the fact that if you think that way, then you really don't understand the game of golf. And obviously, some of the media ... '
Anyway, thank goodness thats over with. His second shot to No. 18 at Bay Hill put an end to his troubles of the past six months or so.
This defensive posture was actually something of a surprise. He was the picture of politeness and good grace last year as he mopped up on everything in sight. He won over everyone with his easy manner and his humbleness, in spite of his brilliant play. 'The media,' whom he later criticized for their lack of golf knowledge, swooned appropriately. And they should have ' what they were seeing was an undeniable demonstration of something never before seen by journalists. It was perfection. Pure perfection.
Then came the last three tournaments of last year, and Tiger didnt win. He includes three events in the offseason, the Johnnie Walker in Thailand and a couple of others which werent really tournaments, the World Cup and the Grand Slam. The World Cup he teamed with David Duval, and Duval was really the Main Man. But Woods won the Slam against three others, and he played well in doing it.
This year, five tournaments had gone by without a victory, six if youre generous and count Dubai. Yes, some of us are worldly enough to know about Dubai. Its a European Tour event. It draws a pretty good field of Europeans. But not even Europes best would term it equal to Bay Hill. Anyway, Woods lost with a meltdown on the 72nd hole. Not bad, certainly, but it certainly wasnt last year.
Tiger doesnt have the par-3 bugaboo to worry about now. Hes No. 27 on par-3 birdies, way up from his former rank of 135. The par-4 birdie percentage has gone down, from No. 4 to 85th, but that still is a little better than average. His putting is still a problem ' he ranks 121st now compared to 140th. He said the putting would come down once he gets on reliable greens, and it has. Memo: how did everyone else manage the thin greens? Tiger was raised out West, where the greens were a problem. Nonetheless, he said the putting would improve, and it did.
Most of all, though, Woods is still the master of the do-or-die shot. That one at 18 absolutely, positively had to be near-perfect ' and it was. You can argue all you want about the ball going out of bounds if it hadnt hit the man standing it front of the cart path. But hit him it did, and Woods got a break that he hasnt been getting lately. And then to follow the good break with an absolutely perfect iron to 12 feet was so remniscent of the PGA of 99. Or the unbelievable bunker shot over the pond that he hit to win last years Canadian event. Those might be once-a-year shots, but Woods does it far more than anyone else.
Tiger at Bay Hill was brilliant in stretches, merely adequate in others. But that was the situation in several of his wins last year. He did what he had to do to win Sunday. And he won against an extremely strong field ' dangerous Phil Mickelson was the man waiting for a playoff had Woods not birdied 18. He was one clear of Sergio Garcia after three rounds.
So Tiger has won again, and things should change now. No one will write that he is in a s-l-u-m-p. Hes broken through again ' thank goodness. Maybe this was what Greg Norman was referring to when he said wait and see what happens when he has a down period. But Tiger has won, and even those of us who dont know about golf can see that it was incomparable.