Hank Haney in his new book The Big Miss, about the years he spent coaching Tiger Woods, writes that the 14-time major champion expected to win - every tournament he entered, that is. He relates that Woods didn’t want his ex-wife Elin Nordegren to show any emotion when he did win, or to be visible. She wasn’t to run out on to the final green to congratulate Woods, that’s for sure.
The story is pertinent for this reason: Woods, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando on Sunday, for the seventh time, was imperious in the way he conducted himself around a course when he was winning and winning and winning. He carried himself like a king, and bestrode his throne like the golfing royalty he was.
That’s the way Woods was at Bay Hill, where he won by five shots over Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter. He controlled the ball beautifully, especially in the last round after carrying a one-shot lead into the final day. His golf was majestic, close to perfect. He hit irons off many tees because he didn’t need to hit driver, played his approach shots to the proper side of the hole, and putted like a king at the course that Arnold Palmer - also known as The King even though he doesn’t really like the designation - built.
Woods simply plays the game like nobody else when he’s on, and he was certainly on at Bay Hill. NBC’s Johnny Miller said this looks like the beginning of the second phase of his career, given the fact that he hadn’t won on the PGA Tour in some two and a half years. There’s no need to go into what happened in November of 2009 when he rammed his car into a fire hydrant, and what transpired after that as his private life was exposed.
That seems a long time ago, and it’s impossible to know how Woods has dealt with his personal issues. But he’s come a long way in his golf - a long way back - while working with Sean Foley. He said after his win at Bay Hill that he’s excited about the momentum he’s built, and that things are all coming together at the right time. By that he means he’ll next play the Masters, which starts April 5th. He’ll be the favourite, as he tries to win his 15th major.
I was at Bay Hill on Friday, when Woods shot 65 to seize the halfway lead. I stood 15-feet behind him as he ripped three-woods down the fairway, each with a slight fade. Every shot was pure.
A few minutes later, just before his starting time, Woods emerged from the locker room to walk to the first tee. His eyes were big. He seemed in a trance. Maybe he knew he had his game and would go low. He certainly had his game face.
Now it’s game on. Woods has won again, just down the road from where his life came apart for all the world to see. His golf came apart along with that. Now the pieces are coalescing. Woods, the imperious Woods, showed he still has a lot of game. He showed it, and he knew it.
Here comes the Masters. Woods at Bay Hill showed that he can still master the game. He’s not all the way back yet, but he’s getting there. Maybe the final coronation will come at Augusta National, where Woods will fully expect to stand on the practice green during the winner’s ceremony. He will fully expect that defending champion Charl Schwartzel will put the green jacket that goes to the winner on his shoulders.
Why wouldn’t he?
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein