It looked like footage from the highlight reel: Steve Williams bounding to the 18th tee late on a major Sunday, the black Titleist bag bouncing on his broad back, Tiger Woods trailing him, measuring the wind with his eyes and the falling temperature with his cheeks.
But the Titleist bag, in his brilliant bachelor youth a central part of the Tiger Woods ensemble, belonged to Adam Scott, and Williams was caddying for the Aussie, with his swing from God, and not for the man he helped guide to 13 major championships. The giant scoreboard beside the green showed that Phil Mickelson was the leader in the house at three under par at this British Open at Muirfield, while Woods was five back and by that point playing only for pride.
Yes, Tiger Woods has won four times this year, and he's still the best player in the world. But he's not the man you once knew (or thought you once knew). Last Saturday night, when he trailed only one man on the leader board and was just two shots back in the oldest and grandest championship in all of golf, an event Woods has won three times, he was engaged in crazy talk. He said, "There's a bunch of guys who have a chance to win this tournament."
You wanted to shake him and scream, You're Tiger Woods—you don't talk about the other "guys" and their wing-and-a-prayer chances of winning a jug that carries the names Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods your own damn self!
His scores last week were 69, 71, 72 and 74. Not the chart the doctor wanted to see. In the 17 majors in which he has played since his epic one-legged U.S. Open win in 2008, Woods has nine top 10s. Tiger knows those numbers. He cites them. But the truth is that the life and times of Tiger Woods will not be counted in top 10 finishes. Not now. Not ever.
The end of 72 holes in any major is almost like the end of a religious holiday. (Name your favorite religion; Tiger is still wearing his Buddhist bracelets.) There's a moment there when the players, no matter where they have finished, let themselves go. Woods tapped in at the 18th, and then he and Williams, starting to heal the wounds of their unseemly 2011 divorce, had such a heartfelt handshake and mini chat that a Muirfield member in a double-breasted blazer, standing in the wings, actually mimed it for a fellow member.
Moments later, in the players' parking lot, Williams analyzed the state of Woods's game.
"Having seen him up close now three times in recent weeks, 36 holes at Merion and 18 here, everything looks good in his game and his swing," Williams said. "But the one thing that's missing is his old aggressiveness."
Before Y.E. Yang chased down Woods at the PGA Championship in August 2009, and before his personal life imploded three months later, aggressiveness was Woods's defining trait. Talent, intelligence, a work ethic—and an aggressiveness that would not quit. That was then. These days, at golf's most important events, that last trait has been AWOL.