Tiger's inconsistent season over, but only one way he'll remember it

MEDINAH, Ill. – With a season for the history books coming to an abrupt end outside Chicago instead of Atlanta, Tiger Woods offered a blunt assessment when asked how he’ll remember one of the most memorable years of an incredible career.

“The rest of the tournaments I didn’t really play as well as I wanted to,” Woods said. “But at the end of the day, I’m the one with the green jacket.”

It was a perfect encapsulation of the dichotomy that ruled Woods’ 2019 campaign. For most of the year, he was mediocre and sometimes worse – this, despite coming off a season that saw him capture the Tour Championship and come within a whisker of winning the FedExCup. The good rounds were sporadic, the bad ones were more plentiful, and the few decent results usually stemmed from a palatable final round that began with Woods well out of contention.

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In fact, there was only one tournament all year where Woods even finished within eight shots of the winner. But that’s also the only one most people will remember.

The middling finishes, the inconsistent play, and the road that stopped short of East Lake all pale in comparison to the jacket he slipped into in April. Given the choice of a consistent season that includes a Tour Championship berth, or one like this that lacked any rhythm but included a monster coup, he’d assuredly opt to re-live his rocky 2019 road.

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It’s a mindset he spoke of Saturday at Medinah, offering his take on the new PGA Tour landscape while also hinting at the strategy that fuels him as he approaches his 44th birthday.

“Now you just pull out driver, bomb it down there and you’re looking for three to four good weeks a year,” Woods said. “That’s how you play. It’s not the consistency, it’s not about making a bunch of cuts. It’s about having three, four good weeks a year. That’s the difference. Guys understand that.”

As it turned out, Woods had only one truly good week to speak of this year. But he made the most of it, efficiently beating back a group of decorated contenders at Augusta National.

What followed were weeks of physical and mental exhaustion for a man who clearly has only a finite amount of bullets in the chamber and spent a few of them to snag that fifth Masters title. Woods didn’t get his feet under him post-Augusta, and after the U.S. Open he put the clubs on the shelf and spent weeks traveling with his family. After that, it became a Catch-22 of a body that can’t stand the practice and a swing that needed reps to function.

Viewed against the prism of his thrilling Masters triumph, the months that followed surely felt like something of a disappointment. By falling short of the top 30 in points, Woods became the first American major champion to fail to advance to East Lake since 2008 – when his broken leg sidelined him after U.S. Open glory.

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But perhaps this summer should be considered the rule – not the exception. Perhaps that Masters win served only to distort our perception of what Woods’ ailing body is capable of on a regular basis.

Discussions of a path to 18 major titles felt like a welcome indulgence following his April ascent, but what if that Masters win turns out to be an outlier akin to Jack Nicklaus’ victory there in 1986? Were it not for his major win this season, Woods’ tumultuous summer slate would have felt like a more expected outcome given his physical limitations.

The hours of practice he used to hone his game years ago are nothing more than a pipe dream. Woods’ priorities have shifted, with time spent with his ailing mother or at his daughter’s soccer practice taking precedent over extra hours in the gym or on the range. And he, more so than any of the onlookers, realizes that his body can only handle so much stress in its rebuilt state.

And so we’re left with something of a Rorschach test from the greatest player of a generation. Some will look upon his season as one of disappointment, having failed to earn a spot in Atlanta to defend the title that shook the golf world a year ago. But for so many others, the focus will remain where it’s been since mid-April: on the Masters title that once seemed impossible, and may very well have colored the lens through which we viewed the rest of his year.

It's a riddle without an answer, but one that Woods likely would embrace every year from here on out.

“Very special to win my 15th major and get my fifth green jacket,” Woods said. “Those are special moments, to be able to have an opportunity like that.”

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