Tiger Woods is unlike any other golfer on Tour in so many ways, one of which is his handling of the media. He's mastered the the ability to speak for 30 minutes without actually ever saying anything. This is typically done with lingo that's come to be known as "Tiger speak," which consistently utilizes terms such as traj, process, motors, and old patterns.
While it wasn't the Hank Haney-influenced "old patterns" that so concern Woods and his coach Sean Foley, this week in Columbus, Tiger certainly put on a show replete with nostalgia. Woods captured his fifth tournament championship at the Memorial in dramatic fashion on Sunday, playing like "old Tiger," as people now like to demarcate. But it was also the less dramatic, less rousing work he put in throughout the week that made this win different and perhaps serve as a harbinger of more good things to come.
In the end, golf is a pretty simple game -- you need to hit it straight and make your putts. Woods converted the par-saving putts that have plagued his "comeback" over the past two years. He held on during his first round on Thursday, hitting six putts between six and ten feet to save pars and complete a red-numbered round. He built the momentum on Friday with another loop in the red, firing s 69 with a double bogey on the par-3 12th that played a big role throughout the week. His week seemed to stall out on Saturday when he shot a 1-over 73, but Muirfield yielded little to anyone that day and no one ran away with it.
The work over first three days set up Sunday's final round full of "old Tiger" magic. As Golf Chanel's Brandel Chamblee (one of Tiger's biggest critics) said on Sunday night, his round was "clinical." He matched the low round of the day with a 67 that featured two crowd-igniting birdie streaks. Woods needed to make up a four-shot deficit, and even with leader Spencer Levin barely hanging on, he had to get to work quickly on the front side. His back-to-back-to-back birdies at holes five through seven promptly put the final group on notice. He then hit his rough patch around the turn, hitting three straight pulls and carding two bogeys. It could have been worse, but as was the case earlier in the week, his putter kept him in it as Levin came back to the pack one group behind.
Then there was the "old Tiger" who showed up for the final four holes, converting three birdies to walk away with a two-shot win over Rory Sabbatini. If he were to even have a chance, he had to take advantage of the opportunity at the par-5 15th, which he did. The follow-up to that, however, was the unexpected magic that turned the championship. Jack Nicklaus called the flop shot on No. 16 the greatest shot he's ever seen -- "ever." That was likely a bit of hyperbole from the greatest ever, caught up in the dramatic charge by Woods at his tournament on his design masterpiece. But just like the pre-fire hydrant days, the tournament was over right there. The unmistakable roar heard ahead by the final group may as well have served as the trophy presentation. However, Woods cleaned it up and removed all doubt with another birdie on the last after sticking a perfect approach shot within nine feet of the cup -- the final act of the Sunday's "stripe show" -- another Woods term he coined this week at Muirfield.
While it was a magical stretch of golf, the Sunday charge is indicative of nothing. The media proclaimed Woods the favorite at Olympic in two weeks. He won the game's other living legend's tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, just two weeks before the Masters, where he finished a middling T40, his worst showing at Augusta. While the four-day stretch in Columbus was more impressive, and more dramatic, nothing is predictable right now with Woods.
Tiger started this month by perhaps hitting the lowest point of the past two-year "comeback" with a missed cut at Quail Hollow and an emphatically mediocre T40 at The Players. But this week seemed different than the win at Bay Hill, and Sunday afternoon certainly seemed like the "old Tiger." That version, who played the best golf in the history of the game, is likely never coming back in any sort of sustainable fashion so it's precarious to start forecasting his play for the U.S. Open. But for one week, he's certainly capable of putting it together and Sunday's hole-out at No. 16 was the "shot we've been waiting for for three years," as Jim Nantz put it. Whether you're a fan or not, it always makes for a more exciting Sunday afternoon.