The message, above all, is that Woods mocks the field with his talent and youth, and the only way to halfway keep up is to cobble together odd grips or layouts. Yet for all that, he did not lap the field, winning by 12 strokes as he had in 1997 when his dominance was announced. Instead, and to the frustration of those who believed Jack Nicklaus when he predicted 10 green jackets for Woods, he destroyed the competition by increments. In its way, this kind of play is scarier. Let the DiMarcos of the world have their fun on Thursday and Friday because, underlying each event, there is the inevitability of Woods, picking up strokes here and there until it's over. "He seems to do just what is required," said Mickelson, "and I think if I had made a run [on Sunday], he may have followed suit."
His competitors are not sure how to deal with this, whether they should fool themselves into thinking they really are in this game or whether they should throw in the towel. Mickelson, emboldened by a couple of head-to-head wins over Woods last year, is a holdout when it comes to gushing over Tiger. Afterward he refused to frame Woods's sweep of the majors in any historical way, saying, "I really haven't been thinking about it." And just to prove he wasn't mesmerized by his partner on Sunday, he added that he hadn't even bothered to watch a single stroke of Tiger's. "I just chose not to," he said.
Not even Duval, friendly with Woods and likely to be generous, would admit he had come along at the wrong time. He believes it is possibly a good thing, competing under this looming presence. "It will make my victories in these majors that much more special," he said. Because Duval had had a tough day, nobody laughed or pointed out that such wins are imaginary to this point.
But you've got to have hope. How do you play golf without hope? What would be the point of tooling up Magnolia Lane year after year, packing a dreary resignation along with that new, let's say nose-high, putter. Better to believe that someone will think of something, a way to Tiger-proof the game. These are men who are familiar with desperation and, having come this far, are unyielding and resourceful in its face. Maybe some long-shot gambit, like the Super Bowl Ravens, will finally come through for a particularly daring golfer. Who knows? So, no, they will not admit to us or themselves that this really is Tiger's world and they're only in on exemptions.
Having seen what we've seen, though, we know better. At the end of the day, with the sun dropping behind the tall pines, last year's champion, Singh, slipped the green jacket over Woods's shoulders for Augusta's annual coronation. Then, heeding the calls of photographers, he did it again. The photographers wanted more, and Singh kept slipping the jacket on Woods, over and over and over, and it suddenly seemed that in some trick of time compression the future was being unspooled, however jerkily, for us. He just kept putting that jacket on, over and over and over.