Tiger, Tiger, Tiger (sigh)
Tiger Woods already is thinking about June.
April wasn't so hot for the guy.
The bottom line: This is the dead period for Woods, stuck between memories of mediocrity at Augusta National earlier this month and thoughts of revival in June during the U.S. Open.
Physically, Woods is fine. He has recovered from those four back surgeries and four knee operations, but he spent more than a few times at his latest Masters looking mentally out of it. No wonder, he hasn't won a major tournament in a decade.
And THAT was the U.S. Open.
As for Tiger's last Masters victory?
I was there.
I'm talking about Sunday, April 11, 2005, when Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith was the rage, my hair was blacker and Tiger actually was Tiger.
I was there, rubbing my eyes with everybody else after Eldrick Tonk Woods did the impossible at Augusta National that evening on No. 16 along the way to his fourth Green Jacket.
It was the last time Tiger won the Masters.
In fact, Tiger hasn't grabbed any major since he took the U.S. Open 10 years ago, and the way he struggled last weekend at Augusta National with his irons and his consistency, well, let's enjoy this memory of memories.
Dramatic win at 18th a gift to ailing father
April 11, 2005
Terence Moore column
Augusta -- One second, then two. Actually, with everybody around Augusta National inhaling long enough Sunday to suck all of the air out of East Georgia, the gap was somewhere between three seconds and an eternity. That's how long the natural order of professional golf hung on the lip of the cup at the 16th green. There also was that matter of a son trying to cover a father's pain with a green jacket.
Then, after the ball went from a chip shot to a lovely 30-foot journey that included a right-hand turn, it dropped with a thud to do all of us a favor, and not just because we wanted to exhale.
No offense to Chris DiMarco, suddenly valiant through nearly 12 hours of drama after a career filled with flinching down the stretch of golf tournaments. It's just that Tiger Woods had to win this thing.
There are the considerable heart woes of Earl Woods, not only the father, but the author of "Training of the Tiger," the son who just captured his fourth Masters. The father only was healthy enough to watch it all from a local television. Said a weepy Tiger, sliding tears from his face, "This is for dad."
What Tiger should have said was, "This is for dad and the PGA."
Just like that, with Woods surviving DiMarco after sinking a putt from 15 feet near dusk in sudden death, the Big Four or the Big Five (give or take something like Retief Goosen's third-place finish in this one) is flashing signs of returning to its glory days as the Big One.
It gives golf something that all healthy sports entities crave: somebody for fans to love or hate. Somebody for opponents to aspire to conquer so much that those opponents become tougher. Somebody such as the old Woods, who was golf's New York Yankees, Duke basketball and New England Patriots. Back then, he spent four years capturing seven majors among his 27 victories as golf's undisputed king.
The thing is, Woods questions whether he ever sat on the throne.
"I don't think you're ever there," said Woods, referring to the greatest heights of anything in life. "You never arrive, but if you do, you might as well quit, because you're already there. You just can't get any better."
So Woods keeps getting better. Once, he won the Masters with the swing that he used to dominate collegians and amateurs. He switched to another swing that produced six more majors. Now comes the latest swing change, and at 29, Woods just became the youngest ever to have a fourth trip to Butler Cabin on the Masters' last day.
He also just caused others to spend a few more seconds on the driving and putting ranges, between trying to find ways to match Wood's physical and mental skills.
DiMarco raised his eyebrows with a chuckle, when somebody asked if Tiger was awake again. "He's awake," DiMarco said, with another chuckle. "He's won three or four times this year, right?"
This is the third time. In other words, Woods wasn't exactly tumbling in obscurity before he chipped in that birdie shot at No. 16 to keep DiMarco from momentum for a regulation victory. All of those other things that happened before and after the only one that mattered the most at Augusta National were secondary. The completion of the third round from the previous days of lightning and rain. DiMarco's collapse in the final round, then Woods' rise, then both golfers meeting somewhere in the dramatic middle along the way to sudden death.
We're back to No. 16, with tension swirling as much as the gentle spring breeze from the legendary bridges to the edge of Rae's Creek to Ike's Tree.
"I was just aiming at a spot," Woods said, smiling with the memory. "It was a spot in the trees that had a little light coming through, and I was just trying to hit the ball somewhere in that area, which should leave me somewhere in the range of the hole."
About that light: It was the spirit of Tiger's father leading the way.