There is the golfer and there is the man, and both are great, as Jay Gatsby was great, as Barry Bonds and Mickey Mantle and Michael Jordan were great. Can you imagine someone more exciting and flawed and unknowable than Tiger Woods?
For a half-hour there at the finale of the Players Championship, it was looking for all the world as if Tiger and Sergio would meet in a playoff, that their verbal sparring would be settled in a more manly way. But then Tiger pulled out his Sergio García voodoo doll and made the Spaniard hit three balls in the water on the final two holes. And they weren't even in the same group. How'd he do that?
Woods has now won 78 times on the PGA Tour. Seventy-eight, and he's 37. He has won twice on Father's Day, at the 2000 and '02 U.S. Open, and now he's won twice on Mother's Day, in Atlanta in 1998 and this year on the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass. After winning his second Players Championship, Woods, an only child, gave his mother a TV shout-out. In his victor's press conference he apologized for spiking her blood pressure with his 6 on 14 late on Sunday afternoon, a time of day he used to own the way you own your memories.
The root of that double bogey was a hooked three-wood, a foul pop that plopped down in a murky lagoon. It was a shocker, that shot, a flashback to 2010, when he was lost in his swing.
But then he stepped into the box on 18, water left and trees right and the tournament on the line, and he nutted a vintage, boring, drawing three-wood, 286 yards, the very shot he had been looking for at 14. It's a bread-and-butter shot, formerly a standard part of his repertoire but MIA in more recent years. It will most likely be fully back in a matter of weeks. You can't win a U.S. Open without it, and the national championship is at Merion, golf's Fenway Park, next month.
His rock-solid par on the home hole sealed the deal on Sunday but only because of Sergio's collapse. Had García finished par-par, instead of quad-double, both former child stars would have finished at 275, 13 under par. Instead, Tiger Woods was your winner by two, over 49-year-old Jeff Maggert, rookie David Lingmerth and journeyman Kevin Streelman. Sergio was six back.
Lindsey Vonn, la skieuse extraordinaire, saw her man raise crystal for the first time. (There was no cardboard check for his haul, 1.7 large.) It was not a victory that oozed joy. The setting has something to do with that. The Players has turned into a true world-class event, but not a grand one. Augusta, Merion, Muirfield in Scotland, Oak Hill, the sites for this year's majors, all radiate charm. The Players will drain a fan's wallet and make a player's head ache. It's a gaudy show and a good one.
You could take away everything Woods has done in his life except what he has done at Sawgrass, and he still would have led a rich and strange life. It was there that he won his first major event, the 1994 U.S. Amateur. He won the 2001 Players at Sawgrass, and in February '10, in the Taj Mahal clubhouse, Woods offered up that painful public mea culpa, dwarfed by those somber blue ballroom curtains, famously asking us for a second chance, as if he owed us anything. At the 2011 Players, he played nine holes in 42 shots and withdrew, citing a leg injury.
Last week at the Players, there was something for everybody, including a tried-and-true Tiger Woods golfing exhibition. The scoop is out of his chipping game now, which means he's not afraid to play shots off tight lies from just off the green with lofted clubs. He hit five-woods that went 250. His putting stroke, for four days on fast greens, was DSP. (See: Jenkins, Dan.) In his indoor sit-down press conferences, wearing his Nike cap and his Rolex watch and his Buddhist bracelet, he answered many questions expansively and demonstrated his prodigious memory. And then there were his outdoor stand-up press conferences. They were must-watch TV, almost as entertaining as the golf.
The game took an interesting turn last week—time will tell whether or not that's a good thing—and Golf Channel was there to record it and dissect it. It's a new day. Tom Watson and Gary Player had a serious rules dispute decades ago that never really made it out of the papers. Last Saturday's dust-up between Woods and García unfolded on live TV, and was likely the first act in turning golf into the soap opera that every other sport is these days.