November 14, 2011
You know, if the Australian Open gave you a mulligan on rounds played, we'd be talking about a Tiger Woods victory Monday morning. Alas, they force you to count all your rounds (stupid Aussies!) and so we're left with Woods coming in third after a furious closing round that almost, almost, undid all the damage of a terrible Saturday.
But oh, that last round. Woods started out six strokes off the lead, and with a few well-timed birdies and a handy 14th-hole eagle, he put himself within one stroke of the lead. Give Greg Chalmers (he was the WINNER, but you knew that ... right?) credit, he didn't collapse with Woods sitting in the clubhouse just a stroke back.
Still, what do we make of this? It's obviously too early to proclaim Woods in any way ready to return to prominence, or to even think about breaking back into the world top 10, but hey ... you have to give credit where it's due, right? There are several signs that indicate Woods may be on the cusp of winning yet again.
To start, his swing with new instructor Sean Foley seems to be rounding into shape. Any time you try a swing makeover, you expect that it'll take about two years to get everything nailed down and pointed in the right direction. Woods doesn't have two years to waste, and it appears he's making strides forward in just a matter of months.
And his composure to keep himself in the game after a disastrous Saturday round can't be overstated. It would be easy for Woods to give up; he certainly did at the PGA Championship. But to keep grinding, and to get within sight of the lead, is a good sign indeed.
On the other hand, his putting Saturday was godawful, and a guy who was once legendary for his ability to roll in putts from the far side of Saturn now gives you the knee-knocks when he's inside the leather. He's also lost any remaining element of intimidation; the other players just aren't scared of him anymore. And until he can learn again to play well with a lead, it'll be a tough road for him in his comeback.
Woods will never again dominate the golf world; age and time and the field have all caught up to him. But he still has the ability to play very well, and as this past weekend showed, it might be closer than we think.
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