By: Jamie Samuelsen
Rain delayed the inevitable on Sunday. Another Tiger Woods victory.
Tiger had a three shot lead when weather forced the postponement of the final round of the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Classic. So he had to drive back to the course this morning and knock a few more shots around in order to grab his trophy and reclaim his title as the best golfer in the world.
Yes. The Woods win moved him back into the top spot in the World Rankings ahead of Rory McIlroy who didn’t play over the weekend in Orlando. Tiger had been out of the top spot since October 2010 and some wondered whether he’d ever have the game or the stability in his life to get it back. Well, clearly he does.
Woods play in 2013 has answered most of the questions that have plagued him since his career spiraled downward following his little Thanksgiving night car accident back in 2009. He’s won three of the five tournaments he’s entered. He’s #2 on the money list. He’s getting more of his endorsements back. And he’s starting to regain that aura that turns other golfers into jelly. Witness Rickie Fowler who was playing with Woods in the final pairing. He put two balls in the water on the par-five 16th hole and essentially gift-wrapped the trophy for Tiger.
But one question remains for Woods, and it’s one he won’t be able to answer until next month in Augusta – can he win another major?
Tiger’s last major title was the famous 2008 U.S. Open win on one knee in a playoff against Rocco Mediate. Since then, he’s 0-for-12. (He missed four tournaments with knee-related injuries and surgeries.) But what’s been so un-Tiger-like has been his meltdowns. Instead of closing like Mariano Rivera like he did for most of career, he’s been closing like Jose Valverde. Or worse yet, he’s played his way out of tournaments before Sunday. Last year, he was tied for the 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open in San Francisco before he bombed out with a 75 on Saturday. He barely made the NBC telecast in the final round as Webb Simpson grabbed the trophy.
Woods has made it clear over the years that he’s only interested in winning tournaments. “Losing sucks” is his famous motto. So a #1 ranking, even though it was earned with a tournament win should provide Tiger and his followers with little solace. He’s after the big prize – Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18 major championships. Tiger has 14. And being #1 doesn’t move that statistic one inch.
For years, I assumed that Woods would pass Nicklaus. But over the past few years, I’ve started to waver in that opinion. It’s not just that he stalled out on the course. It’s also that players like McIlroy, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and others have come on so strong. It’s not that Tiger isn’t still great; it’s that others have entered that sphere of greatness as well. If Woods can win in Augusta, the gap might start to build again. But until he does that, Woods can win all the Bay Hills and Torrey Pines he wants. Ultimately they’ll have no impact on how he’s finally judged. He set that bar himself.