Tiger is back – the good and bad

Brian Murphy
Yahoo! Sports
Tiger Woods reacts to his approach shot on the 13th fairway during the final round

Tiger is back – the good and bad

Tiger Woods reacts to his approach shot on the 13th fairway during the final round

Well, Tiger is back, all right. He’s as pissed off as ever.

Just days after pledging to be reborn a warm and fuzzy golfer, Tiger Woods left Augusta National on Sunday evening prickly, angry, fussy and cranky. Nowhere near that list were the words “warm” or “fuzzy.”

This, after a nearly miraculous week of golf, taking five months of inactivity and a spin-cycle of a ride through sport’s most publicly humiliating wringer of a sex scandal, and coming out on the other side with a tie for fourth at the Masters, a brilliant 11-under total score, and damn near scaring an epic run at a green jacket.

He should have been, like all of us, blown away at how well he played, overly grateful for an overly receptive gallery, and focused on the concepts he has preached since he started showing his face in public the last month: being centered, being balanced, having fun again, and worrying less about winning and more about being a better man.

By way of contrast, Fred Couples went to the 11th tee on a Sunday at the Masters two shots behind the lead, eight holes away from golf history. He bogeyed 11, doubled 12 when he hit his tee shot into Rae’s Creek, and bogeyed 16.

He flushed a green jacket down the toilet at his favorite place in the world, and said at the end: “I had an absolute blast. I had a great week.”

Tiger finished his 277 – only one stroke worse than his winning scores in 2005 and 2002 – and said: “I felt so bad over every shot … I had a terrible warm-up. … It was God awful. … It was an unsuccessful week.”

This from the guy who also dropped a “Tiger Woods, you suck … dammit!” on Saturday after an errant tee shot.

Looks as if somebody missed their meditation appointments this week.

Granted, his verbiage wasn’t the end of the world, and granted, we’ve all heard and said worse, but for a guy who six days earlier was pledging to be Mary Poppins inside the ropes, it was a swift bit of turnaround.

If you find this take overly prudish, consider that between Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Couples, choose your golfer, poor shots were struck at key times. None of them acted as angrily as Tiger, who apparently still believes he is immune from hitting a poor golf shot.

He may need a new Zen bracelet. That one apparently was running low on Zen.

Point being to all this, he’s back. In so many ways, good and bad.

The golf, at times, was stunning in its beauty, and so Tiger-esque it felt like he never left.

Seven shots back on the seventh fairway Sunday, he was dead. The obituaries were being written, and the theme was easy: the week’s tumult and hoopla finally had sapped his otherworldly powers, his concentration and touch couldn’t possibly stand up to 72 holes of scrutiny.

He only jarred his approach for an eagle. Pure magic.

As if to prove the point, he birdied 8 and 9. He went to the back nine on a Sunday three shots off the lead. He was so alive it was frightening.

On 11, dire in the woods laying two, he summoned up a wedge shot to die for, skying the ball over those tall Georgia pines to eight feet at one of the golf course’s most precarious greens. He saved par on 12 with one of those Tiger par saves, 15 feet of nervousness buried because he needed it.

His third at 13, from the fairway, lipped out for eagle. Ridiculously good.

As if to prove it was no fluke, he went ahead and made eagle at 15, routinely – drive, 7 iron, putt – to tie the Masters record with four eagles in one week. His birdie at 18 reminded us that if he needed to, he could drop the hammer at any time.

And he went 68-70-70-69, the first time he has broken par all four rounds at the Masters and not won.

On Thursday, when he shot that amazing 68 right out of the gate, he made eagle on 15 and was walking away when CBS’ David Feherty let the camera linger on Tiger before observing, thoughtfully: “A creature in his natural habitat.”

Perfect. We’d forgotten – through all the tabloids and TMZ.coms and weird statements in front of blue curtains and five-minute time limits and hearing Earl’s voice again – that Tiger is the best in the world at what he does, anytime, anywhere. He’s beyond maestro. He is the uber-maestro, if there is such a thing. We’ve just made it up, right here.

And yet, there were so many moments of poor golf, it reminded you that just five months ago he wheeled his Escalade into a fire hydrant and tree, and hadn’t played competitively since.

His tee shot on 1 was left of the world, and he made bogey. He left a bunker shot in the bunker on 2. Think about that! Tiger in the hunt on a Sunday at the Masters, leaving one in the sand. Unimaginable.

He bladed a wedge over the green on 3 and made bogey. He hit what he called a “low quack hook” on the 5th and made bogey.

And even key putts disobeyed him. His par save after that miracle shot on 11 missed the hole. His legitimate chance at birdie on 14 ignored him.

Still, only three guys beat him.

It was, truth told, beyond brilliant that he played so well, and you’d think he would recognize as much and be thankful, and hungry for the next. That was what he told us he’d do, right? “Be more respectful of the game?” After all, he was playing at Bobby Jones’ home course, and it was Jones who told us that we are all “dogged victims of inexorable fate” when we dare play the game.

Instead, Tiger nearly ate Peter Kostis alive in his post-round interview.

Asked to evaluate his week, he said curtly: “I finished fourth.”

Asked about his behavior, he defended his petulance, saying: “People are making way too much of a big deal about this. … I don’t know how people think I should be feeling happy … I hadn’t hit a good shot yet, so I’m not going to be walking around with a pep in my step.”

By contrast, Lee Westwood had his heart ripped out for the third time in the last three majors and stood tall in his post-round evaluations, gracious and sportsmanlike. The comparison was startling.

Interestingly, that makes five straight majors for Tiger without a win, and twice in consecutive years now that Phil Mickelson has clipped him at Augusta National. In fact, Phil has now won two green jackets since Tiger last won one. Somebody will need to call Augusta F.D. to put out the five-alarm blaze between Tiger’s ears when he cogitates on that development.

Surely, Tiger will pass Jack, and then some. He’s putting himself in contention more and more now, and excepting the missed-cut at Turnberry, could have won any of the last five majors.

And Nick Faldo, in a rare moment where he wasn’t talking about himself, noted that most anyone else would feel grateful to finish fourth after all Tiger had been through.

Not Tiger. He said he came to win, and didn’t win, so he wasn’t happy. Never mind what he told us at the start of the week. Never mind the changes. Never mind the “new” Tiger.

There is no new Tiger. The old one is back.

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