Welcome to the first recorded instance in the history of golf when a player beats everyone else by five in a single round … and gets criticized. When a player ties his own course record … and gets chastised. When he takes a seven-freakin’-shot lead into the weekend … and somehow, it’s not good enough.
Does it make sense? Of course not. Forget 59, Tiger flirted with 56 or 57 for a little while at Firestone before “settling” for a score that matched his best-ever total in PGA Tour competition. His ball-striking was brilliant, his putting peerless. He made par saves that left even the Golf Gods applauding. He rolled in a 26-footer from the back fringe on the final hole like most guys tap in a gimme.
Anyone else in the field would lick the locker room floor to be in his position right now. And anyone else would have lavish praise heaped on him for such a remarkable achievement.
When it comes to Tiger, though, any major accomplishment outside of a major championship isn’t major enough.
Which is why in the immediate aftermath of his 61, he is already being condemned for not playing this well two weeks ago at Muirfield during The Open Championship. Or not saving it for next week’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
It’s as if a player – even one of Woods’ immense caliber – can pick and choose when and where he’d like to shoot 61.
If it sounds unfair, well, it probably is. Then again, Woods himself is the one who created this quandary. By constantly and consistently telling us that majors are what matter most, that he hopes to peak four times each year, he's brought this upon himself.
Let’s be a little realistic here, though, and compare him to his fellow competitors.
How many other players would be criticized for 'only' playing their best golf at a WGC event?
How many other players would be criticized for 'only' dominating on courses where there’s a palpable comfort level?
How many other players would be criticized for “only” chasing a fifth victory of the season?
The obvious answers to these rhetorical questions are Zip, Zero and Zilch, which also might be the answers to whom can beat Tiger in this one.
According to my calendar, there isn’t a major being contested this weekend, so he can be excused for not winning one. He won’t be, though. The more Tiger succeeds at non-majors, the more a spotlight will be shined on his failure to win one.
Such analysis is analogous to bashing a powerhouse football team after it whales on a cupcake opponent. You can only beat who’s in front of you, just as Tiger can only win the tournament he’s playing right now.
That won’t stop the catcalls from the cheap seats, though. When it comes to Tiger, oftentimes anything he does isn’t enough. He can win by 10 this weekend and it won't be enough. He can win every regular-season PGA Tour event and it won't be enough. In between holes, he can cure cancer and solve the federal deficit. It still won't be enough.
The ironic part is that Tiger is usually his own harshest critic. When he stumbles on the weekend of a major championship and can’t find the fairway or has trouble adjusting to green speeds – a scenario which has occurred three times already this year – the internal aspersions are greater than anything he hears publicly.
And so it’s telling that when he posts 61 at this event, he doesn’t grouse about how he wishes it could have happened two weeks ago. He doesn’t gripe about how he needs to play like this next week instead.
No, he simply accepts it for what it is.
“Am I disappointed? Absolutely not, nope,” he said. “Sixty-one is pretty good. I'm not bummed.”
If it’s good enough for him, on this day, at this event, it should be good enough for everyone else, too.
You can almost sense the ire coming next week, though. At some point, Tiger will falter at Oak Hill. He’ll make a few bogeys, he’ll post an over-par round, maybe he’ll fail to win. Again, there will be public outcry about him “using up” all of his good shots this week at Firestone or not being able to take his A-game from a non-major to a major.
We’ve been there, done that before. Three times in the past two years, Tiger has triumphed in his final start before a major, only to stumble on the bigger stage.
If you want to criticize him for not playing his best golf in those situations, have at it. If you want to chastise him for feeling the pressure and failing to perform up to expectations, go ahead. If you want to say that somehow his good isn’t good enough at the major anymore, you should.
None of that has anything to do with what he accomplished Friday at Firestone. This isn’t a major week. He can’t go back in time and play this way at Muirfield, can’t save it for Oak Hill.
So let’s take this 61 at face value. Sometimes a majorly impressive round has nothing to do with the majors.