The question wasn’t asked in an accusatory tone. It wasn’t inflammatory. It wasn’t trolling. It didn’t qualify as leading the witness or badgering him.
It was a simple question, seeking a simple answer.
Yet it might not have seemed that way, coming just minutes after the man being asked had suffered a power lip-out on a par putt to extend a playoff, which came an hour or two after he led by four strokes with eight holes to play, which came after a year in which he was involved in a few rules controversies, which came during a fifth consecutive year without a major championship title.
So, no. It wasn’t a loaded question, but the potential response was loaded with possibilities.
How would you assess your year?
Tiger Woods didn’t hesitate. There are – not often, but every once in a while – questions which catch him off guard, leaving him to pause for a few seconds before gathering his thoughts.
This wasn’t one of them.
Most professional golfers are keenly aware of the value of their performances at any given moment, both the factual and subjective. Numbers are the very definition of the game at its highest level, and such absolutes as world ranking and win totals and money earned can’t be argued. Even those who haven’t performed up to their own expectations, though, can impart touchy-feely mental-guru types of terms – “process” is a favorite – to show an acceptance for their results.
Of course, Woods isn’t most professional golfers.
Unlike those who privately keep a running tally of their own progress, Woods constantly knows how to assess himself because he’s constantly being asked. Call it part of the territory, the part in which the super-uber-mega-star must offer a State of the Game address every time he sits down in front of a microphone. That’s what happens when you’re four away from the all-time major victory record and three away from the all-time PGA Tour victory record and everyone wants to know what you think of yourself.
In this instance, just removed from losing his own Northwestern Mutual World Challenge to Zach Johnson on the first extra hole, Woods didn’t flinch.
“Pretty damn good year,” he said, leaving the rest of us to parse those words as if they were an oscillating golf ball on a slow-motion replay.
Woods has often stated in the past that a major title is the difference between a good year and a great one. We can argue over the going exchange rate from regular PGA Tour victories to one of these, but their importance is indisputable. Would he trade all five of his 2013 wins for a single major this past season? You’d better believe it. But that doesn’t mean his other wins should be dismissed so easily.
Of his quintet of trophies, Woods won the prestigious Players Championship – which has eluded him on all but one other occasion – added to his ridiculous WGC resume with two more victories, and triumphed in his usual hotspots at Torrey Pines and Bay Hill.
“Five wins and, you know, on some pretty good venues,” he said, “so very pleased with the year.”
That’s a career for some players. And if you’re mistaking that line for hyperbole, consider the list of those with five career PGA Tour wins includes John Daly, Luke Donald, Tom Lehman, Hunter Mahan, Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose.
None of those players are asked on a regular basis whether their careers have been failures, let alone a season which equaled those careers.
Then again, none of those players have raised the bar to the point where if every drive doesn’t find the fairway 330 yards deep and every approach shot isn’t inside 10 feet and every putt doesn’t find the bottom of the cup, then something must be unfathomably wrong with their game.
Perhaps the biggest roadblock in assessing Woods’ assessment of his year is that he’s looser with the adjectives than the rest of us. His previous insistence that a year can only be great when it includes a major win is often considered gospel for everyone except himself.
Last year, after a three-win campaign without a major, Woods summarized it by saying, “Absolutely it’s a good year.”
This past August, just days after a T-40 finish at the PGA Championship solidified another major-less season, he said, “This year’s been a great year.”
Mark Twain, who is credited with saying “golf is a good walk spoiled,” can also be paraphrased with this sensationalistic expression: Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. In examining Woods’ year, the opposite is true. We shouldn’t let a good story get in the way of the facts.
Five wins is five wins. It was three better than anyone else, at least on the PGA Tour. Maybe it was still great without a major, maybe great years have to include one. We’re parsing words here.
This was a simple question, seeking a simple answer. And that’s exactly what Woods offered in response, succinctly and precisely.
“Pretty damn good year.”