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NOT GOING BACK THERE
Michael Bamberger
March 18, 2013
WITH A WIRE-TO-WIRE WIN AT DORAL, TIGER WOODS SHOWED HE IS AGAIN THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD, BUT HIS VICTORY ALSO SERVED AS A REMINDER THAT HIS DAYS OF UTTER DOMINATION ARE OVER
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March 18, 2013

Not Going Back There

WITH A WIRE-TO-WIRE WIN AT DORAL, TIGER WOODS SHOWED HE IS AGAIN THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD, BUT HIS VICTORY ALSO SERVED AS A REMINDER THAT HIS DAYS OF UTTER DOMINATION ARE OVER

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Why would that be? Because the majors, the Masters and the two Opens most especially, are different. The courses are harder and the line between success and failure is so, so fine. The guy wants them too much. He's been stuck on 14 majors since June 2008. (Only Nicklaus has more, with 18.) He has four wins at Augusta, but the last one came in 2005. No one is more aware of these things than Woods. In all four majors last year there were times that he rushed putts, that he looked lost in his preshot routine, that he was visibly irritated with himself and borderline misanthropic with others. At the PGA Championship there were times where he never said anything more than, "Where is it?"

Last week Woods was a man in full. If the circus is coming near you, get yourself to it, so that you may say you saw him, as your grandfather saw DiMaggio. TV cannot do Woods's greatness, nor his presence, justice. Last week he was striding the Trump Doral fairways as if he owned them. It was regal. It was mesmerizing.

Woods has now won at Doral four times in his career, and made $4.8 million there alone. Trump spent $150 million to buy the resort and will spend far more sprucing up the hotel and rebuilding the Blue Monster course "to make it more monster," Woods said, "not just blue."

Or red. His scores last week on the par 72 course were all red ones: 66, 65, 67 and 71. He took 100 putts, the fewest in any tournament of his career. But even though the greens were fast and firm at Doral, you cannot begin to compare them to Augusta's greens, which have far more slope and the easy two-putt from above the hole comes only in the electronic form of the game.

Woods often talks about taking baby steps. He's making a swing change; he takes baby steps. When he went from a bagful of Titleist clubs to 14 Nike sticks, he did it gradually, with baby steps. He added weight to his once skinny frame in baby steps. When he made that five-foot putt for bogey on 18 on Sunday at Doral, the journey there began with a baby step. You could of course say it began with those steps he made as a toddler, Earl beside him, marching onto Mike Douglas's stage.

Less grandly, the start of this journey to Doral could be pinned to the Accenture Match Play, where Tiger Woods lost in the first round to his friend Charles Howell III and looked for all the world like he wanted to be anywhere else. Prehydrant, you used to never see that. The golf course was his world.

But the following week, at the Honda, Woods was back to old familiar ways. "He's the greatest golfer of all time," Howell said last week, "and the greatest grinder." His game wasn't there at the Honda, and he could have packed it in at any moment. He did the opposite. He made the cut on the number and did nothing on the weekend, but every time you looked up he seemed to be on all fours, searching for another lost ball. He was searching, period.

Like the man says, it's a process. Last week it all came together, the swing work he's doing with Sean Foley, the grind-it-out mentality he inherited from his father, the putting lesson he got from Stricker, the comfort factor he has at Doral. He took a four-shot advantage into Sunday that it seemed unlikely he could possibly blow, and won by two. He closed bogey-par-bogey.

Maybe you think those closing bogeys are cosmetic and meaningless. McDowell said they were. So did Tiger's caddie, Joe LaCava, and others. The winner himself does not agree. He won a Masters by 12 and a U.S. Open by 15 and a British Open by eight. How? With superior talent, and by being absolutely greedy. Whatever his lead was, he wasn't satisfied. He got a foot on their necks and stepped harder and harder until you heard something snap. It was angry golf, really, like nothing that had been seen before. That's why the other players cried uncle. Those days are not coming back. The gap is much narrower, in the majors especially, where everything is magnified. His drive has mellowed.

A reporter commented on Woods's stress-free win at Doral.

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