You can arguably say that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer ever, but almost no one will dispute he is the best here and now. By winning the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, Woods won his fourth event this season and 78th of his career. In doing so he made it resoundingly clear that not only is the old Tiger back but he is ready for more conquests.
Of course, Tiger is not Tiger without some sort of drama, and in this case it involved fellow player Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard accused Woods of trying to mess up his shot by causing a commotion in the crowd as he chose a club. Where I come from in New York City, we street kids used to call for a “Do Over” in cases such as these, but this is the PGA Tour and not some stickball game. Whether you like Woods or not, it seems to be more like sour grapes coming from Garcia, but there will be those who want to believe Woods conspired to throw Garcia off his game.
Later on Woods and Garcia were tied on the 14th hole after Woods’s double bogey, but then Garcia sent two balls to a watery grave and had no one to blame but himself (unless he felt Woods conspired with the wind to blow his shots off course). Woods got more assistance when rookie David Lingmerth missed the birdie on the 18th hole, securing Woods his second Players victory (last one came 12 years ago).
After the victory Woods told reporters that a lot of people thought his career was over and done, but Woods assured the crowd “But I’m not.” That kind of confidence has to be a little unsettling for his opponents now, reminding them that the big cat is back on track and ready to reclaim his kingdom. Consider the following incredible statistics* regarding Woods’s career at this point:
4: Victories in 2013. This is the earliest Woods has ever reached four wins in a season.
7: Victories in his last 21 PGA Tour stroke-play events.
52 of 56: Conversion rate when Woods has at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
78: Career PGA Tour victories. Sam Snead, with 82, is No. 1 on the list.
300: PGA Tour starts (including as an amateur). Woods also won in his 100th and 200th PGA Tour starts.
$5,849,600: Official PGA Tour earnings in 2013.
$106,800,300: Official career PGA Tour earnings.
If these numbers don’t impress you, then I guess nothing will. Obviously, Woods has been chasing Snead and, at 37, it is highly likely that he will overcome that record. Only a year ago people were thinking that Woods was finished and that he would never get back his confidence on a course, and even only last week when he got too well lubricated at the Met Gala after-party in New York, many thought that was a sign he was unraveling. After this victory, we can safely say that Tiger has proven them all wrong.
Watching Woods walk around the course, it is clear that the old confidence is back and more. He stares with (please forgive me) the eye of the tiger, surveying the jungle and keenly observing all. It is also pure poetry to see Woods take a swing, just as it was to watch Tom Seaver pitch a baseball, Hank Aaron hit a homer, Julius Erving (Dr J) sink a basket, Muhammad Ali land a punch, and Joe Namath throw a touchdown pass. In sports poetry lies in the beauty of the moment, the majesty of its effect, and the long lasting memory of its greatness. There is no question that what Woods does on the course is the stuff from which legends are made.
Besides Snead’s record, perhaps the even more elusive and important number is 14 – Woods has been locked on that number of victories in the four majors since 2008. More meaningful to Woods is catching Jack Nicklaus, whose record 18 stands as a golden sports pinnacle in a way that Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs once did.
To clarify this record’s Mount Everest quality, Snead only won the four majors 7 times. Gary Player and Arnold Palmer, both iconic golfers whose names can be said in the same breath as Nicklaus, won the majors 9 and 7 times respectively. Directly below Woods the late great Walter Hagen stands with 11, a number surpassed by Woods so early in his career that Nicklaus’s record appeared to be easily in reach. After all his problems, it seemed Woods would never get back on track, but now that record is there for the taking again, and Woods is the only one around with a chance to reach it.
Tiger Woods is the superstar of golf, the reason why people follow the tour and watch on television. He is like a golfing Tom Cruise, and you can bank on his attracting interest and his performance always commands your attention, but perhaps more than ever this season. For now it is clear Tiger is playing like he did a decade ago, and that means all things are possible.
Photo credits: tiger trophy – usa today; tiger with club – getty images