Tiger Woods said he needed some time to sort things out. Times up. Now the clock starts for Bethpage Black and the U.S. Open.
With a slightly shorter driver with slightly more loft he slighted the field at the Memorial with a fairways-and-greens exhibition and a hint of what awaits in two weeks on Long Island.
Yet ballstriking brilliance and a one-stroke, come-from-behind, white-knuckle victory aside, the comeback is not over. Not for Woods.
Not with three turns still left in the Grand Slam season and favored-layout status waiting at the U.S. Open (Bethpage) and PGA Championshp (Hazeltine National). The Memorial victory was nice, historic actually, but one-half of the single-season legends slam ' Memorial and his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March ' is not what sends Woods to the gym and the practice tee and back to the gym.
If the Memorial is any measure, the event Jim Furyk dubbed a mini-major, Woods could become the first player to win, place and show at Americas national championship.
This is how you have to hit it to win the U.S. Open, Woods said.
He should know, only Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and Willie Anderson have more Open hardware on the mantle and perhaps only Woods has the mettle to overpower a brutish layout like Muirfield from the middle of the fairway, of all places.
For the week, Woods put on a ballsriking clinic. On Sunday he went 14-for-14 from the tee, the first time hes done that since 2003, and connected with the short grass a Kreskin-like 49 times out of 56 attempts for four rounds, tying the best driving week of his career.
Woods was second in driving accuracy, third in greens in regulation (73 percent) and 12th in driving distance. His 25 putts in Round 4 ' including a 38 footer at the second that was his longest of the week and third-longest of the year ' were notable, particularly on greens most players dubbed the fastest they will play all year, but were more a byproduct of superior ballstriking.
I really controlled my flight and felt in control with shaping the ball both ways. I didn't really have a problem hitting it either way. That's when you know you feel like you're in control of what you're doing, said Woods, who added that he hadnt hit the ball this well since the 2006 British Open when he brought Hoylake and the worlds best to their knees with a cleek. I didn't hit any surprises out there.
Yet perhaps his most impressive feat of the week is that he saved his best for last.
Woods teed off for the final round four-strokes adrift of Mark Wilson and someone named Matt Bettencourt and paired with a dead ringer for Cosmo Kramer, otherwise known as the hard-swinging Michael Letzig. He needed just 30 minutes to pull within one shot of the lead.
By the turn he was atop a congested leaderboard and he closed with consecutive birdies at Nos. 17 and 18 to make the final three two-balls a formality.
I didnt say much to him all day, just nice, shot. Nice shot. Nice shot, Letzig said. I dont know what everyone is talking about how he drives it. He was perfect all day. Ive never seen iron shots like that. Its unreal.
There was a foreshadowing to the entire affair when the day dawned just as Nike stablemate and good friend Roger Federer was clearing his mental attic at Roland Garros, Woods followed the lead but he was eyeing a contenders-by-committee gathering much more fearsome than Federers French Open ghosts.
Even with his swinging show, the outcome remained curiously in doubt until Muirfield Villages grueling closing stretch. A leaderboard with more traffic than a Dublin ' Ohio, not Ireland ' roundabout and more moving parts than an economic stimulus plan featured as many as five co-leaders at one time, many of them with major championship pedigrees.
Bettencourt ' a former college flamethrower for the Modesto Junior College baseball team turned journeyman pro making his first Memorial start and first cameo on a Tour leaderboard ' grinded to an even-par start through eight holes before rinsing his title chances at the ninth. Apologies to the likeable rookie, but with the stars aligned behind him a Bettencourt victory was about as probable as a run on Arnold Palmers in the Muirfield Village clubhouse.
In order Davis Love III, Jim Furyk and Jonathan Byrd tilted at the games preeminent windmill before crashing into statistical reality.
Byrd, whose work with swing coach Mike Bender and sports psychologist Dr. Morris Pickens has produced a player on the cusp of a breakthrough, went from 2 up on the field and cruising to a 2 down contender in less time than it takes to watch a sitcom. He followed a three-putt bogey at the 13th with an unsightly double at No. 14 to finish tied for third.
Love moved into a share of the lead with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 13 and 14, but squandered his title chances, and a chance to avoid U.S. Open qualifying, with a 3-over-par finish.
While Furyk, an Open player rounding into form in time for Bethpage, held on the longest thanks to one-putting Muirfields closing three, but couldnt match Woods and finished alone in second place.
For Woods it was a text book back nine. Three birdies, an oak-shaking chip-in eagle at the 11th and a wind-gust bogey at 17 added up to a closing 65 and 12-under 276 total. The kind of round Woods has said was coming since he reintroduced himself to the fold back in February at the WGC-Match Play Championship.
There is no secret to Woods march back into the history books other than Hogans famed elixir ' practice.
At Augusta National, Woods fumed because he couldnt cover the final two holes in anything resembling par, but ostensibly because he couldnt work out the kinks on the practice tee afterward. The knee just wouldnt cooperate.
Things started getting better at Quail Hollow and continued to improve through The Players.
My practice sessions started getting longer at home. Hit more balls, play more golf, all these things. People don't realize you need to do that. You need to have that ability, said Woods, who became the first player to win Jacks gem four times. You can't just think about your swing and how to be great the next day. I needed to do the reps.
Dont underestimate the power of practice. Or Woods chances at Bethpage in a fortnight, where he won the second of his three U.S. Open titles in 2002.
Just ask Nicklaus, perhaps the only man alive who can relate to Woods brilliance.
If he drives the ball like that it wont be a contest, Nicklaus said. Can you imagine, 14 of 14 fairways (hit) today, seven (missed) fairways all week. Thats pretty good...
It seems the only thing that can leave a legend speechless is a legendary performance.
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