He had the honor on 12, a downwind, 600-yard par-5. He tees it lower now than he used to and smashed a hold cut drive that went well over 300 yards. But he flinched at impact and grimaced as if Floyd Mayweather Jr. had just clocked him. He limped off the tee and down a slope, toward a row of mango trees where he was nearly out of view. His face was contorted in pain. Without consulting anyone, Woods approached Simpson, shook his hand and said, "I have to go in." The man is nothing if not decisive. A marshal waved in a cart, the crowds parted, and Woods slipped away.
What a difference 24 hours made. When Woods was asked on Saturday how his body was holding up after playing three straight weeks, he said, "Oh, it feels great." There was no reason to doubt him.
After holing out on the 18th green, playing with his good buddy Steve Stricker, Woods had smiled broadly and given Stricker such a long, heartfelt hug that Stricker himself was surprised and moved. He sensed how happy Woods was to be playing tournament golf again.
Woods spent late Saturday afternoon on the range, sipping from a 16-ounce bottle of Diet Coke—so not like Tiger—and spending far more time chatting with the young, affable Jason Day than hitting balls. Standing only a few feet from spectators, Woods showed Day video of his three-year-old son's swing. It was Tiger as one of the guys, thoroughly relaxed. What a pleasure to watch. Being No. 18 in the world almost seems to suit him.
The new No. 1, Rory McIlroy, is coming to play, every time out. In the last three weeks he lost in the final of the Match Play, won Honda with Woods breathing down his Northern Irish neck and finished two shots behind Rose. As he came out of the scorer's room on Sunday, McIlroy slapped his thigh so hard it had to hurt.
The man sang a long time ago, "You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows." Playing behind Woods, McIlroy saw Simpson march off the 12th tee and Woods go in another direction. In time, he learned what happened. "It's a shame," McIlroy said. "I hope he's back for the Masters."
Why? Why would Rory McIlroy possibly want Tiger Woods, a man with four green jackets and an uncanny ability to contend at Augusta, to play next month?
Because, McIlroy said, "he can spark interest in golf that no one else can. I'd love to have a lot of battles with him down the stretch, and it would be great to do that at Augusta." What a great and generous thing to say.
Tiger will heal. The game is doing the same.