In case you missed it, Francesco Molinari became the first Italian to win a major golf championship on Sunday. And he did it in relatively dominant fashion, with his last 37 holes at or below par. His victory was sealed when Xander Schauffele bogeyed the 17th hole on Sunday, placing him two back and needing an eagle on the Par-4 18th to force a playoff. It was compelling golf for that reason alone, but a return of sorts for Tiger Woods may have been the story of the weekend.
I don’t mean to discount Molinari’s performance, and writing about Tiger seems to be the angle that a lot of coverage took this morning. But Tiger Woods was one of the reasons that I really started caring about gold 20 years ago, and his absence from the top of the golf leader board over the past few years has led me away from the game, so I was pleased to wake up to tweets that he was leading the tournament early Sunday.
This reminds me of the 86 Masters when everyone was rooting for Jack and for the worst things possible to happen to everyone else.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) July 22, 2018
To say that Tiger has had some issues would be an understatement. Once thought destined to challenge Jack Nicklaus for career major championships, it has now been a long ten years since his last victory in one of golf’s four majors, his 2008 victory in the U.S. Open. He has been less than dominant in that decade, with large stretches away from the game to deal with both personal issues and injuries, including multiple back surgeries.
But he was back on Sunday. He made the turn at 7-under par and had the lead, though that lead was fleeting, both because of the steady play of his playing partner Molinari and his own failures. A double bogey at the 11th, followed by a bogey on the 12th, moved him back to 4-under par with only six holes remaining. With a surging Molinari, as well as a five or six person lead group at 6-under par for most of the afternoon, Tiger’s chances looked slim.
He managed to birdie the 14th hole, getting back to 5-under par, but that was where he would end the day. It didn’t help that he had some jack wagon scream out loud during his back swing on the 18th and final hole:
Tiger gets yelled at in his backswing at it obviously affects the shot. Can he pull out the birdie he so desperately needs? #TheOpen
— SportMuse (@SportMuseNet) July 22, 2018
Whether or not it affected his swing, it sure seemed to, with an immediate reaction from Tiger Woods as he sliced the ball into the (minor) rough along the fairway:
A birdie their would have put him into a tie for second, though with Molinari at 7-under going into the hole – which he birdied to finish at 8-under – he didn’t have a chance to win failing an eagle and Molinari stumble. But he was on the prowl for the most part, at least until the back-to-back over par holes, and golf is always more exciting when Tiger is involved.
Tiger is an old 42. Three back surgeries in four years have sapped a lot of the power and precision that he had when he roared onto the scene over 20 years ago. We will never see that Tiger again, and he will find it difficult to compete the golfers two decades his junior. Was his performance at Carnoustie a sign of what is to come? Or will his return to U.S.-style courses at the next major – the PGA Championship will be played at Bellervie Country Club outside of St. Louis starting on August 9th – prove that his new game is more in place at clubs like Carnoustie. He didn’t play at the last PGA tournament played at Bellervie (2008 BMW Championship), missing the rest of the 2008 because of knee surgery after his stunning victory at the aforementioned U.S. Open.
From the looks of things, Tiger will be taking a break for the next two leeks leading up to the PGA Championship, so he should be at peak form for that tournament. It remains to be seen if this weekend, especially Sunday morning, was an aberration, or a return to normal for Tiger. I for one would be happy to see him return to form, even if he’s no longer the longest golfer off the tee.
Golf is always better with Tiger in the mix, at least in my opinion, and I look forward to seeing what he can do in two weeks in Missouri.
Until next time…