- The old Tiger would have been furious with himself Sunday. But we’ve got a new Tiger on our hands.
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Tiger Woods wanted to give us the golf story of the decade. Instead he had two lousy holes, finished three strokes behind, and you now what? It’s OK. Not just with us. With him. He said he had “a blast.” In your life, have you ever heard anything like that from Tiger Woods after he lost?
He had the lead with eight holes to play, and then he went double-bogey bogey and finished three shots behind his playing partner, of all people. Francesco Molinari is the deserving Open champion; he was magnificent all weekend. But what so many people at Carnoustie will remember is the return of Tiger Woods.
“Not Tiger that, you know, Phil (Mickelson) and Ernie (Els) and all those guys had to deal with,” Rory McIlroy said. “It’s a different version. But he’s right there.”
McIlroy is right: this is a different version of Tiger. It’s a happier, more likeable, less dominant but still damn good version. He had one fist-pump down the stretch—after a long birdie putt on No. 14—but it was a different kind of fist-pump, the I-needed-that-desperately kind. On No. 18, a fan clearly (and apparently deliberately) shouted as he began his downswing, affecting his shot. He was annoyed but did not send his caddy to chase the guy down, like Steve Williams did in the old days.
Afterward, Woods said he was “ticked off” at himself, but he also talked about “perspective.” He hugged his kids, Sam and Charlie. He finished tied for sixth and proud of it.
“I told them I tried,” he said. “I said, ‘I hope you’re proud of your pops for trying as hard as I can.’ It was pretty emotional. They gave me some pretty significant hugs.”
For a moment, Woods looked like he might have to choke back tears. He didn’t. He kept going:
“I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how good it feels to be back playing,” he said. “To me, it’s just so special to have them here. I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. All they have seen are my struggles and the pain I was going through.”
Tiger did not sound like somebody chasing Jack Nicklaus. He sound like a dad who wants to show his kids his best version of himself.
The old Tiger crushed everybody else like empty cans under his feet. This version won’t do that. We may never see that level of dominance again. This version is 42 years old. There are too many good players now, and technology has leveled the playing field. (It is a lot easier now to play poorly and shoot 72.)
Also, today’s top stars are not intimidated by Tiger. Part of Woods’s legend is that anybody playing with him would probably melt down in his presence. Saturday night, Jordan Spieth said he would love a shootout with Tiger. When Spieth saw Tiger atop the leaderboard Sunday, caddie Michael Greller tried to give him a pep talk: He hasn’t been in this position in 10 years! You’ve been here how many times …
Spieth did not need a pep talk. He said later, “This is what you dream about anyway.” Asked about dealing with Tiger, he said, “I don’t know if deal with him. We get to have him competing week in and week out.”
On Sunday afternoon, McIlroy looked at the scoreboard, and as he said later, “It looked for a while like Tiger was going to win. My mindset was, ‘I’m going to spoil the party here.’”
Did he have any appreciation for Tiger being in the hunt?
“No,” McIlroy said.
That was going to be his whole answer: No. But then he said, “Maybe if I was at home with a broken ankle like a few years ago. When you’re trying to beat him, there is no appreciation.”
McIlroy was asked if guys will be worried about Tiger now, and he said, “I wouldn’t say worried about him.”
Fifteen years ago, that would have spiraled into a headline, a feud, a glare and some terse press-conference answers from Tiger, and possibly two private jets racing down the runway to see who could take off first. But that was the old Tiger. This version doesn’t look for slights. He looks for hugs.
Seriously: when McIlroy finished talking, he ducked behind the press tent, chatted with Woods’s agent Mark Steinberg for a minute, then hugged Woods twice. McIlroy knows Woods will not take offense to what he said. Tiger has not just revitalized his game. He has removed the eggshells that used to be all around him.
Molinari went out of his way to say Woods showed “really good sportsmanship with me.”
You can say that Woods’s back-nine 37 shows he has doesn’t have the grit to win major championships anymore. But you would look like a fool, and here is why:
Jordan Spieth came into the day with a share of the lead and shot a five-over 76. He didn’t make a single birdie. This is the same Spieth who famously collapsed at the 2016 Masters. But Spieth also has won three major championships and will win more. Sometimes, golf happens, even to the best golfers in the world.
Tiger lost, Tiger will be fine, and Tiger will win again. He goes home less disappointed than in his previous incarnation and more equipped to handle it. He said he will probably get a call from his friend Serena Williams, who returned from childbirth and a harrowing medical episode, then nearly won Wimbledon. Perspective, he said. Tiger Woods has perspective. No, it’s not a Claret Jug. But in a year, nobody will make him give it up.