Consider that Saturday 68 at the Memorial. What it lacked in splash and sizzle it more than made up for with a healthy dollop of suspense. The new Tiger Woods is imperfect, inasmuch as a 14-time major championship winner can misfire.
Woods is still the best of his generation, probably of all time, and still capable of winning with a B swing against the deepest A list fields. And while that rebuilt knee and remade swing may still be works in progress, the mind that the late Earl Woods molded to steely perfection remains.
We dont want to copy his golf swing or his putting stroke, Davis Love III said. We want to know how hes better mentally.
But the truth is in the track record. No excuses necessary. The player who has historically entered final rounds with a 2-up advantage on name recognition alone is still getting used to all the new parts and pieces. And that uncertainty has its own appeal.
Its a difficult reality to grasp, but one thats opened up endless possibilities. The guy who collected four consecutive majors, who won the Masters by 12 and the U.S. Open by 15, is still better than the rest of the lot, but there is a question mark born from history.
The guy who entered the final round of the WGC-CA Championship nine shots back finished tied for ninth. The guy who started the final turn at Augusta National seven back finished tied for sixth. The guy who took the field for the fourth quarter at Quail Hollow, perhaps the closest thing there is to a home game for Woods, two shots adrift went home with fourth-place earnings.
And then there was The Players, and a familiar foreshadowing. Woods played his last three holes on Saturday in 3 under to earn a spot in the final group, came out flat on Sunday, carded an outward 38 and signed for eighth place.
So it is there will be an asterisk attached to Sundays proceedings here at Muirfield Village. Woods sets out in the final round four strokes behind Mark Wilson and Matt Bettencourt, who had his golf clubs pinched in Dallas last month and threatened to steal the Memorial with a third-round 68.
The learders are hardly a pair of fearsome frontrunners, but then ' as his 2009 resume suggests ' Woods is still working to rediscover the closers gear thats led him to 19 54-hole comebacks.
Woods is still even money when hes within a tap in of the lead, just not the lock he may have been before all the cutting.
I have to play well, Woods said when asked his title chances. Thats the difference between being out front and trailing. If youre out front, you play poorly, getting off to a poor start, you can still win. If youre trailing and you get off to a poor start you can play yourself out of the golf tournament.
It was all but inevitable, what with major surgery and a major swing change in the same news cycle. But dont bet against Woods finding his come-from-behind form. There is simply too much talent and mental toughness for that. In the mean time, savor the show.
Truth is we like the new Tiger Woods, the guy who follows his worst round of the year (second-round 74) with one of his best (Saturdays gritty 68) to move back into contention. Or the guy who played Nos. 11-15 in 4 under Saturday before slipping with an untidy three-putt at the 17th.
You cant three-putt from 15 feet, Woods calmly reasoned. Should have been more disciplined on my read and my speed, and I let it get away.
Similarly hes let a handful of hardware opportunities get away from him this season. Hardly cause for concern given the circumstances, but it has opened up a world of possibilities for those who have made careers chasing him and a world of storylines for those who watch.
Tiger Woods is still feared, he may just be slightly less fearsome than he used to be. Simply put, the New York Yankees make the world go around, the Phillies make it fun.
Memorial week is the one-year anniversary of the news. The Thursday before last years Memorial was when doctors informed Woods he had a double stress fracture in his left tibia. Seems like a lifetime ago.
The leg is still healing, as is his game. Both will come around before we know it. In the meantime, enjoy the show.
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