Tiger triumphs again at AT&T
BETHESDA, Md. -- Tiger Woods has a very long memory. On Sunday evening after earning his 74th career PGA Tour victory in a 2-shot win over Bo Van Pelt in the AT&T National, the 14-time major champion reminded us of what many people had predicted about him at the beginning of the year.
"I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again," Woods said. "Here we are.
"A lot of media people didn't think I could win again, and I had to deal with those questions for a quite a bit. It was just a matter of time."
Yet many of his doubters were also average golf fans. Since I joined ESPN.com in August, I have received an avalanche of mail from readers who have grown impatient with Tiger. Nearly every day for the past three years, people from all walks of life have drilled me with questions about Tiger's future.
Many of the fans or commenters generally fall into three camps. The first group abhors any mention of Tiger unless he's winning the tournament. On Saturday night, when Brendon De Jonge held a 1-shot lead over Tiger and Van Pelt, a reader pelted me for barely mentioning the 31-year-old Zimbabwe native in my column.
The second camp, the practical kind of people who recognize that Tiger is one of the most exciting athletes to watch in the world, appreciates the 36-year-old former Stanford star as one of the most extraordinary transformative figures of our times. Fans of Tiger, like the average Joe who wouldn't watch golf otherwise, could be lumped into this group.
Then there are the Tiger haters. For these people, he can't do anything right. They often remind us of every bad choice that he's made in his life. They don't like him because of the color of his skin or his choice of women or any number of his imperfections.
Over the past several months, I've pondered often about Tiger's abilities to get back to the golfer he was in 2000 and 2001. I have never been a Tiger hater or a major doubter of his ability or will to win, but I have considered that he might never again be a dominant player.
To paraphrase a line from Matthew McConaughey's character in "Dazed and Confused," Tiger has seemed to be getting older while all the kids have stayed the same age. Rory McIlroy and a host of young bucks are emerging every year with an aim to unseat Tiger from his throne.
At times recently, Tiger has looked brilliant. His winning performances earlier this year at Bay Hill and the Memorial, after a nearly three-year winless drought, showed a glimpse of his former genius. But then there were his failures at the Masters and the U.S. Open. Still, it was foolish of any of us to think he would never win again. And it's not because of what he had done in the past but really because of how hard he's continued to work on his game through injuries and a very public divorce.
"Give me a little bit of time, and I feel like this is what I can do," Tiger said Sunday night. "When you're changing systems and have a totally different release pattern, it's going to take some time, and there are times when, yeah, I revert back, but that's happening less and less, and my ball striking is getting better and better."
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Tiger has earned our patience with him. He's not promising to win the next two majors or even this coming week in West Virginia at the Greenbrier Classic, where he will be playing for the first time.
All he did this week at Congressional was pass Jack Nicklaus on the all-time wins list and take over the top spot on the money list for the first time in three years. He's brimming with confidence after winning three of his past seven tournaments.
It sounds good to say, Tiger is back. And for the next several news cycles until he has another disappointment at a major or regular tour event, we'll be talking about his slow ascendance back to No. 1 in the world. But Tiger has warned us time and time again that this is all a progression, and that perhaps our expectations of him are sometimes unrealistic despite his otherworldly success.
Does it matter that he's still No. 4 in the world despite being the only three-time winner this year other than Brandon Grace, who has achieved the feat on the European Tour? Not really. In Nicklaus' prime, there wasn't an Official World Golf Ranking.
Whether we like Tiger or not, he's in the business of hard work and winning.
"I try hard," Tiger said. "I try everything I possibly can and give everything I possibly can, and sometimes I don't quite hit the ball well or not putt well and do everything right. ... Welcome to golf."
So wherever you fall on the Tiger spectrum from the lovers to the haters, try to do what those 25,000 fans did on Sunday afternoon at Congressional and just take in the moment for what it is.
Tiger's game will never be perfect. But we can always be sure that he's trying his best. The world of golf had better take notice.
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