He walked around Torrey Pines focused, rarely wavering, eyes squarely on the prize.
He tuned out his competition, and over 72 holes, took each golf hole as a personal challenge. Sunday, he knew, when it was all over, could bring reward.
And in the end, sweet triumph was his.
So join me, golf fans, in congratulating Ryuji Imada on winning the 'B' Flight at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines. For his final-round 67 and his overall score of 11-under 277, he gets the 'Feet of Clay' trophy handed out by the tour on those weekends when Tiger Woods decides to get his Mount Olympus on.
You have to see this trophy. It’s two tiny feet, made of clay. Imada probably had to brush away a tear, he was so proud.
How dominant was Tiger at Torrey? Shoot, even he got bored. There's no other explanation for his back-to-back-to-back bogeys on the back nine Sunday. With a 10,000-shot lead, these were candidates for his swing thoughts over those three holes: Shoot, did I forget to pack my electric toothbrush for Dubai? Did I remember to tell the G-4 pilot to bring the 'Will Ferrell/SNL Collection' DVD for trans-Atlantic viewing? What is a Torrey pine, anyway?
I'd like to think Roger Federer texted his congratulations for Tiger's 62nd overall win, tying him with Arnold Palmer on the all-time list, but given Federer's stumble in Australia, Tiger might have dropped RF from his Five. No time for losers in Tiger's posse. Win the French in the spring, Rog, and maybe we'll put you back on the fax-only list.
While some think this Buick Blowout automatically means Tiger is dialed into 2000 form and won't lose a tournament for the rest of his breathing days, don't count me in that group. I prefer to remember the fickle mistress that is golf. I believe Verdi (Giuseppe, not Bob) penned a tune for his opera 'Rigoletto' called 'La donne e mobile', which translates to 'Women are fickle.' That’s golf, friends. What Verdi was saying was, one week your 45-foot curling bombs find the bottom of the cup (see: Tiger, 11th hole, Sunday) … and the next week you're in the rough with a terrible lie, muttering obscenities loud enough for a network boom mike to pick up (see: Tiger, at any U.S Open).
There are times Tiger will flex, just to remind everybody else they are girlie men. The Buick was one of them. It's a sight to behold, and staggering to believe that 155 of the best players in the world cannot get within 8 strokes of him in times like this. Notable anecdote: My wife, a casual observer on her best day, passed by the Hi-Def screen and watched Tiger rifle another great approach. She asked me: "Is this the tournament Tiger hosts?" I had to laugh and answer: "Uh … yeah, sort of."
The same way Mitt Romney likes cardigan sweaters and hair spray, the same way Tiger likes Torrey. It "fits his eye", as he says. It can happen, these crazy good weeks, but there’s no guarantee an 8-shot boat race happens again this year, and no guarantee it happens at Torrey in June, when the USGA (Tiger's true nemesis) gets a hold of that place.
Just enjoy it while we can, and feel fortunate that we get to watch athletes like Tom Brady and Tiger Woods in the same week. Sudden thought: Maybe Tiger levels the field by playing next year's Buick Invitational in a walking boot?
Other highlights from the Buick:
• Phil Mickelson was back in action, but nobody noticed. Lefty looked a little fatigued, even skipping out on shaving one day for that always chic hobo-on-the-links look. We'll cut him a break. He still notched a top-10, given the respiratory ailment and all. He did mention in both Saturday and Sunday's CBS interviews that he was looking forward to the week in Phoenix. Translation: Tiger won't be there! WHOO HOOO!
• I had my big Tiger-is-the-New-England-Patriots argument all laid out, but then Peter Kostis went and aired his Tiger-Pats theory on Saturday. You know, how they both out-think the field, that when they’re on their game they’re way better than the field, and that when one part of the game fails (Brady throws INTs, Tiger misses fairways) another part of their game soars (Laurence Maroney goes off, Tiger makes every putt). So much for that. Kostis spoiled my fun. Nice work, Pete!
• Scorecard of the week
Kevin Streelman: 67-69-75-77 -- 288.
Hope everybody caught this guy's act. What a joy. An alternate until four minutes before a tee time on Thursday, the Q-School grad earned his way to the Saturday tee time with Tiger, introduced himself to Tiger with the enthusiasm of a door-to-door solicitor and spent his day high-fiving fans in between holes. He looked like the winner of a 'Be a PGA Tour Player for a Day' contest, and did all but pose for a photo with Tiger on the 18th green. Bless his soul. He reminded us all that this is supposed to be fun. Who else enjoys the heck out of a 75-77 weekend on the PGA Tour?
• Broadcasting moment of the week
"This is the year Tiger wins the Grand Slam." – Nick Faldo.
As the great John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction, "That's a bold statement." Count me out. Golf is too weird and too hard.
• Mulligan of the week
Saturday afternoon. Third round. 18th hole. Tiger Woods' ball, on the down-slope, is just off the green. He’s chipping uphill. He lies two. All agree it’s a makeable chip.
He hit the chip to 3 inches.
Come on, Tiger! You chipped in on Thursday. You chipped in on Friday. What are you, some kind of fluke?
Let's give him a mulligan.
• Where do we go from here?
Get out your Breathalyzers, golf fans. The Tour is off to Phoenix for the FBR Open, a place where you can take your hands, and actually wring out the booze in the air in front of you. It's the perfect pregame show for the Super Bowl, unless Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet is your thing, and if it is, I prefer you don’t read this column anymore.
Tiger, meanwhile, is off to Dubai. His mode of transportation: red cape, blue tights.