In a surprising turn of events, perhaps the most polarizing athlete on the planet came to Greensboro, North Carolina last weekend in an effort to save his season and hopefully jump start his career for the fourth time.
Tiger Woods made his maiden appearance at Sedgefield Country Club in a desperate attempt to crack the Top 125 in FedEx Cup points in an effort to make golf’s version of the playoffs.
In order to make the playoffs, Tiger needed a win. Nothing less would give the 14-time major champion enough points to qualify for the season ending FedEx Cup.
Many who follow the game of golf, including myself, were surprised that the great Tiger Woods would even commit to such a low-level tour event. Especially after the whole world watched the former number-one ranked golfer in the world struggle with every facet of his game this summer during his most recent swing-rebuild under his coach Chris Como.
Golf writers and analysts across America immediately labeled Tiger’s commitment to the Wyndham a mistake.
“Tiger can never be great again” or “He’s no longer relevant in our game” are common phrases in the world of golf, and have been all summer.
Who can blame the writers and TV personalities for their opinion? Tiger has struggled immensely, missing the cut in all three major championships played this summer and has effectively taken a backseat to the young star power the tour now has with players like Jordan Spieth.
What a difference a week makes in terms of flipping the narrative.
When I arrived at the Wyndham on Saturday, Tiger Woods was leading the golf tournament and awaiting his 2 p.m. starting time. The atmosphere was crackling with electricity, with galleries six deep just to watch someone who is not supposed to be relevant in the game anymore warm-up for his round.
From the year 2000, until the fire hydrant incident that fateful Thanksgiving of 2009, there was a word for this madness. The word “Tiger-Mania” was used to describe the golf world’s obsession with arguably the greatest champion the game has ever seen.
Yet, there I was, at a bottom of the barrel tour event, watching what some had labeled as a washed up old man, and I can tell you the Tiger-Mania is just as strong now, as it ever was.
As he set off that Saturday afternoon in search of his 80th career win on the PGA Tour and his inclusion in the playoffs, the crowd swelled to massive proportions. Around 9,000 people lined up, seven rows deep on every hole, with hopes that they would catch a glimpse of their hero. They didn’t care if he won, or if he made the playoffs, they were simply happy that he was there. Every shot Tiger hit, good or bad, warranted a cheer that is normally reserved for a game-winning touchdown in the NFL.
I was a part of this frenzy for two days, and for most of those two days, Woods had a chance to win the golf tournament. What we saw on the course was not an old man with a broken body and a total lack of a golf game. We saw greatness. Here was, Tiger Woods, doing things that the Tiger of old would do. Fist pumps, club twirls, getting up and down for an impossible par. We were impressed, confused and worried.
Impressed by the skill he displayed, yet confused that he still possessed it after we had all been told that he had lost what made him great. We were worried that it wouldn’t last and that he would revert back to his poor form.
Unfortunately, on the 11th hole Sunday, Woods did revert to the man we had seen all summer long. He misplayed two pitch shots and recorded a triple bogey, which effectively ended his chances of winning the tournament. However, for the galleries in Greensboro, it did not matter.
They did not care that he was not going to win the Wyndham, they cared that he was there. They cared about what he has already done for the game. Of course, it probably helps that he birdied four of his last six holes in order to record his first Top 10 in two years.
Tiger Woods did not succeed in his 11th hour attempt to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs. But he did succeed in building confidence and proving that he can still play the game of golf like he used to.
Tiger Woods is not back, and he might never be back to what he was, but he showed everyone who was in Greensboro that week that he is not done yet. To the golf writers and analysts that say he has lost it, or that he is not relevant any longer, I must respectfully disagree. This past weekend, Tiger Woods showed that his greatness is still there, waiting to rear its head once more.
But his mere presence at the Wyndham proved that his relevance in the game is still greater than any other player on the planet — apologies to Jordan Spieth. If having tens of thousands of people follow you around a golf course screaming your name does not make you relative then I don’t know what does.
He might not have won a major in eight years, or a regular tour event in two years, but Tiger-Mania is still as strong as it ever was.
The Tiger himself is also going strong. He might not be the dominant player he once was, but a week in Greensboro proved that he still has the ability to be great; we just needed to be reminded of it.
Story and photos by: Lee Sanderlin