The Tiger rules

Brian Murphy
Yahoo! Sports

Just got a tweet from Tiger. Let’s see, what does it say …

“HEY, H8RS. HOW BOUT DEM APPLES? C U AT BETHPAGE. LOVE, TIGER.”

Hard to say what’s more impressive: Tiger’s final-round 65 at the Memorial to win; Tiger’s birdie-birdie finish to bust out of a four-way tie for the lead; or the fact that Tiger got that tweet in well under the 140-character maximum, and still exuded maximum impact.

OK, OK. Let’s come clean. Four weeks ago in this particular slice of cyberspace, questions were raised about Tiger’s post-surgery act. After all, even though he’d won Arnie’s little party at Bay Hill, it could be written that Sean O’Hair gave that one away more than anything else. And what followed in Tiger’s next three starts was just – well, let’s quote this column from May 11, 2009 – … weird.

At Augusta, Quail Hollow and Sawgrass, Tiger had three legitimate Sunday chances to win. He went bogey-bogey finish at Augusta; shot an indifferent 72 at Quail Hollow; and shot an indisputably poor 73 at Sawgrass. Given that it all happened on Sundays, formerly known as Tiger Days, like I said, it was just … weird.

Now, after the Masterpiece at Memorial, it all seems a little less weird. We re-learned some important lessons and learned some new ones, as well, on Sunday, lessons some of us – ahem, ahem, hack, hack, cough – had forgotten or never knew. Among them:

Tiger Likes To Show Off For His Idols

• There could be no better cure for Tiger’s Sunday woes than to send him to Muirfield. The mere sight of host Jack Nicklaus’ blonde mane served the same role as a potent pack of smelling salts: Oh, that’s right! THERE’S the guy I live to chase down. Enough of this mucking around. It’s business time. The fact that Jack and Tiger played together in a spirited Skins Game on Wednesday in the rain, ending with a Tiger chip-in from 25 yards out, only served to heighten the experience. Seeing the Bear greet Tiger off of the 18th green after Tiger’s already-legendary 7-iron to 13 inches from 186 yards out made us all remember the last time Tiger played brilliantly on a Sunday – at Arnie’s party in March. And, as he does with Arnie, Tiger received some verbal love from the Golden Bear who was heard to say, in that high-pitched Jack tone: “You’ve got your swing back.” Jack doesn’t do the charisma overload thing, like Arnie, and that classic “What else is new?” line he dropped on Tiger in ’07, but the point is the same. Jack … Arnie … Tiger: The Three Horsemen of American Golf. That’s how it works. Tiger’s respect for his elders, dating back to his childhood reverence for his late father, Earl, works every time. The scheduling gods hooked Tiger up.

If Tiger Hits It In The Fairway, Everybody Else May As Well Go Home.

• This column may or may not have asked, four weeks ago, if Tiger’s ball striking woes would lead to a change at the top, starting with swing coach Hank Haney. After all, life spans in Team Tiger historically have skewed towards the mayfly, with caddies, agents and swing coaches all biting the dust in the past. Instead, whatever Haney and Tiger worked on – including unveiling a new driver with more loft – morphed the world’s number one player into a fairway-finding machine to make Iron Byron envious. Tiger hit 14 of 14 fairways on Sunday. Tiger doesn’t do that. It’s against his personal constitution. Combined with his newfound repeatable tee box efforts, he exuded his characteristic discipline in club choice, often going with less than driver when needed, including the all-too-smart iron off the tee on 18. When Tiger plays from the fairway, Tiger shoots 65 on Sundays and wins big things. He reminded us that the last time he drove it this well was at Hoylake, at the 2006 British Open. Quoth Tiger: “And I did all right there.” He may or may not have had a satisfied smirk when he said it. As for Haney’s job security? On Sunday evening, Tiger said: “Yeah, you guys jumped the gun on that one.” He may or may not have had a satisfied smirk when he said it.

Tiger’s Reconstructive Knee Surgery Needs Time.

• After all, it’s been less than a year since the guy had his knee rebuilt, and generally, when knees get rebuilt, those with rebuilt knees don’t instantly return to being the best on the planet in what they do – on account of the rebuilt knee being less than a year old, and all. Several emailers pointed this out after the May 11 column, the controversial “Tiger’s Unfamiliar Terrain” – and they were right. Tiger said as much on Sunday in some of his most important comments to date, about how even recently he couldn’t practice as much as he normally would, and how he couldn’t hit as many range balls as he normally would, and how he couldn’t shape shots the way he wanted to, and how he didn’t have the same body speed he wanted just yet, and it’s an ongoing thing. Daniel Coyle’s new book “The Talent Code” identifies part of the reason people get great is by practicing at their craft deeply and more often than other practitioners, who may be merely good. This deep practice builds up material surrounding the nerves called myelin that makes the body perform an act more efficiently. The more myelin, the better. Over the course of his lifetime, Tiger’s myelin supply must be off the charts. Or, as Tiger summarized about getting back to his practice routine: “Give me some time.” Uh, OK.

Tiger Likes To Hang With, And Compete, With Other Living Legends.

