So I'm sitting here Sunday afternoon, switching between the Cleveland Cavaliers looking pathetic in Boston against the Celtics during the NBA Eastern Conference Finals and Tiger Woods becoming vintage early 2000s or something, so you know which is getting most of my attention.
Tiger, Tiger, Tiger.
OK, I keep saying he's back, but you know what? He's BACK. During this final round of the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla, he's been awesome in every aspect of his game. He's sauntering toward No. 14 right now, and he's 14-under par, just five strokes off the lead and tied for second. Mostly, he's prepared for next month in Long Island, where they'll hold the U.S. Open.
Vintage Tiger lived for the U.S. Open.
Here's what I really want to tell you. Ever since February 2005, I'm always waiting for Tiger or anybody else to do something when they play in this yearly tournament at TPC Sawgrass on the Stadium Course. I'm always waiting to see if they'll resemble me of 13 years ago, when I nearly felt my heart fly out of my body after I moved toward the tee at No. 17. It's a Par 3 hole known as "The Island Green," and Tiger is almost there.
The Island Green? This is more like "The Hole From Hell," but such is only the case if you're a golfer.
Otherwise, No. 17 is beautiful.
You've got all of those stately trees surrounding the thing, along with a bunch of water that's pleasing to the eyes (well, if you're not a golfer since literally thousands of golf balls sit at the bottom of the drink with the fishes and maybe a few clubs thrown in anger). You have a constantly swirling wind, which is splendid on one of those sweltering Florida days (again, if you're not a golfer). Then you've got the novelty of that tiny green of maybe 78-feet long with a bunker that isn't anything worth mentioning.
Uh-uh. Tiger just bogeyed for the first time since forever during this tournament, so he's slipping a little, but no worries. He's hitting fairways with regularity, and his short game is superb. Just like vintage Tiger, he has been a birdie machine, producing roars only unique to the man who also answers to Eldrick.
Then again, No. 17 is on the way.
From the tee to the green on that hole, it's 137 yards, but if you have a wedge or a 9-iron in your hands, it's the most terrifying 137 yards in the history of golf.
Trust me. I know.
I got to play the hole during the week of the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. The NFL worked a deal with the TPC Sawgrass folks to allow media members to try their luck at No. 17, and I remember everything about it. The water, the trees, the wind and the fear, especially since everybody was watching, from big-time NFL folks to colleagues who never forget.
I took a couple of practice swings with my gap-wedge ("Nice swings, man" . . . "Looks like you know what you're doing" . . . "FORE, hahaha" ), then I addressed the ball, and then I eyed the target for a moment, and then I swung with ease.
It looked perfect, and for verification, there were the oohs and aahs in the background.
I lost sight of the ball.
Where did it go?
"Actually, man, it was right on target, but it flew over the green and into the water, so . . ."
So, with Tiger trying to stay 13-under at that point, he approached No. 17, and he followed my routine. There were a couple of practice swings, a momentary glance at the target, and then he swung for real with his sand wedge as the gallery cheered, then moaned.
For the first time in 13 years, Tiger found water at No. 17 along the way to finishing 11-under par after coming so close to winning, and the expression on his face was painful.
What can I say?