It never seemed likely that we'd get back to this point with Tiger Woods. Now 37 years old, gone is the youthful face of Tiger stalking the fairways in oversized polos; now it's just a fit veteran hungry to be the man he once was.
And the crazy thing is, Tiger might just be him again. Think about it: are you more surprised these days when Tiger wins or more surprised when he doesn't? I'd venture to say most of you think the latter, which means that for just the second time in this era of golf we have a golfer that we expect to win every single event he enters.
We got spoiled when Woods first starting doing this, but considering his run between 2009 and 2012 it's easy to appreciate what he's able to do now a lot more than it was when he first started dominating golf like nothing we'd seen. Back then we just thought the guy was a robot. Now it's simply a man that has a hunger for winning that no other athlete on the planet possesses (sorry Roger, Kobe, Tom and Derek).
The question that has hung over the head of every golf fan since Woods crashed his Escalade is, "when will Tiger be back?" We focus on this so much that it is mentioned in just about every golf discussion.
"Is Tiger finally back?" "Does that win mean he's back to his old self?"
Tiger might never be back to what he was in 2000 because that was a different era. Woods had to beat David Duval and Vijay Singh and Ernie Els on a consistent basis. Now he gets the likes of Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, and Dustin Johnson, but unlike those days there is a host of other players that feel they have what it takes to win big tournaments and majors no matter who enters.
But the best example of how "back" Tiger really is, if that is even a phrase, is for the first time since his return from scandal, players seem to be intimidated by him on the golf course. When he is leading heading into the final round the guys paired with him look as confident that Tiger will win as Tiger himself, which is something that used to be a constant on tour when Woods was the best and nobody else was close.
His record now resembles what we used to expect. Tiger has played in six stroke-play events this season, finishing outside the top four just once. His ability to win has returned but so has his ability to always be in the equation no matter the flagstick or bad drop. He has turned his golf game into letters again, meaning that if it isn't his A-game that shows up, his B-game will keep him in contention into Sunday evening and might just be good enough for the trophy.
This week at the Memorial, a golf tournament he has won five times in his career, Tiger is a 9-4 favourite, and the crazy part is that might be too high. His game is exactly where he wants it and he's headed to a golf course that sets up brilliantly for the way he approaches the game.
The stats will back up what Tiger has done in 2013 (first in strokes gained putting, first in scoring average, first in par breakers, first on the FedEx Cup list, first on the money list) but it is something bigger that you can see in Tiger that makes it obvious that the man is now in total control of his golf game no matter the tournament or golf course.
Tiger Woods has always told us that he wouldn't enter a golf tournament he didn't think he could win, but for a stretch there you had to imagine that even he didn't totally believe that. Now, in 2013, he arrives at a tournament with complete control of his golf swing, his mindset and just how he wants to approach that week on every single tee.
Thursday starts another routine for Tiger Woods, who will be attempting to win his fifth PGA Tour start of 2013 and his 79th of his career. Seriously, are you betting he doesn't?
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