A New Genesis for Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' drive on Riviera Country Club's 10th hole, a devilish and tantalizing 302-yard par-4, came to rest near the lip of a fairway bunker 51 yards from the cup. His second shot traveled barely half that. His third had too much pace to stop before tumbling into a greenside trap. Playing his first competitive round since last summer's Open, it appeared biggest the stamp he'd put on his favored Genesis Invitational would come off the course. And perhaps the evolution from green jackets to emeritus sweaters was further along and more real than those who hope for one last thrill would care admit.
Sure, the 47-year-old stood in the same place he stood in 1992 as a 16-year-old with his whole life and ascent to incomparability before him and uncorked a tee shot, which had impressive distance if not aim, and negotiated his body down what seemed to be the type of never-ending staircase built for Grand Central Madison. Each individual step was enough to make us wonder how that body, constantly rebuilt and obsessed over, would hold up. Sure, he'd capitalize on the opening par-5 by wobbling a chip shot win four feet of the pin and converting his birdie putt. But this was the type of real peril that could derail a round, a weekend, and, in this specific case, a year when the years are in short supply.
Facing a gnarly up and down just to stop the bleeding at bogey and even par overall, that opening salvo felt like a nice moment of past normalcy before reality came pouring down and meaningful contention was exposed as wishful thinking.
We want it for Tiger so badly. Or perhaps we don't want it to be over for Tiger even more. One of these days it will be and his cameos last season did not inspire confidence, even if they inspired. Yes, he'll continue to play, yet we will always be chasing the high of getting one more moment only he can script. But the daydreaming about another major or magical weekend where he outduels legions of incredible talent will be just that.
Woods bailed his ball out to eight feet. He nailed a nervy putt and elicited sighs of relief only briefly threatened by giving away another shot on No. 12. Then, in some of the most arresting drama possible on a Thursday, he became the man of an hour.
On the par-3 16th, he landed a dart five feet away and made it count. On 17, he uncorked a 297-yard approach missile into the rough before a misfire put him 23 feet from paydirt. A right-to-left sweeper with impeccable pace made it two birdies in a row. And because he's Woods, and because sometimes the past can be the present, Woods birdied the No. 18 with time and doubt and impending reality playing defense
Two-under and five back from the lead is likely pyrite. Yet it might not be. That is what's so spectacular about watching and seeing Tiger Woods right now. Not the guy you want to be Tiger Woods. It's now not as crazy to think there could be one more Masters in the future. Or one more Open.
A limp was there, yet not as prominent as the last time we saw him. On a few occasions he out-drove Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. Signs of competitive rust were scrubbed by his sheer will and mastery. To say nothing of that competitive fire, which manifested in muted yet still powerful fist pumps and confident stalking. For someone who hasn't been ensconced in pressure lately, he looked to have that trademark edge. For someone asked to take on the world's best without a running start, he looked pretty damn capable of keeping up.
We got that moment with Woods. And it's perfectly reasonable and responsible to contextualize any joy against knowing there are a finite number remaining. To do so makes it mean more and deepens the experience. It's also perfectly reasonable and, hopefully, ultimately responsible to expect more moments on grander stages. On Sundays even.
It's long past the point where that desire has been greedy considering the countless he's already provided. But today showed that maybe, just maybe, it's OK to get really greedy.