Already a winner on Tour this year, Tiger Woods returned to a location where he had won four previous times and delivered a knock-out blow to the field with an explosive chip-in on the 16th hole Sunday. This allowed him to seal a two-stroke victory over Andres Romero and Rory Sabbatini at The Memorial Tournament. This marked Tiger’s 73rd overall victory on Tour, matching him with the tournament’s host for the week, Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus ribbed him in the post-round press conference saying he, “had to rub it in my face” in reference to the matching record. Spencer Levin, who was tied for the lead after 54-holes, just as he was earlier this season in Phoenix, imploded (again) for a final round 75 to drop him to fourth, but his implosion was nothing compared to Tiger’s playing partner Rickie Fowler. Fowler, who was set to earn his sixth top-10 finish of the season, shot a 12-over 84, 17 strokes higher than Tiger, to drop into a tie for 52nd place. Tiger and Rickie will now take a week off before heading to San Francisco for the U.S. Open in two weeks while Levin will tee it up this week in Memphis.
Is he back?
For some on Tour, two victories and nearly $3 million in earnings through nine events in a season would already be a career-defining year. But for Tiger Woods, there are many who still doubt that he is ‘back.’ With Tiger, he’s under such intense media and public scrutiny that one struggles to remember that although he isn’t winning every week, he’s still winning and contending more than most. Woods was his own worst enemy, having taken the game to another level in the early 2000s and now, he will never truly be ‘back’ until he reaches that pinnacle – something that may never be achieved again. In the video clip above showing Tiger’s chip-in on Sunday, a viewer will hear, “that was sick” (Gary McCord), or “That was one of the most incredible golf shots I think you’ll ever see” (Jack Nicklaus). However, I think the most telling of comments came from the incomparable Jim Nantz who said, “…and this is the one moment, right here, that people have been waiting almost three years for.” It was vintage Tiger. The summer Sunday sun shining on the tell-tale red and black. Playing competitors falling away as Tiger prowls up the leaderboard. The incredible shot that, before it’s hit, gets overanalyzed (but everyone knows that if there’s anyone who can sink it, it’s Tiger) and the flying fist pump. Oh, yes. The summer is just starting. Whether it becomes the summer of Tiger remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: Tiger is back and he’s ready to play.
In an uncharacteristic move, Phil Mickelson withdrew from The Memorial after an opening round 79 citing ‘mental fatigue.’ Tour rules state that a player doesn’t have to actually give a reason for withdrawing after play in a tournament has begun but Mickelson’s rationale struck a nerve with many. One of the better comparative examples came from Rick Lipsey of Sports Illustrated who said, “soldiers and firemen battle fatigue on the job, not PGA Tour players.” Mickelson could have easily feigned injury, but instead admitted he wore himself too thin with outside commitments and decided he needed to focus on the U.S. Open. His coach, Butch Harmon, was on record saying Mickelson should have never teed it up at all this week and I agree. If you know you’re just feeling ‘off,’ give your spot to a qualifier. It’s not as if Mickelson needs the money.
Delivering a Victory
This week, the Tour moves to Memphis for the Fed-Ex St. Jude Classic. It’s the final tournament before the second major of the season, the U.S. Open, next week. Rory McIlroy is back in action again this week after three straight missed cuts at The Players Championship, the BMW Championship across the pond, and last week’s Memorial. He’s recommitted himself to the game after admitting he wasn’t practicing as much as he should have been. However, his game has gone ice cold after a blistering start to the season. I wouldn’t count out the no. 2-ranked player in the world just yet, though. He still has one of the nicest swings on Tour and sometimes all it takes is one good shot or one good week to turn things around. Really like seeing Dustin Johnson playing again after a lengthy time away after a back injury. The long hitter has a long way to go if he wants to make the Ryder Cup team in September, and this week may be as good as any to get a victory that may springboard him through the rest of the qualifying period.