This one wasn't just another epic chapter in the book of the greatest competitor any of us has ever seen. This one wasn't just about the win streak, or the putt, or even about the adrenaline-laced slam-dunk of the Nike hat greenside, a Top 10 memorable image in a life already packed with them.
This one also was about what happened afterwards.
This one was about Arnie and Tiger's hug, when I'll be damned if somebody in my living room – might have been me, might have been somebody else – had something caught in his eye and had to work out a tear or two to make things right. Must have been the allergies. Yeah. Darn allergies.
Point is, golf and baseball seem to be the two sports where history matters so much, where the lore means almost as much as the game. We all love football and basketball, and yes, sometimes debating Montana vs. Unitas vs. Brady is fun; and yes, sometimes debating Oscar vs. Michael vs. Magic is fun, too.
But they don't measure up to the layers of history we're talking about here.
In golf, as in baseball, there is something more ruminative about the sport that lends to the importance of the past. When Willie Mays is there to hug Barry Bonds after home run No. 661, it means something. Or, for you Bonds-haters out there, we can change the image: When Ted Williams is brought out on a golf cart at the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway, and he gets swarmed by an adoring group of All-Stars, it means something. When Tony Gwynn helps Teddy Ballgame up and holds him by the arm when he throws the first pitch … well, then, we're back to the old "darn allergies" moment. There is a linking of the generations; of past and present, that connects on a deeper level than other sports.
So that's why I will always remember March 16, 2008, at Bay Hill: for the Tiger-Arnie Moment afterwards.
Tiger tied Ben Hogan on the all-time win list, and the first person to greet him walking off the green was the King, 78 years young. Full credit to Tiger for his obvious and massive respect for Arnie, as evidenced by the glint in his eye and the deep, genuine smile he flashed at his host.
And then it happened like this: Arnie cupped his hand on the back of Tiger's head, like a grandfather to a grandson, beaming with pride and joy, and saying, in that familiar Arnie sotto voce, dripping with the air of western Pennsylvania, eyes crinkled in a smile:
"What else is new?"
I swear Arnie's voice had a crack in it.
Maybe I'm reading too much into Tiger's reaction, but I thought he was extra-pumped that he did it in front of Arnie. Their relationship runs deep, way back to their famous dinner at Silverado in Napa during Tiger's sophomore year at Stanford – the dinner that forced the NCAA to threaten sanctions on Stanford and Tiger for improprieties, and hastened his departure to the pros. Famously, Tiger wrote Arnie a $25 check later to make amends with the NCAA. Just as famously, Arnie announced he would not cash the check, but frame it, so certain was he of Tiger's impending fame.
So at Bay Hill he hugged Arnie, and with a huge, undeniable smile, answered:
"Every now and then, huh?"
Awesome: Two of the most charismatic figures in the history of American sports, enjoying each other's glow, enjoying the moment as only they can. Nobody else knows the view from either man's vantage point.
Well, maybe Jack. But still – it's different with Arnie. He had the glow, like Tiger. They make a good pair of pals.
Now Tiger is tied with The Hawk on the all-time win list, and Tiger is 32. Hogan didn't win a major until the summer of his 34th year. What that means is two things: One, Hogan's post-accident brilliance was, in retrospect, an amazing late-career surge. And two, Tiger has a few more wins left in him.
Until then, I'm just thankful two legends, 46 years apart in age, were able to shine on my TV on a beautiful March afternoon from Florida. The Putt … The Streak … The Hat Spike … it was all so memorable. Just not, for my money, as memorable as the post-match moment by a couple of sportsmen who know how to thrill a crowd.
Mulligan of the week
• Even though we all wanted it the way it played out – Tiger from 25 feet for the birdie and win on the 72nd hole – part of your heart went out to Bart Bryant, a 45-year-old mustachioed journeyman who looks more like an insurance salesman you sit next to on an airplane than he does The Guy Who Pushed Tiger to the Edge.
As it turned out, Bryant needed the win like a baby needs his Mama. He's not qualified for Doral this week, nor has he qualified for the Masters. He was precisely the kind of guy who had the stuff to challenge Tiger – no scar tissue, and a C.V. that read, "Hell, I've been to Q-School six times, who the hell cares who's on the leader board, anyway?"
He played beautifully, and was the only man in the field to break par all four rounds.
For all his trouble, he got Tiger-ed by a 25-footer on the final hole to finish second by one stroke.
Bryant darn near made his own birdie on 18. He had a 30-foot-plus birdie try, and lagged it to 10 inches. One tiny break the other way, and he'd have taken the lead with Tiger standing on the fairway, waiting for the drama to play out in front of him.
For the love of the underdog, somebody get that man a mulligan.
Scorecard of the week
• 70-67-72 – Brad Bryant, Champions Tour AT&T Champions Classic, tied for first, eliminated in second playoff hole.
Somebody send a fruit basket and a sympathy card to the Bryant Estate.
Not only does younger brother Bart serve as road kill for another Tiger Moment, but his older brother, Brad, had the AT&T Champions Classic lead, only to shoot 72 at Valencia Country Club to allow Loren Roberts (70) and Denis Watson (65) to force a three-way playoff.
Then, Brad Bryant's 9-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole slides by, and he has to bow out, allowing Watson to go on to the win.
The Bryants have plans to meet up at each other's homes this week and rent a DVD: O, Brother, Where Art Thou?
Broadcast moment of the week
• This one is easy.
Early in Sunday's final round, NBC cut to a sit-down conversation between Arnold Palmer and Jimmy Roberts. Palmer was at his most Arnie-ish, pink shirt, golden mane, bronze skin. He didn't have anything super-special to offer, just quality golf stories about how Ben Hogan never used his name ("only called me 'Fella'"), about how Arnie and Dow Finsterwald won 35 dollars from Hogan and Jackie Burke in a practice round at the 1958 Masters, earning scorn from Hogan ("How did he get into the Masters?" Palmer overheard Hogan asking Burke), and about how Arnie went on to win that Masters, his pride still obvious, 50 years later.
The King was so bold as to offer an opinion on Tiger's putt from the first cut on the 9th hole as he and Roberts watched from the clubhouse.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he made this," Palmer opined.
Tiger made the putt. Birdie. Of course: Arnie called it.
Where do we go from here?
• On to Doral, which is now a World Golf Championships event, called the CA Championship.
You know what happens with T.W. and these WGC events, don't you?
Tiger will be there, only miles away from a Don Shula Steakhouse. Early prediction: Tiger will have a pre-tournament steak at Shula's, ordering the "Perfection Ribeye: For the Undefeated Eater."