Tiger Woods went out and thrashed an elite field in the World Golf Championship event at Firestone on the eve of yet another major championship.
Now the only thing that can keep this week’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill and the entire 2013 season from being a qualified failure is a victory on Sunday. Wanamaker or bust.
Such is the life of Tiger, who must live by impossible standards in his peerless realm.
Only a 15th career major can stem the critics – and that 15th hurdle is proving to be a doozy for the greatest golfer not to have won a major since 2008.
“It kind of seems that way,” Woods said on Tuesday. “It’s been probably the longest spell that I’ve had since I hadn’t won a major championship. I came out here very early and got my first one back in ’97. I’ve had, certainly, my share of chances to win. I’ve had my opportunities there on the back nine on probably half of those Sundays for the last five years where I’ve had a chance, and just haven’t won it. But the key is to keep giving myself chances, and eventually I’ll start getting them.”
The PGA Championship has marketed itself as “Glory’s Last Shot” for the past decade or so. Yet it has increasingly become known as “Tiger’s Last Shot” to salvage another major-less season from being simply mortally great.
Yeah, of course Woods has re-established himself was the unchallenged No. 1 golfer in the world.
Sure, he leads the PGA Tour money list by more than $2.7 million.
We know he’s won five times in 11 starts, including two WGCs and The Players Championship, to inch within three of Sam Snead’s all-time victory standard.
Yada, yada, yada ... call us when he takes another step up the ladder toward Jack Nicklaus’ major record.
Isn’t this the standard Woods himself created when he taped that chart to his bedroom wall as a kid? He’s the one who consistently defines “great” seasons as the ones that include major triumphs.
“I’ve won golf tournaments, I’ve had some really nice years, some really good years in there,” Woods said just last November, “but as I said, winning a major championship just takes it to a whole new level.”
Is this the price of being a genius at a craft? Did Michelangelo have to defend his later works after his back-to-back combo of the statue of David and Sistine Chapel? Could Albert Einstein ever match his grand-slam year of 1905 when he gave us E=mc2 and established the foundation of modern physics?
Because of everything Tiger Woods has achieved already, he can’t win for winning anymore. Ordinary victories – no matter how elite the field or wide the margin – don’t seem to be enough. With Woods it’s all about the majors.
“I think winning one major championship automatically means you had a great year,” Woods said Tuesday. “Even if you miss the cut in every tournament you play in, you win one (major) you’re part of history. This year, for me, I think it’s been a great year so far for me, winning five times. And you look at the quality of tournaments I’ve won – a Players and two World Golf Championships in there – that’s pretty good.”
Pretty good? PRETTY GOOD!
To put that in some perspective, Woods’ five wins this season equal the combined career accomplishments of Charles Howell, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Tim Clark. Actually, that comparison diminishes Woods’ season because the quality of his victories are actually better.
Incidentally, it’s the 10th time in his career that Woods has won at least five times in a season – not that anyone is counting.
There was a time when it was considered fortunate that Woods never once in his life had to live with the scrutiny of being labeled the best player in the world to have never won a major. When you win the Masters Tournament by 12 shots in your professional major debut, you avoid that seed ever taking root.
However, doing that, completing a slam and winning 14 major titles in 12 years brings on a whole different level of expectation that gets contorted into obligation. The focus has been on Tiger’s quest to catch Nicklaus for so long that it obscures any other accomplishments. It’s as though nothing else really matters.
Woods has won 14 PGA Tour events since his last major victory at the 2008 U.S. Open. For what it’s worth, only four other active tour players under the age of 50 have won more than that in their entire careers (Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Ernie Els and Jim Furyk). It’s more wins than emerging superstars Dustin Johnson (7) and Rory McIlroy (6) combined in the same time window.
For anyone else, this is Hall of Fame caliber. For Woods, it’s just mundane.
Last week marked the eighth time since 2008 that Woods has won his final tune-up event before a major. Each time it only heightens the expectations and makes his failure to win the subsequent major that much more prominent.
Of course it’s grossly unfair, but that’s Tiger’s reality.
When he won at Doral and Bay Hill before coming to Augusta in April, Woods seemed poised to end his drought. But a perfect shot and a flagstick derailed that bid.
Now he comes to Oak Hill fresh off a classic beatdown of his most likely competitors. He won at Firestone by seven strokes – a gap he opened Friday with 61 that matched his career best.
“Obviously I feel pretty good about winning by seven and coming here,” he said. “I feel like my game’s pretty good.”
There’s only way to turn that “pretty good” into great.
“Do I want it any more?” he said of this major. “No, it’s the same. Each and every major, I always want them. I’ve been successful 14 times, and hopefully (this week) will be 15.”
If not, Woods can still win the FedEx Cup title, capture player of the year and eclipse Snead’s record before he shows up in Augusta next April. But he’ll still be trying to shed the label of greatest player not to win a major since 2008.