There used to be a time where a Tiger Woods lead after three rounds made victory a foregone conclusion. Then along came an unknown South Korean at the 91st PGA Championship who cracked Tiger's previously impenetrable defenses. And just like that, Woods was human.
Things haven't been the same since. That was evident by Woods' inability to once again hold a lead during Sunday's final round at the Chevron World Challenge, eventually falling to Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell in extra holes.
While Woods went winless for the first time in his tour career, the drama that played out at Sherwood once again proved how vital the biggest names in the game are to the tour's livelihood -- especially when it comes to drawing weekend viewers to their televisions.
Making the move
Due to time constraints during Saturday's third round, NBC was forced to show highlights from Tiger Woods' post-round interview during Sunday's final round. While it may have seemed odd to show the interview after the fact, the network had a couple of great interview clips, including one that went in-depth on Woods' personal life and his new practice facility at his home in Jupiter, Fla.
Dan Hicks did most of the heavy lifting, asking Woods about the new facility he just had installed in his backyard: "We've got four greens over there; I'll finally have a short game," Woods joked. "One of the greens has cooling tubes under it, so I'll be able to grow Bent if I want in the future. The bunkers are completely different and have sand from all over the world to simulate the courses we play at."
Hicks then tried to ask Tiger if his two kids had been out to the new home and seen the practice facility. While Woods didn't bristle at the question, you could definitely see him go into his shell: "It's just one of those things where they haven't been there ... well, they have been there once. But it's still under construction where I wouldn't consider moving in."
When asked about when he would be moving into his new pad, Woods said: "Sometime in the future. How about that? Does that narrow it down for you?"
Typical Tiger -- always trying to control the interview.
Tiger the tinkerer
Graeme McDowell called Tiger's opening round of the Chevron World Challenge "very ominous," and why not? His 7-under opening round was a tournament-best that included the addition of a new club to the bag: a heeled-shafted putter -- a big change from the usual Newport model.
Of course, the Golf Channel's Terry Gannon and Frank Nobilo were all over the new club change during Friday's second round.
"It's a heel-shafted mallet putter," Nobilo noted of Tiger's new stick. "He used it during the last round of the Australian Masters, where he shot 6-under over the last six holes. But I have not seen Tiger have this sort of start for at least a year or so.
"It lets the toe rotate more, so maybe he feels like he's blocking it more. He has tested with this type of putter before. Remember the opening rounds of the Open Championship at St. Andrews; obviously, it didn't work there, but this is an area of his that he's tweaking and trying to get back together."
The numerous close-up shots of the flat stick might have seemed excessive to some, but when you're Tiger Woods and you've used the same version of putter for years? Yeah, it's a big deal.
Rewind almost two months ago to the tense war of words between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. With Tiger's game in the dumps, the young Northern Irishman started taking pot-shots at Woods, calling him out for a singles showdown at the Ryder Cup.
While a head-to-head battle at the Ryder Cup would have been the best way to settle the tense battle, the match never transpired. So golf fans got the next best thing: a pairing at Sherwood.
As expected, the tension definitely wasn't there in either round. With Woods back on track and the situation in the past, the Golf Channel got exactly what it didn't want -- a smiling Woods, walking down the fairway while having a chat with McIlroy.
That still didn't stop them from showing both players on numerous occasions during the round. "We've seen it on the back nine that these two have had a running conversation going the entire time," Gannon said during Friday's second round. "I talked to Mark Rolfing during the round and he said they were talking like they were the best of friends.
"Rory's obviously in his video game, and he has a lot of respect for his game as well. He's arguably one of the best young players we've seen in the last decade-and-a-half," Nobilo noted.
So, what can we learn from this McIlroy-Woods situation? Silly-season events can diffuse any situation.
NBC announcer Roger Maltbie is a little bit like a glass of high-quality scotch: You either like him a lot, or you don't. Really, it's that simple.
While it's hard to agree with all of his opinions, he did make an interesting point about Tiger Woods' comfort level with his new swing, during Saturday's telecast.
As Dan Hicks noted, Woods "definitely looks more comfortable and seems to have more confidence in his game since that decisive singles victory at the Ryder Cup."
After agreeing with Hicks' assessment, Maltbie tried to break down why Woods seems to be at peace with Sean Foley's new swing changes that forced him to tear his swing apart and rebuild it for the fourth time: "I do think he's getting better. He's had more time to assimilate the changes in his golf swing with new coach Sean Foley.
"He seems to be more comfortable. He's only backed up rounds in the 60s twice with another one. But he said something yesterday that was really key, where he said he didn't feel like he struck the ball as well as he did in his opening round of 65, but he said ‘I know what the fix is, I can fix it on the golf course, and I got it corrected.' And that's important. Once you start to understand your golf swing as a player, and make those adjustments as you need to, now you start to own your swing and understand your moves. And that's what he's doing now."
Pretty interesting stuff from Maltbie. As he said, Woods seems to finally understand the new swing enough to diagnose his own swing problems, mid-round. Sounds a little like what was going on during the Hank Haney era.
• NBC mentioned the number of European Ryder Cuppers in the field at Sherwood, compared to the small number of American Ryder Cuppers. Was their absence due to an end-of-the-year vacation, or a grueling FedEx Cup schedule?
• The Golf Channel had a "rare" shot of Anthony Kim during Friday's second round (I say that because AK has been a relative no-show this year). Instead of wondering out loud why his season has been such a total failure, they just mentioned his solid second round and his bothersome wrist. Why not put the two together and discuss the white elephant in the room? He's had a relapse of late, anyway.
• Dan Hicks has never struck me as a hard-hitting interviewer, but he definitely proved me wrong during Saturday's post-round with Tiger Woods. Asking questions that pertained to Woods' personal life, including if Woods thought he could ever get back to his dominant level again, made me rethink my opinion of Hicks. It was an interview worth watching again if you DVR'd the round.
• Tiger's poor second shot on the par-5 15th, during Sunday's final round, brought a critical analysis from Mark Rolfing and Roger Maltbie: "That's some of the worst balance I've seen from him in a while," Maltbie said, after Woods double-crossed his swing. "That's just not trusting your swing and reverting back to old habits," Rolfing said, "and this game is all about trust."
"You know Tiger's back to his old form when he's hitting shots that have that crisp sound to them." -- NBC's Roger Maltbie