It’s hard to describe how I felt watching Tiger Woods during his second round at Southern Hills, which doesn’t bode well for this article, but I can’t recall ever being so heavily invested in one man’s quest to make a halfway cut as I was on Friday night.
I was born in 1990 and like most people my age, Tiger Woods was the reason I got into golf. When I wasn’t perfecting my club twirl or mastering the early walk on a dead centre putt on the sitting room carpet, I was pounding the L1 button on my PlayStation joypad, bullying classic course designs and collecting Major titles much like the great man would do in real life.
You didn’t have to like golf to appreciate Tiger Woods, but golfers loved Tiger Woods because he made our stuffy sport cool. Woods wasn’t like other golfers. He walked with an air of invincibility. He didn’t seem to ever get nervous. He never missed a putt he needed to make. As a golfer, he was completely unrelatable. His repertoire of shots unrepeatable. There was something otherworldly about watching him play. His life more fiction than fact. And if it wasn’t for his car crashing into a fire hydrant as his now ex-wife tried to kill him with a 9-iron, and for good reason too, perhaps I’d still believe Woods was an alien being, a creation of the golfing gods and not man.
At Southern Hills on Friday, Woods was about as relatable as he’s ever been. The sweat poured out of him like he was playing golf in a Turkish bath. He grimaced and winced in pain as he limped his way round. He scoffed and cursed in frustration as stray shots appeared that previously never existed. He smiled and laughed with his playing partners as if they were actually there.
But in terms of his golf game, there was still nothing relatable about watching a half-fit Tiger Woods make the halfway cut at a Major where the world’s best player Scottie Scheffler was amongst those falling short of the weekend.
I’ll be honest, when Woods double-bogeyed the 11th, I was feeling a bit of everything. A cocktail of anger, sadness and regret. It felt a bit like watching old videos of Muhammad Ali fighting well past his prime, trying to understand why he was putting himself through it, trying not to think about the lasting damage being inflicted upon his already battered self.
At five-over, Woods was one shot outside the cut line. His limp was exaggerated. His body looked spent. When he missed the green long and left from 100 yards on 12 and ran a clumsy bunker shot 15 feet past the pin, I was in the corner throwing in the towel. In my mind, he didn’t need to be there. He didn’t owe us anything. He could pack it in without judgement and save himself for another day.
Then Woods holed the putt, birdied the next, and I slipped the towel behind my back before my childhood hero realised I’d quit on him, quit on him as if he’d ever consider quitting on himself.
And I think that’s why Tiger’s second round 69 at the US PGA is so significant. It was a lesson in not giving up. It was like when he made that 10 on the par-3 12th at Augusta in 2020 and played his next six holes in five-under. The man does not give in.
So yeah, I chuckled at people on Twitter claiming this version of Woods as a player was somehow relatable. On 15 he made an outrageous up and down from no man’s land short-sided in the bunker. Then on 16 he hit a 4-iron from 210 yards to four-feet for another birdie. And he managed it all without being able to properly use his right leg. Through 36 holes, Woods hasn’t three putted, and by making the weekend, his Major count still reads 15 wins and 11 missed cuts, a record, I’m convinced, that would read 15-13 if he was anybody else.
Don’t get me wrong, the Tiger Woods I grew up watching and emulating and dreaming about becoming in the late 90s and early 2000s will always be the one I picture long after he puts the clubs away for good. But the version of Tiger Woods I’ve seen this year at Augusta, and especially on Friday at Southern Hills, will be the one I admire most, and maybe the one I’ll tell the grandkids about should life turn out that way.
It’s the one that simply won’t quit, even when you think he should. And one, I believe, that can’t quit, because somehow by avoiding the touch of his mortality, he can keep the dream that is Tiger Woods alive, not just for his own sanity, but for the millions who still look to him for their own great escape.
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