But you knew he had been logging hours at home by looking at his left hand, where he wears his golf glove. If he's been cruising the Caribbean in his yacht, Privacy, or otherwise taking a break from the game, his left hand becomes as dark as his right. Last week his left hand was three shades lighter than his right. He had been taking his reps on the Isleworth range.
Still, he wasn't 100%. Everyone said so privately. (Only Johnny Miller of NBC said it out loud.) His pick-your-spots power wasn't there. His vaunted distance control—his pride and joy—was off at times. More than anything, he couldn't putt those swooping greens, not by his standards. He won at Torrey last year, despite hitting a bunch of poor shots, by making everything.
Tiger, and everyone else who has played competitive golf, emphasizes the point that golf has no defense. You can't tackle your opponent at his ankles when he's at the top of his swing. But for Tiger, that's not true. People said Tim Clark was hard to beat in Round 2, what with six birdies and no bogeys. But Tiger let him make those birdies. He didn't get in Clark's head, Tiger-style. He didn't shut him down in the desert, intimidate him by playing shots nobody else has. That's how Tiger plays defense. Ask Scott, May, Mediate and a hundred others.
Anyway, from Tiger's point of view, the Match Play was a two-day test of the emergency broadcasting system. On a pass-fail basis, he passed. Everything's O.K., the knee, the family life, the man himself. We can breathe again.
Get the inside scoop from SI Golf Group writers and editors at GOLF.com/confidential.