Tiger Woods’ 74th victory on the PGA Tour at Congressional Golf Club in Washington D.C. this week was his third win on the PGA Tour this year.
For most players, that would add up to a career year. Woods, however, has set his own standards so high that even though this has been his best year since 2009, he, and conversely we, have much higher expectations.
One had the sense that we were indeed watching the old inevitable Tiger this week, but we could have also said that two weeks ago when he was tied for the lead after two rounds of the US Open only to capitulate on the weekend and finish in the middle of the pack.
So, what was different at Congressional?
Well, for one he was playing a course that he has always loved playing. It was his fourth win at one of the most revered and difficult courses in the country.
Secondly, this week his main challengers were Bo Van Pelt, Brendon de Jonge, and Seung-yu Noh. If you just read that and mouthed a collective “who?” you wouldn’t be the only one.
A fortnight ago the US Open leaderboard was filled with names like Els, Harrington and McDowell.
To his credit, Van Pelt played beautifully for 15 holes which included matching Tiger’s birdie on the 15th hole to join Woods at 9 under par. Both players stood on the 16th tee, 3-under par for their rounds, and had effectively separated themselves from the rest of the field.
After a poor tee shot Woods was forced to lay up on the par 5, 16th, while Van Pelt had a 6 iron in hand to reach the easiest hole on the course in two shots, make a birdie and take command of the tournament. Van Pelt hit his second shot badly and left himself a difficult third shot on the up-slope of the green-side bunker. Bo would hit his third shot heavy and still be short of the green. His fourth shot was average at best and was 18 feet past the hole. Woods, meanwhile, had played an overly aggressive approach shot 30 feet over the back of the green into an impossible position. Both players would make messy bogey-6’s on the only hole at Congressional that could be considered easy but this had been a golden opportunity for the likeable Van Pelt to seize the day.
Van Pelt bogeyed the final two holes while Woods made precise and surgical pars.
So while we and the collective golf audience wonder anew whether we are seeing the Tiger of old, perhaps the better perspective would be to just enjoy the Tiger we are watching now.
Woods remains the most iconic and gifted athlete of our time. That he has won his third tournament of the year and it is only July 1st, belies a standard which somehow beckons the questions that we have asked. It is a testament to his gift as a golfer. He is already, at the very least, the second greatest player in history. And for golf, nobody has ever been as compelling to watch.