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Out of the Woods

It is not as inevitable as it once was. If we were watching the Tiger Woods of the early part of the century, after he made two birdies in the first four holes of Saturday’s 3rd round at the Memorial to take a one shot lead, we would have all thought that it was “game over”. Not so, today.

Woods would go on to shoot a rather mundane 1-over par on Saturday to trail over-night leader, Spencer Levin, by 4 shots. He is mortal. Beatable. Logic would dictate that he wasn’t even the favorite to win on Sunday. He was four behind the man of constant motion, Levin and three behind 6-time Tour winner Rory Sabatini, while  being  tied with the hottest player on the PGA Tour, Rickie Fowler.

Players no longer fear Tiger. The mystique that surrounded him for so long has been unveiled.

After he won Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill earlier this year by an impressive 5 shots, for his first PGA Tour win in over 2 years, the hue and cry was that Tiger was back. Not so. He then finished a dismal 40th at the Masters and missed the cut in his next event before a very lackluster performance at the Players Championship.

Woods kept insisting that he was indeed close to recapturing his form of old. His new swing coach, Sean Foley, the third swing guru of his career, and he were on the cusp of having his new swing become habit. That it was just a matter of having some putts go in at the right time.

Where once we believed in his ability to make the miraculous seem routine, now we doubted him at every turn. Such is the nature of super-stardom. The higher the rise, the greater the fall. And few people have fallen quite so far.

And then this Sunday, this at Muirfield Village in Ohio we heard the echoes of old again.

With four holes to play, Tiger trailed the resolute South African bulldog, Sabatini by two shots. On the par 5, 15th hole Woods hit two superb shots to the green and two putted for a birdie. Playing in the last  two-some with Levin ,Sabatini  would counter with a birdie of his own to stay two ahead.

On the diabolical par 3, 16th hole Tiger hit his tee shot 6 yards over the green and his ball was almost invisible in the deep grass. There was no way that he could get the ball up and down. From his position a bogey 4 would have been a good score. Then Tiger did what Tiger always used to do.

He played an explosion shot from the deep rough so exquisitely that the ball came off the face of his club like a butterfly leaving its cocoon. It landed gently on the severe down-slope of the green and trickled perfectly into the right side of the hole. Birdie. The fist-pump. The roar from the gallery that only he can produce; and a shot that no other could make.

A par on 17 followed by a textbook birdie on the equally dangerous 18th hole, and Tiger’s second win of 2012 would be in the books, but this one may be one the most significant of his career.

This was PGA Tour win, #73, which is the same number of wins that tournament host, jack Nicklaus had in his incredible career. Tiger is 36 years old. Nicklaus was 46 years old when he recorded his final victory. The ever gracious Nicklaus was waiting to greet Tiger as he walked off the 18th green. The Golden Bear would tell the Tiger that his shot on the 16th hole was the greatest ever played at Muirfield.

It remains to be seen if Woods can re-capture the invincibility with which he once dominated the most fickle of all games. Such was the measure of his greatness, that those halcyon days seem almost impossible to re-create. Such is the extraordinary brilliance of Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods, is that he would be the only one, that ever could.