• At an early age, Tiger said he wanted to be the Michael Jordan of golf. He later became best buds with M.J. And, back before A-Rod became America’s most reviled athlete, Tiger was spotted hanging at football games with Alex Rodriguez, who, like Tiger, was a ground-breakingly good player in his sport. Point is, Tiger likes to go big when it comes to his peers. Now, his hip friendship is with tennis legend Roger Federer. I’m saying it’s no coincidence that Tiger produced his winning round of 65 on the same day that Roger the Great tied Pete Sampras’ all-time record of 14 Grand Slam titles. In fact, when Tiger rolled in the 37-footer for bird on No. 2 Sunday, the word that came to mind was “Federer-ian.” Roger caught Pete; Tiger is on pace to catch Jack and, since there was no major to be played, Tiger did the next best thing: Take home Jack’s crystal and do so in dazzling fashion. Asked about it, Tiger said he spoke with his pal Roger, and admitted to yelling at the TV to fire Roger up during Sunday morning’s round. You and I may yell at the TV during sporting events; but you and I can’t text the guy we’re yelling at. Tiger can. That’s how he rolls. Give Federer at least a partial assist for Tiger’s Sunday effort.

A True Tiger Sunday Involves The Field Coming Up Small.

• And with the exception of Jim Furyk, the field obliged, producing wholly unmemorable efforts once Tiger began rattling the leader board. If it wasn’t Jonathan Byrd doubling 14, or missing a four-footer on 17 to get within one; it was Davis Love III finishing bogey-triple bogey for a 73. If it wasn’t the final twosome of Mark Wilson and Matt Bettencourt posting 73 and 75, respectively; it was the stunning sight of (Cool Hand) Geoff Ogilvy building a snowman on the par-4 14th. When Ogilvy, in the hunt, puts an ‘8’ on his card on the back nine on a Sunday, you know Tiger is messing with everyone’s heads. In fact, what was so stunning about the Masters-Quail Hollow-Sawgrass trifecta of Tiger Sunday weirdness was how unintimidated the field played with Tiger in contention. It led some to speculate that the field, maybe, used Tiger’s absence to build up some thicker skin. On Sunday at the Memorial … not so much. In the end, it was Furyk, the bulldog himself, who came up one shot shy and shot 69 under fire. No wonder why Tiger always wants Furyk as a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup partner. He’s one of the few whose mettle Tiger admires.

When It’s All Said and Done, He Has Magic In That Soul.

• After watching that bogey-bogey Sunday finish at Augusta National, after watching him hit splashdowns at Sawgrass, and after watching him let three consecutive Sunday wins wriggle off the hook, some of us – ahem, ahem, cough, cough – forgot about that Tiger Magic last seen at Torrey Pines. Even Tiger himself said after the round that he’s had to lower his expectations in his ’09 starts, because of the recovery from the knee. When we see him in contention on a Sunday, however, we don’t think “lowered expectations.” We think: “Where’s the magic?” At the Memorial, Tiger obliged, first with the chip-in eagle on 11 from the deep rough. At the time, he was three shots back of Byrd and columnists were clearing their throats for another “Tiger’s Lost It” piece. Instead, he opened the clubface and, with an extra flourish, swept his left hand upwards as he made contact and stepped back, all in one motion, affecting the look of an artist standing back to admire his canvas. There was a lot to admire: the eagle got him one back. His birdie on 17 gave him a one-shot lead, and his 7-iron on 18 was, simply, an instant classic. Tiger compared it to Shaun Micheel’s 7-iron beauty on the 72nd at Oak Hill to win the PGA Championship, which might be the only time ever Tiger willingly compares himself to Shaun Micheel. And since it was his penultimate competitive shot before Bethpage, the message was loud and clear: Oh, and if you doubt that I forgot how to do this under pressure? Here’s this. For your heads.

Scorecard of the week

70-70-71-72 – 5-under 283, tie-8th, Memorial Tournament, Ernie Els.

It’s been a tough go of late for those of us who hold cards in the Ernie Els Fan Club. He hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in over a year, and setting aside the small-field Mercedes, he hasn’t finished in the top 10 in a stroke play event all year.

Granted, Els posting a back-nine 38 on Sunday when in contention isn’t exactly keeping Tiger up at night, but again, if you’re holding that card in the EEFC (Ernie Els Fan Club), you’re scraping for good news, so we’ll take his first stroke-play top 10 as a good sign just two weeks before Bethpage. Might the Big Easy be waking up in time for another U.S. Open run? Stay tuned, card holders.

Mulligan of the week

• Quick: Anybody know who played alongside Tiger in Sunday’s final round at the Memorial? And no, family members of Michael Letzig do not count.

Here’s Letzig, a second-year tour pro, anonymously plying his craft, contending at the Memorial, and he draws Motivated Tiger in his twosome. By the second hole, when Tiger buried the 37-footer, then had to wait while Letzig slapped it around for a bogey, you had to feel terrible for the guy. He was already invisible to the gallery, and to CBS’ cameras, who captured pretty much zero percent of his 75 strokes.

So let’s go back to the pairing sheets, bend the scheduling rules a little bit and … give that man a mulligan in the final pairings!

Broadcast moment of the week

“Look at the size of that divot. Would you like French fries or a baked potato with that?” – David Feherty, after watching Matt Bettencourt lay about a 24-inch piece of sod over his ball while dunking a wedge shot on Sunday.

“Medium well.” – Nick Faldo, piling on.

National TV, it turns out, is a tough place to chunk one when you’re in the final twosome at the Memorial. Ouch.

We’ll stick up for Bettencourt, a good Northern California product, and say congratulations on the tie-5th at a tough PGA Tour event.

Where do we go from here?

• We follow one big golf week with another, sports fans. Not only do the ladies have their second major of the year – beware of flying tweets from Morgan Pressel and Christina Kim, in particular – but the Bethpage warmup in Memphis gives us both John Daly in loud pants and Phil Mickelson in a loudly emotional return.

And before that, U.S. Open sectional qualifying all over this great land of ours on Monday. Daly’s playing. So is Davis Love. That’s what makes the U.S. Open the best of ‘em all. No special invites for the cool crowd. Everybody pays his way.