Tiger Loves Australia, Australians Love Tiger
By Stephanie Wei under Presidents Cup

This guy looks mildly familiar, but something's missing...oh, the Nike logo on his hat...

Maybe I’m drinking the kool-aid, but perhaps Tiger Woods enjoys these team competitions more than we think. When was the last time we saw him look so genuinely happy and human while celebrating with his team and the Fanatics, the Aussie group that attends big sporting events? Heck, he even sported an Australian rally cap that he probably got from some random dude in the crowd!

It makes sense that he’d like the team atmosphere when you think about it — his world is pretty lonely (including golf) and it’s been a pretty rough couple of years.

“This is an unbelievable team,” said Tiger in his post-win presser at Royal Melbourne. “I’ve been on a variety of different teams over the years, and this has been just a great atmosphere to be around.”

He even was so selfless that he didn’t want to be the one who sealed the deal for another U.S. triumph at the Presidents Cup.

“Kind of a double-edged sword,” he said, when asked about clinching the winning point in his 4&3 victory over Aaron Baddeley. “I was hoping it wasn’t going to come down to us. I was telling Stricks, I was hoping we could have a victory lap back here and play the last few holes and have a celebration.”

Well, as we saw, he sure made up for the celebration part afterwards. Like I’ve said repeatedly, Australia is like his prozac.

I know, I know — how could Tiger not be in a fantastic mood? — he had just clinched the winning point for his team, hit the ball like pre-hydrant-era Tiger, and made every putt he looked at. All week he finally looked comfortable with his swing changes and his ballstriking improved with each rep. It was uncanny to see a (five-hour) glimpse of the former dominant golfer. After all, it’s been nearly two years. Even during his cheery days, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like this (not saying much since I only know what I saw on TV even pre-Thanksgiving night in ’09).

OK, so Tiger was naturally thrilled, but he also won the match that sealed the Cup in ’09 at Harding Park and I don’t recall him acting like the fans were his new BFFs. (Fine, the fans in ’09 might not have been as exuberant and he ran around with the rest of the ’99 Ryder Cup team.) Let’s also remember the home team had just lost, yet the Australians were celebrating with Tiger and the other Americans. And yes, I realize Aussies are just really friendly people who love Tiger and sports.

When have you ever seen him look so thrilled while being mobbed?

Usually he signs a few autographs, with a zombie-like expression, with five security guards flanked on every side. He posed for pictures with the mob, too!

Okay, now this is just crazy. Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? Tiger is touching other random humans! It’s gotta be Photoshopped, right? No, it’s not? Wow.

I mean, what’s next? Following his first strokeplay win in over two years, he’s going to make a victory lap and give the trophy to the masses as he poses for pictures with them, a la John Daly after winning the ’95 Open Championship at St. Andrews. Okay, that’s taking it a little too far, but it seems like anything is possible now.

Tiger was gracious, as well, especially to the man who believed in him when few did.

“I’m thankful that (Freddie) picked me,” he said. “Greg (Norman) is probably not happy about it after I closed out the Cup today.

“But it’s been great to be a part of this team. I’m thankful that Freddie believed in me to be a part of this team, and this is, as I said, just a great bunch of guys.”

I’m sure Tiger will be back to “normal” next week for the Chevron World Challenge. I haven’t had that much Koolaid.

(AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)