LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In this latest installment of “Scenes from a Parking Lot,” our hero makes his triumphant return in a silver Mercedes SUV courtesy car, all eyes and camera lenses affixed to him nearly pulling into a rival’s spot before backing up and self-correcting – his first successful recovery shot of the week.
Other societies anticipate visiting royalty or dignitaries in this manner. We await a guy with some back issues.
More than 60 members of the media encircled Tiger Woods as he arrived at Valhalla Golf Club for the 96th PGA Championship after three days of indecision and speculation. Even before he slid out of the driver’s seat – which was breaking news, of course, because when we last saw him, back pain had forced him to the passenger’s side – he was the focus of everything from professional video cameras to amateur iPhone photographers.
It recalls Al Czervik’s line to Mr. Wang in “Caddyshack”: “Hey, Wang! What's with the pictures? It's a parking lot!”
There are few previous stories which so deftly illustrate Woods’ polarization amongst the masses and how every other golfer pales in comparison.
In the minutes prior to his arrival, the parking lot was a veritable who’s who of the game’s other superstars, none of whom so much as drew a glance. Defending champion Jason Dufner strolled past, usual nonplussed look on his face. Former winner Keegan Bradley walked by with Brendan Steele, the two of them laughing at the scene while Bradley clicked a few photos on his phone. Hunter Mahan came through with a wry smile, asking, “What’s going on over here?”
And here’s the kicker: Even Rory McIlroy went past, largely unnoticed, with the claret jug dangling from his hand. That’s right – the oldest trophy in golf got big-timed by the impending possibility of German engineering.
In the wake of all this pomp and circumstance after 72 hours of indecision, we should be asking ourselves one big, fat, rhetorical question: Shouldn’t we have seen this coming?
This is the same Woods whose last major victory was a 2008 U.S. Open title that was won despite a torn ACL and multiple leg fractures. In recent years, with so many aches and pains and other maladies affecting his rapidly aging body, Woods often invokes that triumph as the pinnacle of his playing-through-pain career.
He still believes that since he was able to claim the hardware while in pain that week, then he’s capable of claiming it while in pain any other week, too.
For an admitted adrenaline junkie, he’ll never receive a greater rush between the ropes as that sudden-death playoff victory. But he will keep trying.
And why shouldn’t he? Much of the speculation since he withdrew from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday centered around whether he should cut his losses and rest up as opposed to rushing back into competition.
News flash: The next tournament Woods cares deeply about after this one doesn’t happen for another eight months. As long as his doctors have told him there’s no potential long-range damage, there’s really no reason to sit home and watch on TV instead.
Even though he’d never admit it – we all know the usual refrain; he expects to win each and every time he tees it up – Woods is essentially hoping to cash in a lottery ticket this week.
Unlike just about every other tournament he played over the first 15 years of his professional career, he’s no longer the prohibitive favorite. While it seems inconceivable that he could return from not only debilitating back pain but a debilitating driver and putter to somehow win, it’s not completely implausible that his pain level remains low and he gets his “feels” and “explosiveness” right.
In the parking lot, waiting for Woods to arrive Wednesday afternoon, one veteran caddie didn’t bite at the notion that he’s essentially fishing without any bait this week.
“This is a perfect course for him,” the caddie said of Valhalla, noting its lack of trickiness and the fact that Woods could likely eschew driver off the tee for a 3-wood instead.
Just minutes later, the 14-time major champion slowly drove around the corner toward the parking lot, the focus of so many video cameras and iPhone photos. He emerged from the SUV, put on his spikes and marched up the steps to the clubhouse.
Finally, it was time to go to work.