By: Gabe Neitzel
I know not everyone pays attention to golf each and every week like I do. But I do know that when Tiger plays, people pay attention. He won the Players Championship for the first time since 2001 (and only his second time overall) on Sunday, thus proving that anyone who asks the question, “Is Tiger Back?” is just plain stupid. Seriously. I don't want to hear “but he hasn't won a major since 2008.” He is the number 1 ranked player in the world, and has won 8 of his last 22 events. You know that 8 wins in a PGA career is spectacular, right? He's won the World Golf Championship events, and the Players field is as strong as any major. So lets go ahead and look back to see how Tiger took the Players with a Retro-Diary. We pick up the action with Tiger on the Back 9.
Hole 10-Tiger makes the turn at -13. He hasn't had to hit driver much at all this week. Although, when you hit a 5 wood around 300 yards, why would you even think about pulling the driver out of the bag?? He has a two shot lead, which is a dangerous proposition on the back nine. The back side at TPC Sawgrass plays easier than the front, and the way he has been hitting the ball all week, he can just make par after par and make other players try to catch him. Tiger has been better than anyone ever in this position. He stings an iron into the fairway to validate everything I just said. Meanwhile, on 17, Martin Laird is two shots back, but is on the wrong side of the green. Thanks for playing Martin. Last time we mention your name in this blog. Back to Tiger, where he hits a “Mediocre at best” shot into the green. But he is still on the putting surface, and I'm willing to bet he two putts. By the way, I love this NBC broadcast crew. Good mix of teaching, praise, and criticism (Most of the criticism comes from Johnny Miller). And to no one's surprise, Tiger two putts. Lets move on.
Hole 11-Ageless Jeff Maggert (age 49) just made birdie on the green, before Tiger even tees off. He is now in solo second at -12. Back at 10, Sergio is trying to play out of a fairway bunker. He misses the green. Short tangent on Sergio Garcia. I get he is a little fire-y. He plays with passion. But doesn't he know better to not try and accuse Tiger of anything? Do you really want to try and make Tiger mad? He is already the best player in the world, and we know that he plays tremendous when angry. Just ask Stephen Ames. I understand Sergio was upset, but probably shouldn't try to create controversy when there isn't any. Doesn't end well for anyone but Tiger, usually. Meanwhile, Tiger drills his drive on 11. First time he's hit driver all day, unfortunately, he pulls his iron and now has a tough 3rd shot coming up. Side note: I love NBC's slow motion camera, where they show the divots that these pros take. Fun to watch the dirt explode out of the ground. Tiger can't get up and down for birdie, so settles for par. Ho-hum.
Hole 12-Another iron off the tee for Tiger. No need to be aggressive. He is clearly telling the field to “come and get me.” There is a lesson for all of us amateurs out there (and yes, I am including myself). If the number 1 player in the world keeps the driver in the bag more often than not, why do we all feel the need to hit driver all the time? I get that we aren't as nearly long as Tiger is, but at the same time, positioning and finding the fairway are more important than out-driving your buddies. Nice Wedge by Tiger, and he has a good birdie look, that he rattles home. Seriously, if you ask the question “Is Tiger Back?” You should never be allowed to talk about sports ever again, because you aren't paying attention. Tiger now at -14, and two clear of the field.
Hole 13-Safe tee shot by Tiger, as he misses the green, but is on the fringe. Stays clear of the water on the par 3, as NBC shows yet another feature I love: the pro tracer. Seeing how the pros shape their shots is another fun tool to give insight on how these guys play. Good speed on the first putt, and Tiger makes another par. For being must see TV, Tiger can get a little boring when he has the lead.
Hole 14-Uh-oh. Tiger pulls his tee shot into the water. Maybe this will get interesting after all...Peter Jacobson is almost speechless while calling the action. He can't believe it. Sergio hits a good shot on 13, and suddenly he may be back in the picture. Tiger has a drop upcoming, and every golf troll out there is going to be paying super close attention as to where he drops this. I know there has to be someone out there looking through the rule book, trying to find some rule Tiger is violating. After Sergio hits his putt back on 13, 3 players are now at -12, and Tiger is going to drop at least one here. “Heckuva shot” is about the highest praise you can get from Johnny Miller, and that is how he described Tiger's recovery shot that leaves him just short of the green. Tiger can't get up and down, cards a double bogey 6, and we have a four way tie for first at -12. Yikes, Sunday at TPC Sawgrass just got a lot more fun.
Hole 15-Tiger bounces back nicely. Drills his 5 wood down the right side. Some people always do the club twirl after every shot (I'm looking at you Rory), but you know Tiger likes a shot when he a) twirls the club, b) starts walking after the shot or putt, or c) never looks at the ball, and just picks up his tee. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the universal sign for “I hate this shot” is dropping the club, like Ryan Palmer just did on 16. I don't think we'll be hearing from him the rest of the day. Tiger's iron play is now betraying him, as he misses the green. Tiger really looking at this one, as he knows he needs to get up and down for par. He hits as good of a shot as he can, and makes the par putt coming back. Meanwhile, at 17, we can say good-bye to co-leader Jeff Maggert. He just dunked his tee shot short of the island green into the water. This looks like a two man race between Tiger and Sergio.
Hole 16-This is a fun stretch of holes to close the tournament. 16 is a scoring hole in a par 5, while 17 is an easy hole, but is visually intimidating. 18 is a great closing hole, with water all the way down the left hand side. It feels like anything can happen. Tiger not happy with his tee shot, as he couldn't get it to draw, and is now in the rough. Back on 15, Sergio misses a long birdie putt, and it comes down to who will play these final 3 holes the best. Tiger gets aggressive in hacking out a ball that was buried in the rough, and finds a bunker short of the green. For a moment, it seemed as if the NBC announcing team thought Tiger could find the water. If he gets up and down, he has a one shot lead. Back on the tee, Sergio splits the fairway. He should be able to go for the green in two. Tiger will make birdie, as he splashes a sand shot to within gimme distance. The thing that has separated Tiger from the rest of the field in his career is his short game. No one can scramble or putt like Eldrick. Sergio, though, isn't going away, as he finds the green in two.
Hole 17-Realistically, this is not that hard of a hole. Its 122 yards to the front of the green, and the longest it could play to the pin is 150, if that. That is a wedge for just about everyone on tour. However, when you visually intimidate the players, that is when this hole become hard. You can't miss the green. If you miss the green, your ball is wet. There is no room for error. On top of that, this is one of the biggest tournaments of the year, with one of the best fields of the year. Now try to hit that 135 yard wedge shot. No pressure or anything. Tiger safely finds the green, but now has a massive two putt to make par. Back on 16, Sergio two putts for his birdie, and we are tied once again. Somehow, Tiger has a perfect lag putt, and will make par. Its now on Sergio to try and birdie 17 to take the outright lead. And before Tiger can even tee off on 18, it feels like the tournament is now over. Sergio got aggressive, and hits the ball short, and finds the water on 17. He is going to drop at least a shot. Meanwhile, David Lingmerth just stuck his tee shot, and has a birdie putt for the tie. He is the only one who can catch Tiger, as Sergio just took himself out of the tournament for sure. He elected to re-tee, and hitting three from the tee, he finds the water once again. Roger Maltbie, who is following the final group, just called Sergio's third tee shot a “little Tin Cup” as he refuses to go to the drop area. After he finally find the tee, the sarcastic cheers erupt from the croud.
Hole 18- Tiger pipes his drive on 18. If he doesn't make par, I would be shocked. Legitimately stunned. Back on 17, Lingmerth can't convert the birdie, and you can't help but think that was his best chance to catch Tiger. Speaking of Tiger, remember what I said before about him liking a shot? Well he starts to follow his approach on 18. Easy two putt for him, and now its up to Lingmerth to try and catch him with a birdie on the last, which seems unlikely seeing as Lingmerth just found the rough. Tiger could just wrap this thing up in style, by making this birdie putt, but alas, it was not to be. He is in at -13. Lingmerth actually finds the green, but leaves himself a putt that Miller calls a “one in fifty.” In other words, this is over.
And of course, it is. And I don't just mean this tournament, I mean this golf season. Seriously, Tiger has never played well here, other than the year he won in 2001. There is no way he doesn't win major number 15 this year. What is cool about this win, is that Tiger has now won his 100th, 200th, and 300th start on the PGA tour. I guess those things have a tendency to happen when you win over 25% of the tournaments you enter. Tiger has now won 4 tournaments, and just told Steve Sands of NBC that he is “getting better.” Getting better??? Yikes. If you like watching golf, I hope you like Tiger, because you are about to see a lot more of him.
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