Golf – like life – tests your spirit as well as your strength and skill. And as I watched Tiger Woods come up a stroke short in the Valspar Championship on Sunday, I wondered if he can still pass that test.
There was no doubt about his body. He’s ripped. No doubt about his skill. He swung beautifully and he knew where his ball was going. In his signature red shirt and black slacks, he looked a lot like the Tiger of Old.
On Sunday afternoon, the whole world must have held its breath as Tiger turned for home just a couple of strokes behind leader Paul Casey. And the suspense built as he made one par after another, still just two strokes behind. This was the kind of drama he once lived for. Surely he would not fail his fans now!
But on an easy birdie putt tantalizingly near the end (I think it was on the 15th hole), the putter seemed to freeze in his hands and the ball drifted wide.
The Tiger of Old returned to sink a 43-foot snake on the 17th. Now, there was just one hole to go. All he needed to force a playoff was one more birdie. Surely, he would – like Henry V – stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, imitate the actions of his tiger namesake?
But he did not birdie that final hole. The Tiger of Old would have. The Tiger who is getting old did not have the spirit.
Instead of risking it all on one last dramatic drive, he laid up with an iron and left a long approach.
Even so, would he magically hit his approach inches from the hole? No. He made sure to hit the green, leaving a longish, tricky putt.
And he left that crucial putt inches short.
That was not the fearless Tiger of Old. That was today’s 42-year-old Tiger, chastened by adversity, all too aware of his own mortality.
Why? What has made him so much more vulnerable?
Has he been cowed by embarrassment over his hijinks with those cocktail waitresses? By losing his wife and watching his family torn apart? By the loss of his dad? By having his mug shot on the front pages after that DUI arrest?
Is it because of those knee and back injuries and those dangerous surgeries?
Whatever the reason or reasons, he seemed more like Eldrick than Tiger on this Sunday. Even his fist pumps lacked conviction.
Now that his body is fine tuned again and his amazing skills honed to near-perfection, the great old game has one test he has yet to pass. And that is the toughest test of all.
Perhaps he will do it next time . Or the next. Or sometime. After all, he is Tiger Woods.