DORAL, Fla. - Forget the mammoth drives and the dialed-in iron shots and a few long putts that looked magnetized to the hole. Tiger Woods showed us something else on Saturday that had been missing so far this year.
He smiled. A lot.
Pumped his fist a bunch of times, too.
These weren’t sarcastic woe-is-me smiles or bombastic shakes of his fist in disgust, either. This was vintage Tiger, the stuff of highlight reels, the images our temporal lobes have stored away for so many years.
Technically, Woods posted a 6-under 66 to move into serious contention at the WGC-Cadillac Championship – the low round of the week amongst an elite field of players.
In reality, he accomplished much more than that, though. He once again reminded us – for maybe the 10th or 100th or 1,000th time in his career – that we shouldn’t be so quick to portend future results based on past performance.
You can say this much about the guy: He sure knows how to change a narrative.
In a matter of days, Woods went from having us fretting over his latest back injury to proving he can play through the pain. He went from enduring a two-way miss to pummeling drives into orbit. He went from meekly flailing at short putts to rolling in lengthy ones without any problem.
That’s not to say he’s going to win. It’s not to say he’s “back” – whatever that means – and won’t post another over-par round for months. It’s not to say he won’t reverse the trend and appear lost again in the final round.
But it’s a reminder that for all of his achievements, for all of his dominance and consistency, for all of the records he’s compiled, one of Woods’ most overlooked, underrated attributes is his ability to turn things around quicker than anyone else in the game.
There are a lot of examples of this throughout his career. The latest might not rank near the top of the list, but it does prove his determination to prove people wrong.
Earlier this week, Woods sat in the interview room at Trump National Doral and, not for the first time, slyly prodded media members whom he believes said during his two-year slump of 2010-11 that he wouldn’t win again.
“A lot of you in here have wrote me off, that I would never come back,” he needled with a smile. “But here I am.”
And here he is again, just days after we’d questioned his Masters preparation and whether he’d deserve to be the favorite at next month’s major and whether he’d be able to get his game in shape in order to contend for his fifth green jacket.
None of this, not the eight birdies or the 14 greens in regulation or the mere 25 putts, should totally erase any doubt, but they should serve as the necessary reminder that he loves proving people wrong – and he’s able to do it pretty quickly.
“It was nice to get back in the tournament again,” he said. “I figured, hey, I'm only six back, that's definitely doable, especially with the conditions and how difficult this golf course is playing. If I just get back to even par for the tournament, I'll be right there and I did one better.”
He probably wouldn’t admit it, but Woods would likely be just fine if everyone continued to write him off. If we collectively considered the 6-under 66 an anomaly, contending even still that he isn’t ready for the Masters and maybe isn’t even ready to win at Doral.
That was the takeaway after his first two days, when he posted scores of 76-73 to languish well down the leaderboard. Now he’s back near the top, certainly in contention with only a few names ahead of him.
Woods isn’t far removed from a handful of afflictions – from his driving to his putting to his balky back. He isn’t any more “in the clear” than any other player, as they all understand tomorrow is another day.
As we learned once again about Woods on Saturday – for the 10th or 100th or 1,000th time – it’s that we shouldn’t use his past performance to predict future success. He simply provided another reminder.