Tiger Woods has given golf fans a lot to think about this year. On Sunday, he gave them a highlight they’ll be talking about for many more years to come.
With birdies on three of the last four holes, including one of the greatest shots of his career, Woods won the Memorial tournament by two strokes. It was his 73rd PGA Tour victory, tying him with tournament host Jack Nicklaus for second all-time behind Sam Snead’s 82. Yep, Tiger tied Jack by winning Jack’s tournament -- for the fifth time.
“That was some good stuff out there,” Woods said after the round. (Un·der·state·ment, noun, the act or an instance of stating something in restrained terms, or as less than it is.)
Woods started the day four shots off the lead, but quickly vaulted up the leaderboard with four birdies in his first seven holes. A bogey at the par-3 8th stalled his momentum, and he dropped another shot at the 10th. But with the leaders unable to pull away, Tiger steadied himself with four straight pars, followed by a birdie at the par-5 15th to get within one stroke of the lead.
And then, Tiger wrote another chapter in his still-growing legend.
After carrying his tee shot on the par-3 16th through the green and into thick rough, Woods was faced with a daunting shot to a green running away from him with water on the other side. A bogey likely would have ended his chances.
Tiger opened the face of his 60-degree wedge and took a full swing. The ball came out perfectly, plopping onto the green and running straight downhill toward the cup. As it caught the right edge of the hole and toppled in, Woods delivered a signature uppercut fist pump and the crowd exploded.
“That was sick,” said CBS announcer Gary McCord.
"The most unbelievable, gutsy shot I've ever seen," said Nicklaus.
The unlikely birdie tied Tiger for the lead, and when co-leader Rory Sabbatini bogeyed the 16th moments later, Tiger was alone at the top. He sealed the deal with a nine-foot birdie putt at the 18th, raising his putter into the air as the ball disappeared into the cup.
In a post-tournament interview with ESPN, Tiger was typically cagey.
When asked if he’s back, Tiger responded, “I don’t know. It’s a process. Back to what?”
Does he feel like the Tiger of old? “I feel like an older Tiger Woods, yes.”
Older, sure. After all, who isn’t? But Sunday’s performance brought to mind a different word, one often used to describe fine wine. This was vintage Tiger.
The question on everyone’s mind now is, can he carry the momentum into the U.S. Open, which starts in ten days at San Francisco’s Olympic Club? Tiger has been inconsistent this season, winning twice but also enduring the worst three-tournament stretch of his career, which included a tie for 40th at the Masters.
It’s been four years since Tiger last won a major championship. He’s stuck on 14, four behind Nicklaus’ record. That’s something he’d like to change, starting next week.