It's a major Sunday and Tiger Woods is wearing red and black, and if you squint a bit — and don't look at the clock or the scoreboard — you could almost think it's 2000 or 2002 or 2006 again.
But, no, it's 2014, and here's Woods, spending more time looking for balls in the gorse than driving them onto the fairway. He staggered home on Sunday at the Open Championship with a get-me-the-hell-out-of-here 75 to conclude a six-over tournament.
Yes, he finished five strokes behind 64-year-old Tom Watson; yes, he concluded his round almost two hours before the leaders even teed off. Yes, at the moment his comeback from back surgery is looking as misguided as a new Van Halen album, good memories obscuring the painful reality of today. But you know what? Let's not pile on any more. Let's see if we can take some actual positives from Woods' week. Really, it won't be hard.
First off, let's appreciate the fact that there was even an Open Championship at all for Woods. He beat all predictions for his return from back surgery, coming back only about 10 weeks after surgery that generally takes at least three months for recovery. Granted, perhaps Woods came back too early, but the fact he's here at all is impressive indeed.
Next, he's actually playing on the weekend. Friday's fumble and stumble to the finish, making the cut on the number thanks to a Hail-Mary birdie, obscured the fact that simply making the cut in his first major back from surgery deserves praise. Making the cut was a best-case scenario coming into the tournament; thanks to his opening 69, the best-case scenario got vaulted into unreachable territory, and what should have been a positive outcome became a borderline failure.
Here's the thing, though. When Woods finished his Sunday round, another miserable slog through the Liverpool flora, only three names sat below his on the leaderboard. But you know who one of those names was? Martin Kaymer, the guy who absolutely decimated Pinehurst just one month ago at the U.S. Open. You know who didn't even make the cut? Bubba Watson, the guy who throttled the field on Sunday afternoon at Augusta earlier this year. Yes, Rory McIlroy could have shot a 90 on Sunday and still come in four strokes ahead of Woods. But Woods still finished ahead of some of the best playing the game right now.
He's Tiger, Tiger Woods, y'all. He's the best golfer most of us will ever see in his prime, and either 1 or 1A in golf history, depending on how well you remember Jack Nicklaus. No, he won't win 14 of 46 majors again, the way he did back in the early 2000s. He probably won't catch Nicklaus' 18 majors. But what he will do is remind us of those days. Sure, for hokey romantic sportswriter purposes, it'd be better if he'd pulled a Sandy Koufax or a Barry Sanders, leaving while still capable of standing upright and not posting scores that make you scroll way, way, WAY down the leaderboard.
But you know what? No matter how many triple bogeys he posts, no matter how many cover-your-kids'-ears curses he scorches the air with after a bad drive, he's still got those 14 majors. They don't scrub your name off the Claret Jug if you play like garbage years down the line.
Woods will be back, and often. He won't win much, and he'll fail in spectacular fashion. But every so often, he'll do something that reminds everyone of the way he used to play. So what if he now fist-pumps a routine par rather than a major-winning birdie? At some point, we'll all be there.
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- Tiger Woods