Tiger Woods’ career is not only a series of wins; it is a series of moments. You can hear and see them in the theater of your mind. It is amazing putts, improbable iron shots and impossible chips, all of them somehow equal parts amazing and important.
The importance of Woods’ victory at the 2012 Memorial can be measured with several different yardsticks. With his record fifth win at the event, he ties Jack Nicklaus with 73 PGA Tour victories, 10 years faster than the Golden Bear. He also joined Hunter Mahan and Jason Dufner as the multiple winners in 2012, having a posted a win at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Invitational prior to this year’s Masters. Woods, one of the great front-runners in golf history, ran down third-round leaders Spencer Levin and Roy Sabbatini with three birdies in the final four holes.
Tiger credited the victory to his ball-striking, accurately commenting that he “put on a stripe-show”. The stats confirm the account; Woods hit over 75 percent of fairways and 74 percent of greens in regulation. Woods also averaged a stingy 1.75 putts puts per hole, all of which adds up to potential victory.
But even in Woods’ Bay Hill win, there was something missing. What was missing was The Moment, that one seemingly impossible shot that brings earsplitting roars from the gallery and a volley of .45 caliber fist pumps from Tiger. That moment came today on the 16th hole, where Tiger had left his approach in thick rough behind the green. It seemed as though it would take a miracle just to keep the ball on the green; Tiger used an 80-mile per hour swing to produce a weightless lob shot that trundled down the slick slope and found the bottom of the cup. Nicklaus himself called it,” one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen.” The crowd gave its best imitation of a Sunday gallery at Augusta, and Tiger’s bellowing was as much catharsis as celebration. It was, at last, The Moment. Tiger put the finishing touch on the win with a 8-foot birdie on the 18th that put him two strokes clear of Sabbatini.
The difference between Tiger and his entire peer group has never been defined by words like “consistency” or “precision”, although those were certainly components of his game. The difference has been his ability to create magic, to turn trouble into triumph and potential tragedy into permanent history. From Sawgrass and Augusta to Bethpage and St. Andrews, Woods has been the author of some of the most memorable moments in all of sport. For the last 36 months, the majority of the drama that Woods produced had been off the course. Today, Woods reminded the golf world that someone wins every week on Tour, but sometimes it’s how you win that makes the world sit up and take notice. With the U.S. Open just over the horizon, Tiger Woods today sent a message that couldn’t have been clearer if it had been written in smoke lettering across the blue Ohio sky: “I’m Back!”
Michael Williams is the contributing editor of Newschannel8 Capital Golf Weekly and Bunkershot.com, as well as a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.