December 05, 2010
If you were going to recap the 2010 season, you need not dig through old stories or check the schedule to see who won what. Nope, all you need to do is watch a replay of the final round of the Chevron World Challenge. That's it. There isn't anything else a golf fan needs.
On Sunday at Sherwood Country Club, the golf world, as turned over on its back as it has been since last Thanksgiving, finally felt regular. Tiger Woods came into Sunday with a four-shot lead, a place we've yawned at before because the result was so expected. He was beating a guy that at this point last year, admit it, you had never heard of. But you know his name now. Graeme McDowell spent most of his last 12 months making golf his game. He won the U.S. Open. He wrapped up the Ryder Cup. And now, with 18 holes to play, McDowell was the closest person to take down Woods, who was in a position we haven't seen him at in ages.
And he did. Incredibly. Emphatically. Excitedly. And any other word you want to use to describe this last day of serious golf for 2010. Tiger bogeyed two of his first three, and a double-bogey on 13 was where it turned. But like going out on a first date with an ex-girlfriend you haven't seen in years, his comeback felt weirdly comfortable. Tiger was going to win this thing, dammit, and he was going to with the top golfer of 2010 nipping at his heels.
His swing and walk on 18 was everything you needed to see from pre-Escalade, eerily matching his walk on the last hole at Harding Park in last year's Presidents Cup. The ball was honing in like Michael Bay was directing it. It dropped out of the sky, nestled 24 inches from the cup, and with both players tied, looked like the two-point conversion Woods needed to secure his win.
But McDowell couldn't be denied. He wouldn't be denied. For a guy that has spent all season taking the word "clutch" to new levels, the 31-year-old Northern Irishman rolled in his 20-foot birdie putt. Bob May who? Tiger calmly equaled with his short birdie putt, and it was back to 18 for a playoff. McDowell, standing in an almost identical spot from a few minutes before but a little farther, had a birdie putt with Tiger facing one from 15 feet. "No way he does this again," we all thought. Well, except Graeme. Back of the cup. Tiger misses low. Game over, everyone.
This tournament told us a lot of things about the golf world. First, it showed us that Woods is still good enough to get in a scrum with the best in the world, even with everything that has happened this season. It also showed us that no matter how hard we try to deny it, when Woods is in the hunt, the sports world notices. Finally, it showed us that Tiger will forever be beatable. He will win again, trust me on this, and he will win a bunch I'm sure, but he is, and will always be, a guy that is good enough to win, but not good enough to dominate. He is talented. He has game. He might go down as the best alive. But if it isn't Graeme, it will be Rory, and if it isn't Rory, it might be whoever else is on a long list of guys that don't scare easily when they see those five letters creeping up a leaderboard.
It's exciting for people like myself, because for all the stuff we write about Tiger, he makes golf interesting, for better or worse. He showed us early what nerves will do to a guy that hasn't won in a year, and then showed at the end of his round just how well he can control them.
The bottom line is, on Sunday, Tiger just played against a guy that is better at golf than he is right now. It's as simple as that, and it was amazing.
Now who's ready for 2011?