Mar
25
2012
Finally! Tiger’s Back…in the Winner’s Circle.
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

I'm back...to winning, suckers!

Wow, I’m still overwhelmed by the chaos, emotions and mind-blowing events of the day. Would you expect anything less, though? Of course not! After all, Tiger Woods won his first PGA Tour event since the sex scandal that led to his rapid fall from grace, which were triggered by his minor car accident in the wee hours the day after Thanksgiving in 2009.

Woods captured his seventh victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and his 72nd on the PGA Tour — he now only needs one more to tie Jack Nicklaus for second in all-time victories.

 

Can you believe Tiger’s last official Tour victory came at the BMW Championship on September 13th, 2009? I mean, obviously I’ve been aware that he hasn’t won a real tournament since the scandal broke, but it still seems weird (maybe because a colleague brought it to my attention that it’s the first time I’ve seen Tiger win in real life since I started covering the golf beat full-time, and well, time flies).

“It was just pure joy,” said Tiger, referring to his initial emotions. “You know, it was tough today.  It was tough conditions out there, man.  Wind was whipping out there.  It was changing directions and intensities.  Arnold (Palmer) did a hell of a job of getting these greens fast, and they were baked out and some of the hardest pins I’ve ever seen here.  So I don’t know what the average score was today, but certainly wasn’t anywhere near par. It was a very tough day.

“It was a day of attrition.  Just got to hang in there and just keep hitting fairways and greens, and there weren’t going to be a lot of birdie opportunities out there, but when you had them, I just felt like I had to take advantage of it.”

That really does sum it up. Oh, and only two players broke 70 — Brian Harman and J.B. Holmes, who both teed off in the morning, posted 68s.

Tiger was one of the few to shoot under par, posting a 70 to beat Graeme McDowell by a decisive five shots. Though Woods had a five-shot lead going into the 72nd hole, it wasn’t over in his mind until he safely reached the 18th green, guarded by an intimidating water hazard. As soon as his ball landed, he could finally breathe and enjoy the moment.

“F**k yeah,” Tiger said to caddie Joe LaCava.

He also said something like, “All the hard work has paid off.”

/Goosebumps and I’m not going to lie, I got a little sentimental when Tiger embraced a few key people in his life. I could feel the elation. You know when you get second-hand embarrassment because someone does something super awkward that makes you feel awkward for them or to be around them? It’s sort of like that, but joy in this case.

“It wasn’t done until my ball reached the (18th) green,” said Tiger in his post-win 18th green interview.  “Granted I had a five-shot lead, but I’ve souped it (in the water guarding the green) a couple of times, and we’ve had some interesting finishes this year on Tour.  So just keeping it over to the left somewhere on dry land, somewhere around pin-high and I’ll be good.  As soon as I did that, then the trouble was over.”

I love you, man!

I haven’t had time to process the day yet or take a gander at my notes, but here are some quick observations and thoughts: Woods’ iron-play was beyond impressive. He hit 57 of 72 greens, and it was more in the 65-ish range because some of his misses ended up on the fringe.

As Tiger was reading his putt on 18, swing instructor Sean Foley raved about his most famous student’s iron play. He said, “The sexiest long-iron I’ve ever seen Tiger hit was that one on No. 6.” Yep, he called it “sexy,” too. Which club was it? 3-iron.

Tiger came through in the clutch and rolled in a good number of important putts from 5-15 feet  to keep his momentum going or to turn it back in his favor after a bogey or wayward shot. His ability to recover was pre-scandal was a crucial component of his game. He certainly wasn’t perfect on Sunday — no birdies on the back nine — but he minimized his mistakes.

On the par-3 14th, Tiger missed the green and then didn’t make the eight-footer to convert for par. He knocked his tee shot on the 15th into a fairway bunker and his second didn’t reach the green, but he pitched it to 12 feet and rolled in the putt for a pivotal up-and-down.

He gave McDowell openings to cut into his lead on more than one occasion. However, after a rough start with a double-bogey from the middle of the fairway on the first hole, G-Mac never managed to recover or take advantage of the opportunities.

Thing is, Tiger bounced back each time and G-Mac didn’t capitalize on those opportunities. Every time it seemed like G-Mac was going to get it going after dropping a bomb (like the 50-footer on No. 4 for eagle), Tiger didn’t flinch and continued to plod along.

Hats off!

Some have asked why Arnie wasn’t on the 18th green during the trophy presentation. Alaistair Johnston, vice chairman of IMG and Palmer’s longtime business manager, said the 82-year-old Palmer was on new medication and having his blood pressure checked throughout the day, About 15 minutes prior to the completion of play, his doctor noticed a spike in his blood pressure to cause some concern. He was taken to Dr. Phillips Hospital for observation and tests. Johnston said he spoke to Palmer’s daughter Amy, and it sounded like his condition was improving, but he will stay in the hospital overnight as a precaution.

One last quick note, Tiger is back to winning, but I’m sick of the storylines and chatter about him being “back” or whether he is “back.” Look, he’s not the same person or player he was pre-scandal. I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. After enduring the life-changing events following the night after Thanksgiving, it’s impossible for Tiger to go back and pretend like nothing happened or he didn’t change. That’s not a bad thing — he’s playing well and I think the win is a sign that he’s grown into his new identity, swing and life.

It’s a new Tiger era, so let’s just relish the moment (and the fact that we no longer have to hear the same questions about whether or not he remembers how to win, can handle the pressure of closing, etc.).

This post was a lot longer than I had planned. Good news is I’m finally coming down from the buzz of Tiger-mania. Seriously, it was a — for lack of a better term — sh*tshow out there! Actually, it was one all day, especially the last four or five holes. I’m sure you saw the scene of the horde in 18 fairway, which was very cool, but a little frightening. Thankfully I was already safely perched near the green.

Oh, by the way, if you don’t follow me on Twitter — shame on you and you should be!  — check out my feed for tidbits and photos I posted throughout the afternoon.

Stay tuned for more details and thoughts on The Big Win. For now, congrats, Tiger.

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, John Raoux)