Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Eye of the Tiger

Sometimes words have a way of fulfilling themselves.

Last Thursday, before the first round of the U.S. Open golf championship, I wrote about Tiger Woods. The most dominating golfer on the planet was about to tee it up for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee two months before.

The common thinking was that Woods had little or no chance against the field in the Open. The same might be said for any weekend on the tour, let alone the way the USGA had set up Torrey Pines, which bore little resemblance to the fairly benign track that played host to the regular San Diego tour stop back in the winter.

As the USGA likes to respond to those who believe they make their courses overly tough: “We are not trying to embarrass the best golfers in the world. We are looking to define them.”

In other words, Torrey Pines was going to be a bear. Most of the experts expected a replay from a few years back, when Woods returned in the Open after taking a couple of months off to mourn the loss of his beloved father, Earl.

Back then, Woods did not make the cut, the only time he’s missed the cut in a major.

Throw in the questions surrounding his knee and whether it could hold up under the rigors of four days of championship golf, and most believed you had the recipe for another early exit.

Not me. There is something about Woods that is other-worldly. I don’t consider him the best golfer on the planet. I believe he is the best athlete. Period.

And after this weekend, anyone care to question it? Woods not only made the cut, he stormed toward the top of the leaderboard, and on Saturday dropped enough exclamation points around Torrey Pines to maybe have the place renamed Tiger Pines.

Enter Rocco Mediate, to play the role of the journeyman pro tilting at windmills in the powerful presence of Woods.

Mediate did better than that. He extended Woods to the very brink, matching him shot for shot on Sunday, leading to an 18-hole playoff on Monday. Even that was not enough. The duo were still deadlocked after 18, leading to sudden death.

And death did indeed come suddenly, as Woods won it on the first extra hole.

At this point, words fail to describe what Woods did this weekend. You think of Willis Reed limping back onto the court to lead the Knicks to an NBA title.

But that’s a team game. Woods stands on the stage alone.

Woods’ knee clearly was bothering him. He often used his clubs as a cane after teeing off and heading down the fairway. The grimace seen in his face after so many shots told you all you need to know about what kind of shape his knee was in.

There are those who probably believe too much was made of Woods’ knee, and his dramatic win. Not me. Every once in awhile I wander out onto the golf course. Not nearly as much as I’d like to.

I play golf. I’m not really sure what game it is Woods plays, but it’s one with which I am not familiar.

My son is a rabid soccer fan. He sits in front of the TV entranced by the European soccer championships. This weekend he kept telling me these guys are the best athletes in the world.

I corrected him, saying I still believe the stars of the NBA are the best athletes in the world.

Now I stand corrected. The honor clearly belongs to Tiger Woods.

The guy simply is not of this world.

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