Monday, December 06, 2010

Tiger Gave Us A Reminder Of What We've Been Missing

   It felt like old times Sunday afternoon watching Tiger Woods play golf.

   At least until Graeme McDowell took the best Tiger could throw at him, answered it and walked away with the kind of dramatic victory upon which Woods has built his career. The Chevron World Challenge may not be a major championship -- there were only 18 players in the field -- but it had Tiger in the last group on Sunday, something that hadn't happened all year, and it provided a rare dose of December golf drama.

   So what did the weekend tell us about Tiger and his game?

   We already knew McDowell has become one of the game's top players and he reinforced his reputation as a man most comfortable on the big stage.

   Woods, though, remains a curiosity. He took a four-stroke lead into the final round, having looked more like the old Tiger than he has in nearly two years, and then the putter betrayed him, his game got scratchy and there were again questions where there had always been answers before.

   If you watched, you were reminded of how Tiger can transform an event. Maybe it's because it's been so long since he was in contention that it felt new and fresh again but it fun to watch him and McDowell duel down the stretch. And when Woods threw what should have been his haymaker -- a little cut 8-iron to within three feet of the cup on the 18th hole that seemed to set up his victory -- it was a reminder of what's gone missing.

   This time, though, Woods didn't win. McDowell poured in a long birdie putt to force a playoff and then did it again to win. This time, it was Tiger who took off his hat, scratched his head, shook McDowell's hand and walked away in second place.

   Does what happened Sunday validate the notion that Woods has lost his intimidation advantage? Or does it mean that his game, obviously on the mend, still isn't where it needs to be?

  There's no question other players don't turn to jelly now when they see Woods on the course. What he had -- both with his game and his presence -- has been lost. It's possible he can regain a measure of dominance with his golf but the last 13 months have bleached away the air of supremacy that came with Woods every time he stepped onto the property at a tournament. That part isn't coming back.

   It had begun to erode before his infamous Thanksgiving accident but it turned into an avalanche over the past year. As he works to rebuild his golf swing with Sean Foley, work that seems to be coming together nicely, Woods also has to reconstruct his aura. That will be tougher than finding fairways, which he seems to be doing again.

   Woods is still fighting old swing flaws, admitting they crept in during the middle of the final round, leading to trouble. But when he needed to make good swings at the end, he made them. That's not something he was able to do until the end of this year. It's not like it was but it's getting better.

   Asked if he felt like Sunday was the end of a disappointing season or the start of his 2011 season, Woods said he wasn't sure. However, he said he's excited about this off-season, a feeling he hasn't had in a while.

   Watching Woods on Sunday, even when he didn't win, was something we hadn't seen in a while. It was a reminder of what we've been missing.